Chapter 1044 A Wager
"Normal men would quiver in fear at the thought of facing celestials," Seraphine remarked, her voice carrying a note of caution as she observed Arthur's smoldering anger. "There are countless gods, too many for you to challenge before they unite and unleash their divine retribution."
"Fear," Arthur responded, his palm crackling with the remnants of his wrathful lightning, "is a sentiment I no longer possess. This fury is far too deafening to be drowned out by something as trivial as fear."
Whisker, the voice of reason in the room, stepped forward, his eyes locking with Arthur's. "Seika," he said, "the wrath you bear does not define you. You must choose your path, guided solely by your own convictions, not the echoes of others."
Arthur met Whisker's gaze, and in those feline eyes, he saw a wisdom that resonated deeply with him. The prospect of waging war against the gods, of bearing the weight of countless suffering races, was a burden he wasn't sure he could shoulder. Slowly, the storm within him abated, and he nodded in reluctant agreement.
Yuvan Perli's revelation about Nameless, now known as Oblivion, didn't ease Arthur's concerns; instead, it deepened them. His adversary transformed from a mindless world-destroyer into one of the most formidable entities in the universe.
Arthur had never contemplated taking on Devaheim, the realm of the celestials. Under normal circumstances, he would have aspired to conquer Earth and find peace. However, with the gods orchestrating his world's demise, such a life was an impossibility.
In the end, Arthur had to make a decision. The memories of his alternate self's descent into darkness weighed heavily on his mind. Amidst the chaos and uncertainty, one thing remained clear: a promise of reunion, whispered with soft-spoken words.
"If you're going through hell," Arthur declared, his words resonating in the dim chamber, "keep going."
The demon and the feline thief exchanged knowing smiles. Arthur rose from his seat, determination etched on his face. "Take Sarohan and set out on your journey," he instructed. "We'll address the goddess and the Huntsmen Clan after the war concludes."
Seraphine nodded in agreement. "That's a wise choice," she acknowledged. "By tackling each challenge step by step, we stand a better chance against Artemis. This is our final meeting until the war, correct?"
"Indeed," Arthur affirmed, extending a hand toward the demon, who accepted it with a smile. "Until we meet again, stay safe."
Seraphine's grin widened. "You're worrying about the wrong person," she quipped. Arthur then turned toward Whisker, who had risked his life to follow his lead.
"Take care of yourself, Seika," the feline said, echoing their first encounter in Sith Town. This time, Arthur surprised him by stepping forward and embracing the feline.
"You too, Whisker."
The turmoil in Xeloria gradually subsided as the city announced that the explosion had originated in an abandoned building with no casualties. The knowledge that the city was no longer in immediate danger brought a sense of relief to its citizens. Despite the delay caused by the recent events, the army remained steadfast in its mission.
Arthur departed from the city to join the rest of the army, which had been organized into numerous platoons. He found himself leading the 9th platoon, with Hawkins in command, a fact that eased Arthur's mind. Rows of carriages lined the streets outside Xeloria, each containing four formidable members of the Golden Division.
As Arthur approached his designated carriage, he noticed Koby and Joey standing nearby, their expressions a mix of confusion and curiosity. Their gaze was fixed on the carriage's open door, where a pair of legs dangled limply, the figure inside still smeared with blood and fast asleep.
"Is this some kind of prank because we're the newcomers?" Joey speculated, furrowing his brows as he peered into the carriage. "Do you have any idea who this guy is?"
Koby shook his head, equally puzzled. "I haven't got a clue," he admitted, scratching his head. "Let's just toss him out and get going."
At that moment, Arthur, standing behind the two, offered his insight. "Hawkins dumped him in here like a sack of potatoes," he said casually, causing both Koby and Joey to startle.
"This guy," Arthur continued, "is our fourth member. He's also the son of the Lord Marshal."
Their shock was palpable. "What?!" they exclaimed in unison, their faces a mixture of disbelief and confusion. "How do you know him, Seika?" Koby asked, trying to make sense of the situation.
"I'm the one who gave him a thorough beating," Arthur confessed with a chuckle, jumping into the carriage and stepping on the man's stomach, prompting a flinch. "There's no need to tread lightly around him; I've already healed his injuries."
Koby nodded in understanding and followed Arthur, stepping over Dorian and inadvertently causing him to groan. Joey, still speechless, joined them and accidentally woke Dorian in the process.
"Enough!" shouted Dorian, the tall man in disheveled robes, who was livid and disoriented as he gazed around the carriage. "Where am I?" he demanded, his voice a mix of anger and confusion.
"Lost your memories?" Arthur inquired, his tone calm as he settled into the carriage, his hand cradling his chin. "I defeated you, securing your life as part of our wager. You may address me as 'master.'"
Dorian's arrogance flared up. "Like hell I will!" he retorted. "You didn't beat me fair and square, punk! I could crush you with a single punch!"
Before Dorian could finish his boast, he was slammed onto the carriage floor with tremendous force, even though no one had touched him. Arthur turned toward Koby, who hadn't even glanced at Dorian.
"Release him," Arthur said with a smile, his eyes fixed on the mage. "He's still the Lord's son, Koby. If he cries to his papa, we would be in trouble."
"Stronger men can be taken down by surprise," Koby replied, his staff held in his ethereal arm. In just one day since Arthur had given him the scroll, he had made remarkable progress. "I won't stand idly by while someone insults my teacher. But if you ask me to, I'll release him."
Koby lifted the ethereal force pinning Dorian to the ground, and the furious man rose, his eyes locked onto Koby with intense hatred. Arthur intervened quickly, sensing that a fight was about to erupt.
"We are comrades here, united to support one another," Arthur reminded them with a smile, preventing a potential clash. "If you attack one of us, you'll have to contend with all of us. You can then go back to your father and tell him all about it."
Dorian seethed with humiliation, his anger barely contained. "You may mock my status," he hissed, "but you still ganged up on me. I won't forget this, punk."
The ethereal force descended again, but this time Dorian was ready. He punched it upward, causing the carriage's ceiling to fly off, revealing the bright blue sky. Nearby soldiers, alerted by the commotion, stepped out of their carriages to investigate.
"That's enough," Arthur declared with a frown, the two adversaries still glaring at each other. Arthur sighed, snapping his fingers and reaching into his pocket. The carriage's ceiling returned and the damage was undone as if it had never occurred.
Dorian and the others stared in disbelief at the surreal scene. In the end, none of them dared to defy Arthur, and Dorian begrudgingly took his seat.
With everything settled, the army resumed its journey half an hour later, heading toward its first destination. The carriage fell into a silence broken only by the rhythmic sound of hooves and wheels on the road.
Arthur closed his eyes, his thoughts drifting to their destination: the Red Temple, a place of worship for the tower that had saved them from a dire fate. He couldn't help but find some irony in it. If not for the Red Tower's appearance and Yuvan Perli's actions, he might still be in Runera, following the path of his alternate self.
Despite his reservations about the idea of worship, Arthur recognized that these people were not entirely deluding themselves. Their lives had been shaped by external forces, much like his own. However, he firmly believed that no one should have to bow to anyone or anything; freedom was a fundamental right.
"Dorian," Arthur called, breaking the silence with a smile. "I heard you initially refused to join the army, but you're sitting here now without complaint. Did something change your mind?"
Dorian's response was absentminded. "My father mentioned a young genius I needed to defeat to earn his recognition for the upcoming war," he explained, his brow furrowing. "I believe his name was... Alex? Alexie?"
A knowing chuckle escaped Arthur's lips. "It seems you've already failed your first attempt," he said, making Dorian's confusion evident. "Alexie is my name, and this is only my first day in the Golden Division. Do you truly believe you can defeat me?"
Dorian was left utterly speechless, his wide eyes fixed on Arthur. The sly smile on Arthur's face made Dorian swallow hard before he averted his gaze and refused to engage further.
"I still have time until the war begins to figure out how to defeat you," Dorian declared with determination. "Once I uncover the secret behind your attacks, I'll have the upper hand!"
Arthur leaned in, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial tone. "If you do manage to find a way to counter my abilities," he whispered, "you'd be wiser than the gods themselves. But there's no point in me indulging your whims. The next time you attack me, you won't survive... unless you agree to a wager."