"Greetings, Your Highness. It is good to see you again," I lowered my entire body into a kneeling position. I almost looked like I was begging for forgiveness, just for existing in this man's presence, but if that's what it took to grow stronger… I didn't care.
As he lay on his throne, I felt absolutely nothing from him. He emitted absolutely no pressure, but that wasn't because he was weak, but that was because I was weak. I was too weak for my existence to even comprehend his power.
As his darkened silhouette opened its jaws wider than any humanoid could go, the silhouette of a single woman with long deer-like antlers fed him a stock of grapes. The other female silhouette on the throne, fanning him with some leaf and cuddling up next to him, had long and jagged demonic goat-like horns.
Finishing up that batch of grapes, his tongue flickered out of his mouth, with his face finally turning towards me, meekly acknowledging my presence. But even as the shadows of the palace darkened out his body, they could hide the piercing reptilian green eyes with pupils as slim as toothpicks. They widened upon focusing on me but then slimmed down once again upon seeing who I was.
"Have you come to warn me of the end of this reality once again?" A crazy white smile faced me. "Because if you have, I will eradicate you."
"I have taken in a pupil."
"Good for you…" The serpent yawned, his jaw extending to the point of seemingly no return once again. "... And what does that have to do with me?"
"I have come to ask for his residence in your empire, but please let me finish," I immediately interjected in my own explanation as the man's eyes slivered onto me, his bloodlust leaking out. And it was truly like that of a god. Sweat dripped from my brow, and my entire body was immediately covered in chills. Head to toe, I was nothing but goosebumps.
"He needs to earn it… and if it's your pupil, I doubt he's from this reality."
"Y-Yes, that is why I'm having him climb the steps to this palace. Currently, he is only on the first step, but I'm sure he'll discover the truth of most things with the help of this mana, miasma, and aether-saturated reality."
The snake smiled even wider, pushing aside the two women as he sat forward in his throne. The two women then got up and were dismissed as the man took on a more serious tone and posture as if wanting to make a deal with me.
"You could have done any other test, but you wanted him to complete my steps? From what I feel, he's just a boy. A youngling who barely even reached ten thousand years old… and you're putting him up against the toughest of opponents… I like your style."
"It's a bit arrogant of me to send him to your challenge first, but for his growth and my own future, I feel he needs this. He needs to become stronger so I can utilize him in the upcoming war."
"Ah yes… the event where all realities, universes, multiverses, the web of lie… all of them come together to form one single reality… Ragnarok. If that happens, then from what you've described, my Eon shall win, right? I mean, we are the first Eon to exist." 𝑏𝘦𝘥𝘯𝑜𝘷𝘦𝑙．𝑜𝑟𝘨
I gulped down a massive drop of saliva. "You are titled the First Eon, but there is one other Eon that you must be wary about. The one that came before the First Eon. Eon Zero."
As I felt everything radiate up and down my body like a new heart pumping even more blood, I concentrated on the swirling mass of mana practically throbbing inside my solar plexus. It was right below my heart and at a spot where anybody could touch it due to it being unguarded by the rib cage. It was an incredible discovery, but I didn't want to celebrate just yet as I wanted to retain this feeling. I didn't want to lose this feeling. I needed to keep it near me until I was confident I could tap into it at any moment in time.
"Fooooo… finally," I breathed out so much air that it parted the green fog around me. And when I took a look at my surroundings, everything felt calm… besides the massive serpents practically pressing their faces right up against the back of my head.
[Congratulations, you have discovered your Mana Heart]
[Your Mana Heart throbs with growth]
[Your Mana Heart adjusts to your level, class, and evolution]
[Congratulations, you have reached the Third Ring of your Mana Heart]
I smiled as I looked at these new panels, but instead of backing down, I decided to use this adrenaline rush to proceed to the next step. And just as my foot landed on it, the pressure that had completely overwhelmed me prior was nothing but a tickle on my legs and feet.
"Huh?" But, I soon fell back, losing all feeling in my body. Tumbling across the single step below me, I bruised my body. And just as I blinked my eyes with confusion, feeling my regeneration take into account my injuries and weakened state, only then did I realize how frail my body was. "I thought I was past the point of needing sustenance like this?"
And as if my own body was listening to me, my leaned-out muscles and caved-in stomach soon filled with energy. I took in a deep breath, and as the swirling bits of mana in the air mingled with the toxic fog, I felt rejuvenated. So, I did it again, feeling my body recover even more than before. It was as if mana was this miracle potion, reviving my body from the point of no return over and over and over and over again.
"I have to learn more about this mana heart…." I muttered to myself before looking at the surrounding city through the towering see-through walls surrounding the palace and its courtyard.