Chapter 390 - Blood Essence Reversal, Golden Dragon Shocks the Heavens!
Tang Wulin's right gauntlet drew everyone's eyes like moths to a flame. The three protruding blades added an aggressive touch, emphasizing the sharpness and danger of his enlarged claws. Its power was obvious with just a glance.
Usually a soul master needed at least five soul rings to possess a body capable of equipping a full set of one-word battle armor. Tang Wulin currently had three. Logic dictated that he shouldn't be able to equip even a single piece of armor! However, his gauntlet was made of spirit alloy. The requirements to use spirit alloy were lower. Besides that, his right hand was the strongest part of his body, and with the power of the Golden Dragon King flowing through his veins, his body was sturdier than an ordinary person's. These factors coupled to produce the strength necessary to equip the gauntlet.
At the start, the entire first grade had been convinced that Tang Wulin's team would inevitably be defeated. After this amazing display, with the scene before them emblazoned vividly into their minds, doubt crept into their hearts.
It's actually battle armor! The dream we're all aiming for! I can't believe the class president managed to keep this a secret! Oh right! He's an amazing blacksmith. Maybe he really is suited for being class president?
Wu Siduo recovered from her shock at that moment. She scowled at Tang Wulin, throwing her massive body forward and swiping a claw at him with lightning speed.
So what if you have battle armor? I have a soul fusion skill! It's just one piece anyway. Even if it's made of spirit alloys, there's still a limit!
Tang Wulin formed a fist with his claw and punched. The ground cracked beneath his feet and the surrounding air whipping into a frenzy as his fist shot forward. Although there was soul power imbued in this punch, its true power came from his absolute strength!
Their fists collided.
A shockwave erupted forth and swept across the entire arena, leaving everyone's mind blank. Then there was a pause, and everyone tried to gather their thoughts to understand what occured. Before they could fully comprehend things, another shockwave rippled through the surrounding space. More insistent and forceful this time. The sky bulged out, then in, then back out again. Every eye was transfixed on this scene.
A neon green tear ripped into existence, zigzagging its way across the sky. And then, a high-pitched whine. Tang Wulin pressed his hands to his ears but to no avail, knees wobbling as he tried to catch his breath. Some of the less prepared spectators gasped and bent over in pain.
W-what is that? I can't be the only one seeing this, right? He flicked his gaze at Wu Siduo and noticed she was covering her ears as well, face pale with shock.
Before he could contemplate any further, a long, black, and pointy object peeked out of the green tear. A horn! A long snout, hooves, followed by silky, onyx hair. Crisp, obsidian eyes. A pitch-black beast galloped out of the sky in full throttle, heading straight for Tang Wulin!
Fueled by instinct, he curled his claw into a fist once more, summoning all his strength in one decisive punch. The creature dipped its head forward and lightly tapped its sharp horn on Tang Wulin's golden-scaled knuckles. Air whipped past him and the ground split, forming a crater that stretched beneath his feet. Pieces of debris flew into the crowd. Some spectators had to dodge to avoid being impaled, or worse yet crushed. Tang Wulin grunted, forced back twenty steps from the impact. Red trickled down his lips.
The beast clopped its hooves, nostrils flaring with a whine. "You're in the way!"
Tang Wulin was struck speechless. Standing right before him was clearly a soul beast. Moreover, it could speak! This meant it was likely ancient, perhaps 100,000 years old! In this age, catching sight of a soul beast was rarer than winning the lottery! No wonder he was overcome with shock.
"I'm not going to repeat myself," said the soul beast. Its dark eyes glimmered with interest as they took in his gauntlet. "But if you make me something nice like that, maybe, just maybe, I'll forgive you. And maybe, just maybe, I won't pulverize you into a pulp."
Seeing Tang Wulin's hesitation, Gu Yue broke free of her daze, leaping to Tang Wulin's side. "Who are you?!" Her jaw tightened and wariness kicked in; in a flash, spheres of swirling flames ignited in her palms, her stance one preparing for a fight.
The soul beast snorted, kicking dirt at their faces. "Last time I checked, I wasn't talking to some little girl."
"Insolent! I have a name, you know? This Horned One, and don't you forget it." It swept its gaze through the crowd, before widening its eyes comically at Tang Wulin. "Oh, I know! You're not answering me because witnessing my grace has struck you silly with awe and reverence. My mistake, my mistake."
Meanwhile, Tang Wulin forced himself to step forward, attempting to cool things down. His clothes stuck to the skin of his back, damp and chill. He could already smell the imminent crisis thick in the air. "T-t-that's not it at all." He was barely able to string together words at this point, but he pushed on, fearful of the consequences otherwise. "I don't mind helping, but as you can see we're midway through a match. Plus, battle armor takes a lot of time and materials to make."
"Not a problem," said the soul beast. It threw its head back, balancing on its hind legs as a loud whiny rippled from its throat. The tip of its horn lit up like a torch, sharp and blinding. At the same time, wave upon wave of pressure propagated from the horn's center, forming an invisible barrier between Tang Wulin's teammates and everyone else.
"Now we're surrounded by my time sphere. That means time is stopped wherever we go. I'll even throw in the materials. Got any more complaints?"
Tang Wulin looked around at the frozen faces beyond the time sphere, so shocked he even forgot to rejoice at not having to pay for materials. This creature, was clearly a being whose power reached unfathomable depths. The entire world beyond the bubble was still and silent. Even the dust and rubble from the area lay frozen in the grip of this creature's power! Tang Wulin continued to glance around, trying to comprehend how this was even possible.
The Unicorn stared at Tang Wulin, growing visibly more frustrated every second with the dim-witted gaping around. "I'm not sure if my spell addled your mind, or if you're always this slow. Let me lay it out for you again. You said that it requires time to forge some of that battle armor you were wearing, and that there simply wasn't enough. This Horned One deigned to provide you with that time by stopping it beyond this sphere. Now we have more than enough time to forge armor, right Pumpkin? I assume you have some kind of workshop where you do your metalwork?"
"R-r-right! Workshop! Armor! We'll go talk in my workshop! You can explain what you want and maybe why you're here. On that subject, what are you…? I mean, what do we address you as? Horned One?" Tang Wulin stammered out his reply and nervous questions as he started leading the way towards his workshop, simultaneously wondering if he should ask what a "pumpkin" was.
The Unicorn let out a sound somewhere in between a chuckle and a neigh as it followed. "Horned One works, I suppose. I have been to many realms, many worlds within those realms, and am known by many titles. The one that gets repeated most often, and amuses this Horned One, is Sassy Unicorn Magus. Since your mind appears to function slowly and I have to keep repeating myself, I am a Unicorn."
A Unicorn! A Magus! Many realms? Many worlds?
Every word that the Sassy Unicorn Magus uttered struck Tang Wulin further into speechlessness. Questions popped up so quickly in his mind that he didn't even have time to finish one before three more rushed out, vying for attention. This Unicorn Magus was clearly a mighty being well beyond Tang Wulin's ken. This was the only indisputable fact. It was the island of solace and sanity that his psyche clung to as everything else he knew to be true was shattered.
They walked in silence towards the workshop from that point on. The Unicorn watched Tang Wulin closely, noting any subtle variations in his stride and step. Did I break another mortal? This one's mind seems particularly fragile. I wonder if everyone in this realm is similar? Perhaps I dropped down on a school for slow children? Just my luck. Still, that armor is interesting. This place could be a haven for skilled craftsmen unable to deal with the tribulations of ordinary mortal life!
As the Unicorn mused on the situation, they arrived at the door to the workshop. Tang Wulin walked straight into the closed door. Then he shook his head, stared at the latch for ten seconds, and proceeded to start fumbling with it. He took so long to open the door that questioning if time was frozen inside or outside the sphere. The Unicorn looked on as this took place, pity blossoming in its eyes. This poor fool is clearly not equipped to deal with the outside world. Or reality. I should be more gentle with this human.
After an eternity, Tang Wulin finally managed to get the latch open. He threw the door open and welcomed the Unicorn in with a bumbling flourish. "W-w-welcome to my workshop, S-sassy One! Horned Magus! UNICORN!" He clamped both his hands over his mouth to stop himself from rambling further.
The Unicorn gave him a bemused look as it walked in through the door and looked around Tang Wulin's workshop. "What a lovely workshop. It looks like you work very, very hard in here to shape metal in amazing ways! I'm honored that you've allowed me in here. I could see myself coming back to get my horseshoes changed." Every word was spoken calmly and slowly, with no sudden changes or anything that could be interpreted as a threat. There, that should reassure this bumbling simpleton before his head explodes from trying to think too hard.
Tang Wulin looked around his workshop with the Sassy Unicorn Magus, taking it all in with wonderment like he had never seen it before and nodding along as the Unicorn spoke. "Shoes! Yes, I hammer here. Metals, armors, spirit refining. I hammer it all! SHOES! That's right! We have horses here too! SHOES! I CAN MAKE YOU SHOES! YOU'RE A HORSE! WITH A HORN! YOU NEED SHOES! I CAN HAMMER SHOES!"
Tang Wulin's voice increased in both pitch and volume as the words sloshed out of his mouth like diarrhea.
The Unicorn winced, "You don't need to yell. Just stay calm. Everything is going to be okay. Repeat after me. Sun is warm. Grass is green. These words are an ancient wisdom passed down to me by a great Sage in another realm. Just keep saying it. Sun is warm, grass is green. While we're on the subject, I am not a horse with a horn. I am a Magus and a Unicorn. Please refrain from referring to me as a horse in the future." Every time this boy opens his mouth, I want to rip off my own horn and ram it into my brain. Sigh.
"SUNISWARMGRASSISGREEN! SUNISGREENGRASS IS WARM! SUN IS WARM, GRASS IS GREEN! Right! S-s-sorry! Not a horse. U-u-unicorn! Sun is warm, grass is green." Tang Wulin stammered out, breathlessly repeating the mantra the Unicorn passed onto him.
He continued to repeat the mantra as fast as he could form the words, taking quick shallow breaths in between to keep the words flowing out.
Sigh. The simpleton is going to pass out.
The Unicorn winced as Tang Wulin's unconscious body hit the floor of the workshop.
There it is. I really thought that human who kept pointing at me and yelling something about Bestowal was the most irritating being I could run into. That parrot of his was such a horrid creature, too. My god. So much nagging about karma and how I owed him money. I don't think he understood that his piddly hexes weren't even close to True Magic.
The Sassy Unicorn Magus took a deep breath to calm down.
He was annoying. This one is irritating. Now I have to sit here waiting for him to wake up.
A short while later, Tang Wulin finally came to. He rubbed his head, sat up and found himself staring straight at the Sassy Unicorn Magus. Whatever shimmering wisps of hope he had that the entire thing was a delusion from being hit on the head too hard scattered instantly.
The Unicorn's horn pulsed with a gentle blue light. "Stay calm. I'm just healing you with magic. You had too much of a shock and then fell on the ground unconscious. I mean you no harm."
Tang Wulin gazed into the Unicorn's eyes and knew that every word was true in his heart of hearts. "I understand. Thank you. I'm sorry. Can we start over? I'm Tang Wulin, a student at Shrek Academy. You are on the Duolou Continent right now."
The Unicorn's horn stopped pulsing with light. "Yes, we can start over. Well met, Tang Wulin. You already know who I am. Partially anyway. I'll explain the rest in a moment. I need to ward and protect this place before my magic runs out. Crossing the realms is not an easy task. Stay calm, I swear that no harm will come to you."
Tang Wulin nodded. The Unicorn rose to its feet and inhaled deeply. Its horn started to glow so brightly that Tang Wulin had to look away and close his eyes. Then he felt the magic, truly felt magic. The sheer majesty took his breath away and the pressure from it forced him down to the floor. It pounded in his veins and blazed through his heart. He felt more alive than ever had before. There was a wildness, an untamed glory, to the Magic that flowed from the Sassy Unicorn Magus.
The Magic and the light faded moments later. Tang Wulin looked back at the Sassy Unicorn Magus, only to find two beings standing in its place. One was a seventeen year old boy with raven locks, the same color as the Sassy Unicorn Magus' coat. The other was a Unicorn. Smaller than the Unicorn Magus, with a light chestnut coat and a pink star on its forehead. The horn that sprouted from the star was much smaller and less menacing than the one that the Sassy Unicorn Magus had.
The boy walked over to Tang Wulin with his hand extended out. Tang Wulin grasped it reflexively, still trying to wrap his mind over what just happened.
"I'm Cassius. I know you're confused right now. The two of us, we're the Sassy Unicorn Magus. Not right now, as you can see, but when we're together. The other Unicorn over there is my partner. Her name is, um--"
"Whatsamatter? Big man over here can't even introduce his Unicorn partner by name?" The other Unicorn interjected when Cassius paused. "You were talking some big game about how manly you were to that East Princess. Right up until she told you she wasn't interested and the person she was interested in was at some trial with people from some sect with iron leaves. Or trees. They were fighting nine lions or something like that. I knew you were trying to fly too high that time. Remember?"
Then she walked over to Tang Wulin and extended her forehoof. "I'm Zazzles. Remember the name, I'm going to break your heart."
Cassius sighed and looked down at the floor.
Tang Wulin, still on the floor and looking up at this Unicorn extending her front hoof to him, was perplexed. Nothing in his life had prepared him for this situation. He genuinely did not know how to react. On top of all of this, he couldn't shake the suspicion that the Unicorn wanted him to kiss her hoof.
Cassius jumped in to save him and prevent things from descending further into chaos. "Right. This is Zazzles, my Unicorn partner. Together, we are the Sassy Unicorn Magus." He helped Tang Wulin up. "I know all of this is confusing. I'm sorry. As you've probably guessed by now, we're not from the Duolou Continent. Or this realm. We came here from somewhere else."
Tang Wulin brushed himself off. "That's a good a place to start as any." He looked at Cassius, then at Zazzles, still standing there with her hoof out, and then back at Cassius. "How did the two of you get here? How do you merge to become the other Unicorn? Why did you come to Shrek Academy of all places?"
Cassius' demeanor turned solemn and rigid. He crossed his arms together and took a deep breath in. Then he started his tale in a baritone so deep that it resonated in Tang Wulin's chest.
"Far over, this Vast Expanse of old,
Through dantians deep and worlds with VRMMO,
We pierce away, ere break of day,
To seek our long forgotten home.
The goblins of yore made mighty spells,
To peddle their mischief with laughter like twinkling bells,
They travelled deep, through darkest keep,
And brought to our world tragedy from the fells.
Our verdant forests and twining rivers like braided cord,
To them, a gleaming golden hoard,
They killed and fought, and woodland creatures they caught
To eat, and claim themselves Lord.
On entrail necklaces they strung
The unicorn horns, on bramble crowns they hung
Fairy heart-fire, on twisted wire
They meshed the blood of beast and tree.
Far over, this Vast Expanse of old,
Through dantians deep and worlds with VRMMO,
We pierce aw--"
Cassius and Tang Wulin had both been entranced. One was enthralled in the act of singing his tale, and the other was enchanted by it. Unbeknownst and unnoticed by either of them, Zazzles had grown frustrated. She walked over and kicked Cassius over, bringing an abrupt conclusion to his epic ballad.
"What did I tell you about singing that stupid song? Every realm, every person we meet! Did that white flour paste we found in that weird realm dither your brains? Or was it was that strange guy we saw there, humming and singing about 'I got a blank space hmhmy, and I'll write your name!' You must have started writing this ridiculous ballad when you heard him singing! Just tell him what happened quickly so we can be done with our business here and move on!"
Tang Wulin could see how disappointed Cassius was over not finishing his ballad. But the ire that emanated from Zazzles was palpable. He wanted to diffuse the tension as quickly as possible, wary of the consequences. "How about you just tell me the story fast so we can deal with the issue of your armor. You guys want to find your way home, right?"
Cassius brightened when Tang Wulin referenced his ballad, and nodded his agreement. "Too right. As I was saying, our world brimmed with Magic, forests, and was home to many, many creatures."
"The Goblinfolk were one of the many races that resided in our realm. Causing mischief was their pride and joy. The Magic that flowed in their blood was bent to this purpose. They experimented and studied with it, ever elevating their pranks. Then they discovered how to create portals to other worlds. This was their crowning achievement. They quickly scattered from world to world, causing untold havoc and chaos. All of it in the spirit of good fun, mind you. Eventually, they started going to places they shouldn't have. They provoked evil that should have never been woken, and brought death to our world."
"No one remembers exactly where the race of Warriors that learned to harness the Goblin portals came from. Or how they managed to do it. But they did, and they crossed over into our world. Their iron withered the Fair Folk, the fairies, and their steel cut down the Dryads. They came to kill and claim our world as their own."
"We didn't know that at the beginning. Our world was a peaceful one, where all races dwelt together in harmony. We worked together to build and prosper, to learn and create. So when the Ancient Warriors arrived, the races came together and hoped to settle our differences through peaceful discourse. The charge for diplomacy was led by the Boar Lord. The porcines were an industrious folk of a managerial and actuarial bent. The Boar Lord theorized that the Ancient Warriors came from a world where there was a disconnect between those that owned the means of production and those that actually produced. This is what led to the Warriors being so violent and desperate to seize our land. He believed that the Warriors could be reasoned with, that they could understand that our world was a true Utopia and that they could find a place within it."
"Armed with the surety that he could enlighten the Ancient Warriors and integrate them into our world, the Boar Lord travelled to the plains where they camped. Legend has it that he only managed to utter 'Our world is a Utopia' before the Warriors slaughtered him. They roasted his body on a spit and danced around as they ate him. It is told that the Boar Lord was so large that the Ancient Warriors feasted for a fortnight before they managed to consume him."
"The murder and defilement of the Boar Lord was thought to be darkest moment. Everyone believed that things couldn't possibly get any worse. They were wrong. More and more Warriors flowed through the occupied Goblin portal, and our verdant world was stained red. We couldn't fight back. Not really. While we had abundant Magic, none of the races could harness it at will or bend it to violence. It simply was. Magic is what gave the various races life, it sparkled through them. The humans were the only race that lacked all trace of Magic. They tried to fight back against the Warriors with stolen weapons and an improvised arsenal. But the Ancient Warriors were more than human. They had a strange power that made them faster, stronger, and more resilient than the humans of our world. Our blades could barely scratch them, and they decimated us without breaking a sweat."
"At our darkest hour, when we lost all hope and accepted that the end was nigh, something changed. A Unicorn appeared, but unlike any that roamed our world. This one was larger, more powerful. His horn was longer and razor sharp. Most importantly, the Magic of our world bent to his will. All of it. He rained fire and lightning down on the Ancient Warriors. He trampled them underfoot and collected their corpses on his horn. Their blades broke before they could even get close to his hide. The very grass and trees were his to command, growing in an instant and ensnaring the Ancient Warriors."
Tang Wulin started at this last revelation. "That sounds just like my bluesilver grass!"
Cassius stared at him for a moment before continuing, "Perhaps you do have a bit of the True Magic in this realm. Where was I?"
"The Unicorn Magus killed every last one of the Ancient Warriors that set foot on our world. Then he crossed over through the Goblin portal to their world. The various races gathered at the portal and awaited his return, not knowing if this was an end to their tribulation or a different face to their inevitable end. Months passed in this endless wait."
"Then one night, he returned. He walked through the portal with his horn blazing with Magic. The blood that soaked and matted his coat added to his majesty. He crossed over, looked back at the Goblin portal, and shattered it with his hoof. The bane of our world had been vanquished! He looked out at every creature that had gathered at the portal, his horn growing brighter and brighter. The various races bowed down before him, shielding their eyes from the light of his horn. Just as suddenly as it appeared, the light vanished. Where the Unicorn Magus stood, there was a human and a normal Unicorn."
"He was the first Unicorn Magus, and the progenitor of the Unicorn Knights."
"The humans of our world contain no magic. But they have the innate ability to manipulate and shape magic. Unicorns, on the other hand, are beings entirely composed of Magic. It flows purest in them. They have no ability to manipulate or use it. For them, Magic simply is. If a Unicorn and Human form a soul bond, then the human gains the ability to wield magic."
"Since that time, the Unicorn Knights protected our world. They trained and formed bonds with Unicorns, standing ready to face another threat to our existence. In the millenia that followed, the bond shifted. Or perhaps it was forgotten. The Human Knights never merged with their Unicorns to become one being. They rode around on their Unicorns, and used a combination of swords and sorcery."
"This is where we get to Zazzles and I. We--"
Zazzles snorted before interjecting, "FINALLY! You talk too much. I'm the important part of this story. Without me, you'd be lying around broken and pitiful."
Cassius looked at Zazzles thoughtfully for a moment, "Yes, of course. You saved my life that day. And countless times since then."
He looked back at Tang Wulin, "I was about to start training as a Human Knight and eventually bond with my own Unicorn. On my way to the testing grounds, I ran into a group of senior Knights-in-Training that had bonded with their Unicorns and were drunk on Magic. They pursued me for some imagined slight, intent on blood. I bumped into Zazzles as I was fleeing from them. She was furious that I tried to trample her. At that point, I was caught between a group of angry Unicorn Knights and an angry Unicorn. The Knights caught up to me, and decided that they would kill both of us. Something happened in that moment. Something neither of us can explain. We bonded, but it wasn't the Soul Bond that I heard so much about and studied. Our souls melded into one being, stronger than either of us alone. We discovered how to become a Unicorn Magus, like our ancestor."
"Unfortunately, neither of us knew how to control the new form. Our fear and anger overtook any semblance of rational thought. We slaughtered the Unicorn Knights that were going to kill us, but our bloodlust wasn't sated. We started running, pulling in more and more Magic every second. Before we knew what happened, we pierced through the fabric of space and time that bound our universe and found ourselves somewhere new."
"Since then, we've travelled from realm to realm, universe to universe. Trying to find our way home."
Zazzles nodded her agreement to Cassius' last statement. Tang Wulin could clearly see how homesick both of them were, how weary their travels made them, and the weight they carried in their hearts.
Tang Wulin got up and walked over to the duo. He placed a hand on Cassius' shoulder and the other on Zazzles' forelock. "This is Shrek Academy. You're safe here, and you can rest. I'll see what I can do about your armor."
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