Madeleine woke up in the morning in high spirits, looking down at the flower Dyon had given her, a bright smile bloomed on her face.
Getting up, she went to the bathroom and fixed herself up, changing into something more casual. She put her hair up and slipped her glasses back on before almost bouncing into the living room to find Meiying, Delia and Oliver.
The three of them looked up, and although they had a bit of an unnatural look on their faces, Madeleine didn't pay much attention to it.
"Oh? What're you doing here Oliver? You know it's not polite to come to a lady's home like this," Madeleine said teasing her elder brother.
Oliver sighed, "little sister, I came to tell you that father has decided on a wedding date. 2 months from now you'll marry Akihiko."
Madeleine's smile froze, her bubbly personality turning stone cold, "no. I absolutely will not."
Oliver shook his head, "you don't have much of a choice. Considering the date father's chosen, you won't be in full control of yourself."
Madeleine paled, coming to a sudden realization… 'two months from now? The winter solstice…'.
Usually during that time of year. In fact, even during the entire month. Madeleine closed herself off from the world, unwilling to lose her most precious thing or to disgrace herself while not being in control. But, now, her supposed father was using that against her to consummate a marriage she wanted no part of.
'Dyon can't fight against 2 pillar families like this… And I wouldn't even be able to help him. That month is not only the one I'm in the most pain for, I'll have the least amount of control. I'll have no cultivation and even if I did, how could I fight against the Kami and Sapientia family elders?'
Madeleine buried the pain in her heart. It seemed like her family was giving her no choice. Ignoring her brother, she looked over to Meiying and Delia, "where's Dyon, I need to talk to him."
"This…" Delia stuttered, not knowing what to say.
Madeleine looked intently at Delia's face, but all she saw was endless hesitation.
"Tell me," Madeleine said with a shaking voice. Her heart was trembling as she looked down at the flower in her hands, 'it's too… it's too dim…' Tears began spilling over.
Oliver got up, walking over to comfort his sister.
"He's dead." Oliver said softly.
"GET AWAY FROM ME!"
Oliver paled, before his face steeled.
Madeleine fell to the ground, unable to stop her shivering. Clutching the flower in her hands, she couldn't stop shaking. A layer of frost started to cover the ground, coating Madeleine's body.
"Big sister!" Delia ran to Madeleine, ignoring the cold and holding her tightly, "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry."
Meiying's cold voice called out, "leave. And tell that Chenglei he'd better never come see me again."
Oliver looked over at Meiying's cold eyes before nodding and leaving the house.
The sound of a lonely door closing resonated with Madeleine's endless sobbing.
"Meiying, her illness has never acted up like this before. Dyon's flame isn't working," Delia was delirious, she had no idea what to do. The pillar she had always held onto was breaking apart and she couldn't help.
Meiying rubbed Delia's back while holding onto Madeleine with her, "how could it work?" she said softly, "it's tied to his life… you heard what he said at the banquet… he said it would leave her in comfort for as long as he –" Meiying choked on her last words, unable to finish.
Madeleine's shivering got worse after she heard what Meiying said.
The 3 girls sat on the floor of the living room, holding each other in helplessness.
Many hours before, Dyon was slowly sinking to the bottom of the lake, 'well… this sucks, now doesn't it.'
After ten minutes of holding his breath, Dyon had sunk far enough down that he believed the lights from his array formation wouldn't be seen from the surface. Unwilling to see if the same trick would work on Oliver twice, he chose to be cautious.
Dyon smirked to himself as he thought of the events. Although Oliver's sword had in fact pierced his chest, Dyon had distracted him long enough to draw the spatial array he had used to pass through the window with Madeleine earlier that night on his heart. He would have done so with his entire chest, but that would mean that Oliver would have a) noticed the lack of resistance b) would have noticed the lack of blood and c) probably most obviously, would have seen the array since it would have to be directly on his chest to work that way.
Pushing out a spherical defensive array from him, Dyon formed an air bubble, finally allowing himself to take a deep breath.
"He still cracked my ribs though… fuck that hurt. I'm real tired of all these people trying to kill me."
'I should head back to my room, that way Libro will see me on the monitor as long as I take down the metal plate. At least that way I can disappear for a while without Madeleine thinking I'm dead. That girl's suffered enough.'
'I need to be back within 2 months no matter what. I know they'll try and use the fact Madeleine loses control on the winter solstice to force her to do something she doesn't want to. But, how do I get strong enough in 2 months to say no to 2 powerful families, I can't even beat Oliver…'
Dyon sat in meditation, allowing himself to slowly sink and his wounds to heal.
Suddenly, Dyon felt a sinister aura. Startling himself awake, he looked down, but he saw nothing but pitch black.
'that's weird… is there something at the bottom of the lake? I didn't see anything even when I was swimming out here… so, it must be really far down…'
Dyon shook his head. Although he was curious, he knew that his best bet at getting stronger was probably the center pillar library. Over the past weeks, Dyon had taken out all book relevant to him on all 6 of the 600 level libraries in the outer pillar, Libro had never tried to restrict him. Everything from cultivation techniques to battle techniques and array alchemy. But, he had practiced none of them. He hadn't done it to find techniques, he just wanted to get an understanding of what was good and what was bad. But, despite this, even Libro didn't give him access to the central pillar library. So, he knew that was where the good stuff was.
But, there was the problem of getting there. However, Dyon had an idea for that too. He wanted to use the ponds. They were connected to each other and supplied energy to the whole school, so, wouldn't that mean that the central pillar library had a pond too?
'It's the dead of night, and from what I understand, people rarely go to the central pillar library. Also, considering how everyone's scared of the pond energy, they'll never think I'd be crazy enough to enter it.'
Earlier, Dyon had done a test and found that his arrays could block out the pond's energy. Which made sense, if it couldn't block energy from cultivation, how would it work as a proper defensive array?
Speeding forward, Dyon headed for the central pillar.
'Although now that I have the rudimentary spatial array, I could probably just fly up and directly enter the library through the walls… but, I'd have no way of know if anyone saw me… too many damned windows.'
Soon, Dyon reached the very bottom of the center pillar and was looking into the now empty room that he had once been to for the opening ceremony. Slowly, Dyon passed through the window and touched down on the red carpets.
Dyon wasn't here to reminisce though. He looked up and saw the creation array they had used to call upon things for their performances.
'Such a large and complex array must need plenty of power, right?' Although Dyon wondered how a school without any real array alchemists could have such an array, he had no choice but to push it to the back of his mind.
Dyon lifted himself up and touched the ceiling above the center stage. His 6th sense reached out.
'As I thought, there's a massive power supply up here. It runs up and should be connected to ponds they have upstairs. If I check them diligently, I should eventually find the library.'
Dyon coated himself in layer after layer of defensive formations, ensuring that they wouldn't allow the energy through.
'hm, since this array is able to covert this energy into a usable form… maybe I can make an array like that too in the future…' Dyon mused.
He passed through the ceiling and found himself in a sea of energy. Just as Dyon was about to randomly choose a direction to move in, he was suddenly washed with auras of hate, animosity and death.
'What is going on here… why do I sense such hatred? SHIT!' Dyon felt a flicker in his aurora as it dimmed under the oppressive energy.
'I can't allow this to continue. It's already cut off the connection I have with Madeleine's flower. If this continues, the next thing that will be cut off is me. Why is there aura like this here? I thought this sea of energy was done voluntarily, what is going on?'
Dyon didn't have too much time to think about it, he was already speeding through the sea of energy, checking pond after pond and room after room. Although it would have been smarter to get out, he knew he couldn't give up. If he did, there would be very few other avenues for him to save Madeleine.
'I'm so sorry Madeleine, it looks like you'll have to spend the next two months in pain,' A palpable fury rose up in Dyon's heart. He was disgusted with himself and disgusted with this world. How easy would it be for him to just turn around and go home? Pretend like he never read his mother's letter?
The death qi was starting to whither away at Dyon, when finally, Dyon saw a library through one of the ponds he was swimming towards, but, before he could leap out, he heard voices speaking in hushed tones.
"This is the best place to speak, no one comes here. Only the pillar family heads have access and they spend most of their time away from the academy. I need to leave soon as well, so we need to hurry this up."
'That's elder Kami…' thought Dyon, 'I wonder what's going on.'
"First, I'd like to say congratulations Pillar Family Leader Kami, I hear your son has found a suitable wife."
Dyon clenched his fists.
"It's all thanks to your Daiyu family, how else would we have found the cure."
The elder from the Daiyu family chuckled, "you're quite sinister to call such a thing a cure."
Dyon's nails dug into his palms as his irises greyed, affected by the death qi that was slowly seeping through his arrays.
"It's a form of a cure, is it not?" Kami chuckled.
"…I guess it is a matter of perspective. But, about the matter of payment. Not only has my Daiyu family mended your younger son's soul, we've also helped your elder son get something he's always wanted and massively improved his future prospects…"
"Of course, Elder Daiyu, I always repay my debts. Although Meiying hasn't been receptive to Chenglei, I'll ensure he retains his spot to enter the center pillar world. We've also been ensuring that the power supply is enough by fueling the school's energy system for the past two years."
"fueling, huh? You seem to have an uncanny ability to make such evil things seem so normal," elder Daiyu chuckled.
"Sometimes some sacrifices are necessary. This is the martial world. If they expected an easy road here, they were mistaken."
"Hoho, how cold hearted. They came here to learn, not die. I suspect this also has to do with that boy's disappearance, no?"
Elder Kami froze, "don't speak of this. Not even here," he said quickly.
"And to think, his poor little sister has been stifling her talent in the godforsaken place to look for a dead man… you'd best not let her find out the truth, or else there'll be endless trouble."
Dyon froze, 'who's he talking about?'
"Elder, please," Kami said feeling slightly uncomfortable, "how else could we pay our debt? If we didn't sacrifice a few of the elder students, we'd never power the formation properly. If we could have used nothing by 1st layer students, we would have. But, their cultivation is so shallow, it wouldn't be possible to take enough without raising suspicion. We would have liked to save his talent and have him be one of our alumni, but who knew he couldn't see the bigger picture. He even threatened to get his family involved. Even if the Sicarius family is small and weak… they're connected to a much, much bigger problem."
'Sicarius?' Dyon shivered, 'Ava…'
Elder Daiyu chuckled, "The connection might be a lot stronger than you think… But, you don't have to explain it to me. You know what our family deals in. I've seen plenty of bad. This can be considered child's play. All I know is that for even members of the Sicarius family to come here for your central pillar world, it must be quite a place. Quite impressive for such a small school. So, I thought I'd get a place for Chenglei. What I'm more interested in though is the technology you use to harvest the energy. The amount of death qi contained in the pond should be an astronomical amount. How do you stop it from corroding the things that use it as a power source?"
"Actually, only the Storm and Kami family know about this. If the other families knew, they would directly oppose us."
'Storm?... what do they have to do with this?...' Dyon suddenly had a thought, but he didn't dare complete it.
"The Storm family actually stole this technique from the Ragnor family after they had stolen it from the Pakal family during their famous war. It's why the Storm family ran all the way to the edge of the continent instead of staying a branch family of theirs. Storm used this as payment to join the Pillar Families, then we built this school."
"One technique was worth losing the protection of such a strong family?"
"We haven't perfected the technique yet because we're missing some items, which is actually why we want to open up the central pillar world. That world was actually left behind by the previous sect housed in this area. I haven't looked too deeply into that sect, but from my understanding, the crescent shaped island used to be whole. After a major war, they were wiped off the face of the planet, leaving a huge hole. We built the academy on this lake because although the old sect is gone, it still has a pretty dense center of energy which is good for cultivating."
"I see, so the books in this library must be ones you found from that sect, right?"
"right. Since I can't afford to repay your kindness in helping my younger son, what we can do, is once Meiying has been married into the Daiyu family, you can stop being a secluded family. Now that the wars between you and the Bai family will cease, you can join our academy and enjoy the spoils of the Storm family with us. Which is the only reason I've told you all of this…"
Elder Daiyu shivered in anticipation, "so, what is the true secret of what the Storm family stole?"
"Well, you've probably figured out that their true family name isn't Storm, it's Ragnor. Only the pillar family heads know this. They changed their name to better hide. So, just like the Ragnor family, they undergo much more intense lightning tribulations as their cultivation increases because of their inherent affinity for lightning due to their special bodies. As such, only the very top talents of the Ragnor family can reach high levels of cultivation without dying. To circumvent their decline, the Ragnor family warred with the Pakal family for centuries to steal their blood sacrifice technique. Essentially, with enough preparation, you can steal the cultivation of others. Once we find the items we need, we can soar greatly as an academy."
Dyon's face contorted in disgust, shivering in the pond as his skin greyed.
"The true patriarch of the Storm family and their true geniuses don't show up at the academy because they are so far and away from the so-called geniuses we have here that it would cause an uproar. Aside from Tammy who I have suspicions is a true genius of the Storm family, maybe only Madeleine can compete with them… if she wasn't so sick. We have to keep control on this information as much as we can so that the Ragnor family doesn't track us down. We'll only truly reveal ourselves once we've used the technique adequately to be able to compete for a place at the center of the continent."
A smile appeared on Daiyu's face. He had thought of stealing the technique for himself, but Kami very cleverly mentioned the power the Storm family had.
"So, what's stopping them from getting rid of you after they've become strong enough?"
Kami smiled, "because many of us are connected to larger families who understand the importance of such a technique too. To be able to circumvent lightning tribulations and directly enter the next level of cultivation? Which one of our higher branches wouldn't want that? If the Kami God clan knew about this, they'd war too. Same with the Sapientia God Clan. If suddenly one of your branches was wiped out, wouldn't you investigate regardless of how little you cared for them?"
Elder Daiyu nodded his head in agreement, "very true. This payment is more than enough for what the Daiyu family has done for your sons."
"Welcome to the pillar families."
The two men shook hands.
Dyon was nearly entirely grey at this point. But, his anger was keeping him together. These so-called people really treated lives like weeds. They killed Ava's brother for speaking out. They sacrificed so many students, all for the benefit of their families. They claim the other family leaders don't know, but how couldn't they know? They must be turning a blind eye. What kind of idiot wouldn't understand what kind of sacrifice was needed for such a powerful technique? The storm family must be keeping the side effects of this technique under wraps. If the Pakal family truly had access to such a technique, how could any family rival them if there were no draw backs? Dyon didn't know if he was angrier with their immorality or their stupidity.
The door to the library finally sealed. Numerous locks sounded as the meter-thick doors locked everything off.
Dyon jumped out of the pond, immediately circulating his aurora flames to get rid of the death qi around him.
Once he finally opened his eyes, a beeping sound rang from his wrists, 'they're in my room? DAMMIT. If my connection has been cut off from Madeleine's flower and I can't go to my room, she's really going to think I'm dead.'
Dyon clutched his fists in agitation.
'Two more months.'
'Wait for me.'
If you enjoy Focus, be sure to add it to your library. If you like a chapter and want to support, make sure to vote us up 😊. Each additional collections and power stone helps!
Goddammit Oliver *sigh*
Follow me @Awespec on twitter so we can share our sorrows