What does despair feel like?
Ralf felt that he knew the answer to this question.
That immense pain when his larynx was shattered and torn apart by that female bartender from the Brotherhood (he did not know Jala's name yet) made him feel as if it happened just five minutes ago.
And ever since then, it was as though he endured that pain every single second. Blood flowed in reverse from his throat into his lungs. The immense pain was transmitted to his brain from his throat. Even his airways were blocked.
He was unable to speak.
He was unable to breathe.
He was unable to move.
It was as though he was a heavily injured and dying stray dog that had simply been abandoned on Red Street Market.
Whether he eventually dies from pain, suffocation or choking, his hours are numbered.
The only thing that urged him to stay alive was his desire for life, which was born within him when he was roaming the streets of Camus Union during his childhood.
As a Psionic who controls the wind, he repeatedly used his psionic ability to push mouthful after mouthful of air full of dust, blood, and filth into his torn throat towards his lungs, as if he was squeezing a sponge.
He then squeezed out the exhaled breath from another wound on the back of his neck.
Every single 'breath' was accompanied by an immense, inhuman pain. It was like the sort of suffering one goes through when going back and forth between hell and earth.
'I'm probably the first person to ever extend life using one's psionic ability,' Ralf thought with sorrow.
Ralf felt that his current condition was very similar to the stray dogs that lived by gathering rubbish in sewers.
The female bartender left.
The cop left.
A few groups of thugs walked past his heavily injured and dying body.
A scout turned him over and felt his mouth and nose for any breath.
An earth-shattering explosion traveled into his ears.
Ralf did not care.
He could only instinctively 'breathe' in mouthful after mouthful of air using his psionic ability under the immense pain.
He did that until daybreak, when Noumea, who was retreating in panic, hoisted up his 'dead body'.
Noumea used to be a village hunter and was regarded as the coward among the Strongest Twelve. Ralf had always looked down on him, and the Phantom Wind Follower's favorite pastime was to ridicule, insult, and bully him in the Brotherhood.
The most ironic fact was that in his last moments, this coward whom he had always scorned was the one who took care of his 'dead body'.
Ralf was jolted awake by the immense pain that came from his legs.
His hands were tightly bound. When he opened his eyes, he was at the mortuary of the police station.
Then he saw Nikolay.
The head of Blood Bottle Gang's Eight Cadres (Ralf did not know that five of them died during the battle on Red Street Market), Nikolay the 'Red Viper'.
However, Nikolay only stared at him with a complicated gaze and shook his head disdainfully and with a fierce expression on his face.
"You are one of the few people from Blood Bottle Gang who survived," the Red Viper said airily.
Ralf struggled, wanting to speak while enduring the pain in his throat, but he could only make nonsensical "Huh, huh" sounds.
He felt a flare of immense pain on his knee.
However, he could not feel anything below his knees.
"Look at you, Ralf. The best one and the only supra class elite among the Strongest Twelve."
"The young man with endless glory, who was proudly recommended by Lady Catherine to the Air Mystic."
The Red Viper softly tapped his face, gaze still complicated and full of hatred. He said mockingly, "Now, you are lying here like a dead body, unable to speak, unable to breathe, unable to move, and unable to eat. Why are you still alive?"
The Red Viper arched his brow and his countenance became hideous and frenzied, "Why did you survive instead of Kirks, Song, Sven, or Dorno? Why was it you? Why was it Catherine's follower who survived instead of mine?"
Ralf widened his eyes, struggling with anger and pain. However, the immense pain and injury that came from two spots of his body prevented him from moving.
The Red Viper quelled his anger and instead started laughing loudly. He laughed jubilantly, happily, and insanely.
"Blood Bottle Gang suffered huge losses, and my forces were also considerably damaged," he said softly. "If all of Catherine's personnel were still around, she might be able to be promoted while using me as a stepping stone. This is a possibility."
Nikolay's expression became hideous.
"However, how would a Phantom Wind Follower who can't talk, has no legs, is injured and on death's door, be of her service? That's why..." Nikolay extended his hands, and with a twisted face, squeezed the wounds on Ralf's knees that had been cauterized to stop the bleeding. "Why don't you just die in battle and disappear?"
"Unh..." Ralf shut his eyes tight in the midst of the immense pain and struggled with all his might, although his body could not move due to the heavy injuries. He did not do so to break free but to alleviate the pain in his knees.
Even the psionic ability to control the air that he relied on to 'breathe' was almost halted.
"My mood is really bad today. While cleaning up the mess, I faced obstacles everywhere." Nikolay heaved a sigh and continued speaking, "But after getting rid of you, a genius well-regarded by Catherine, I'll feel very happy."
Seeing the hatred, pain, and anger in Ralf's eyes, Nikolay sported an apologetic and resigned expression, he smilingly said, "There was no choice; they especially requested for a supra class elite and even emphasized that the wrists must be intact for them to obtain blood. Otherwise, I would really have liked to chop off your hands instead of your legs."
In the end, he tapped Ralf's face and spoke beside his ear in a deep voice, "I hope that you get along joyfully with the vampires."
As Nikolay's footsteps faded, two Blood Bottle Gang thugs walked up to him. One of them held a three-inch-long needle attached to a tube. The other grabbed Ralf's lethargic wrist.
At that moment, Ralf felt great despair.
Thales watched Ralf in a daze.
He had the urge to ask him about what happened to Jala after that, and about the result of their battle. Did Jala escape? Why was Ralf in this state? Was he not part of Blood Bottle Gang?
However, Thales hesitated, because he saw Ralf's current state.
The legless man's gaze was unfocused, and he could only convey his emotions through meaningless groans. His gaze was a mixture of despair, pain, regret, and sadness.
Thales still remember the Ralf he saw the night before.
Ralf was frivolous, confident, arrogant, and possessed extraordinary skills.
He moved about freely in the unending gusts of violent wind, leaving behind his trademark laughter.
"Ha Ha unh..." Ralf shut his eyes tight and started moaning in pain again.
The Phantom Wind Follower who was once wilful, mean, and fearless, did not exist anymore.
His lips were greenish-black and dry, a clear sign of severe dehydration. However, Thales could not find any water. He was also not sure if Ralf could still swallow in his current condition. Thales did not know how Ralf was even able to breathe.
The boy could only sit by the side in a daze and watch Ralf suffering in pain while struggling to live.
The second year after he transmigrated, a female child beggar had both her legs broken by Quide. Before dying, the poor girl wailed all night.
At that time, Thales was still in a state of ignorance and had only found very few memory fragments. He was panic-stricken, frightened by the horror of reality, and could only hide and shiver in a hole in the wall.
Then he had slept and listened to the girl wail through the entire night with a muddled mind.
It was similar to what was happening right now.
Afterward, he sometimes wondered why he did not have more courage at that moment to end the girl's suffering.
Looking at Ralf's disfigured state, Thales' heart felt heavy.
'No matter how many wrongdoings one has committed, no one deserves this kind of torture,' he told himself.
In the end, Thales heaved a sigh and climbed towards Ralf's side. He softly said, "Ralf... Midira Ralf."
Although his consciousness was already slowly fading, at that moment, Ralf's pupils instinctively became focused.
'Who is this? Who still remembers me, a maimed person who is waiting to die?'
Thales softly drew out JC's dagger and slowly held it against Ralf's neck.
"I know that you are in a lot of pain right now, enduring torture and suffering that cannot be imagined by normal people. I can end your life and help free you from all of this."
Ralf's breathing, which was completed using his throat and his psionic ability, immediately became chaotic.
"However, I have to ask you seriously and carefully. Midira Ralf, are you willing to let me relieve you of your suffering like this? If you are willing, blink once. If you are not willing... I am only asking this once."
With a solemn expression, Thales waited for Ralf's reaction.
In the darkness, Ralf stared hard at the boy's hazy profile before him.
Ralf felt immense pain from his throat to his knees. Every single 'breath' tore open the wound on his throat. Every struggle affected the part where he was amputated on his knees.
He was thirsty, hungry, cold, in pain, and in despair, which was to him, the most terrifying emotion.
He recalled the sensation of wind fluttering past his body, the first time he killed a person with his psionic ability, the first time he entered Blood Bottle Gang, the first time he received a reward from his superior, the first time he made himself a man on top of a frail girl's body, and the first time he saw the Air Mystic, as if he was on a pilgrimage.
He thought of the fear in his enemy's gaze, the submissive gaze of his compatriots, 'her' expression, full of praise, and the proud and satisfied upwards curve of his lips whenever he heard gossip about the 'Strongest Twelve'.
Those were past glories. And he has already lost all of those forever...
Had he not?
The next moment, Ralf's gaze became determined. He used all his might to activate his greatly reduced psionic ability and drew a 'breath' into his half-crippled body.
And then, the Phantom Wind Follower trembled. With all his might while enduring the pain from the friction of his cheeks against the clamp lock, he raised his head with every ounce of his strength and earnestly gazed at Thales.
He prepared to blink. He just needed to blink once.
And then, Thales saw Ralf's top and bottom lids move. They trembled and began moving towards the center.
Thales heaved a sad sigh in his heart and slowly clenched the dagger in his hand.
However, Ralf's eyelids only trembled and stopped in the middle of his eyes.
There was one sliver of space left, but his eyelids did not close together.
It remained that way for a long, long time.
The man who was once the Phantom Wind Follower saw a flash of a scene that was either familiar or unfamiliar to him in front of his eyes. There were barren fields and dirty mud roads full of stray dogs and fliesthat was the countryside of Camus Union, where he fought to survive when he was young.
During that incident, he was fighting for a black piece of bread against a gang of stray dogs, even though that bread had almost been completely devoured by a swarm of flies.
'Those stray dogs were really fierce.' Ralf thought quietly in the dungeon. 'Their deafening growls, desperate bites, insane strength, however' Ralf subconsciously licked his upper teeth. 'That bread tasted really horrible.'
Thales saw that Ralf's expression was becoming distorted as it trembled.
His eyelids slowly relaxed, widened, and returned to their original positions.
Like a leaking balloon, Ralf's head, which was between the two clamp locks and which he had raised with great difficulty, suddenly fell backward. The back of his head hit the floor.
In the end, he did not blink.
Thales silently exhaled and slowly lowered the dagger in his hand.
However, it was as if Ralf did not feel the pain on the back of his head and the cuts on his cheeks.
His distorted face began trembling, along with his head.
These were not moans.
Thales could not help but be stunned.
He saw Ralf shut his eyes in pain, his countenance trembled as he allowed the colorless liquid to slide down from his eyes ceaselessly.
His voice was very depressing and sorrowful.
He was crying.
The Phantom Wind Follower. Once, he was a powerful and endlessly praised Psionic, man, and warrior.
Now, he was shedding tears and crying.
Was he crying because of his weakness, or was it because of the pain he was feeling?
Right now, he was just like a common person, a normal person, or even a slightly weak citizen.
He cried as if he could no longer bear with the burden of his pain. Thales could only watch in a daze.
He watched as the man who could not talk nor breath normally fell on the floor and cried violently after passing up the chance to be freed.
Thales turned away gloomily. However, he tightened his grip on the dagger in his hand.
Ursula, Ned, and Kellet.
The child beggars who died in the sixth house, who did not even possess a surname, appeared one by one before his eyes.
He thought of his plight and then thought of Gilbert and Yodel.
The boy furrowed his brows and lowered his head to look at his hands. The new cut felt familiar, just like the burning heat just now.
At that moment, it was as if something settled within his heart.
Thales drew himself close to Ralf's ear for the second time. "I understand," he said softly.
Ralf was still crying in a manner as if he was crushed by his burdens.
"Then, are you willing to free yourself from these shackles?"
Ralf's crying paused for a moment. It did not stop but slowly became softer.
The little girl with the broken legs, and almost every single child who died in the Abandoned Houses in the past four years, flashed in front of Thales' eyes.
Shrill cries and despaired wails rang from outside the prison cell again.
'This f*ck*ng world.'
Thales did not know what was inside the dungeon. However, his gaze when looking at Ralf became simpler and clearer.
And then, Thales looked earnestly at the Phantom Wind Follower who could not fly anymore and spoke with determination, "Free yourself from these shackles. And then, with this battered body, continue struggling in this world and strive to stay alive. See how much crueler the world can be. Are you willing?"
Ralf stopped crying.
He was unable to move his head. He could only move his gaze to look at the boy beside him in a daze.
He heard the boy speak slowly and clearly, "This might not be freedom. There may be a huge price to pay. You could even die immediately. As for me, I am only doing this for myself."
Thales then lowered his head and said slowly, "However, I can try and give you a chance, let you leave these shackles behind and struggle to live one more time. Are you willing?"
Ralf stared hard into the boy's eyes.
Although there were tears lingering in his eyes, at that moment, Ralf suddenly felt like laughing. He felt as if the pain in his throat and knees was slowly numbing.
'Those stray dogs.
'Those stray dogs that fought for the bread with him.
'Those stray dogs, in the end'
Ralf managed to take a 'breath'. A strange burst of joy bloomed in his heart.
'In the end.
'They faced a tragic end.'
Ralf, who was lying on the floor, raised his gaze again while trembling and stared straight at Thales.
The next moment, the Phantom Wind Follower slowly blinked, clearly, in a manner that there was no mistaking his action.
Everyone has blinked their eyes countless times in their lives. These blinks were extremely insignificant.
However, Ralf had perhaps performed the most important blink in his life.
Ralf slowly lowered his head.
Thales smiled, a lot of the gloominess in his heart dispersed. He nodded curtly. "Alright, I understand."
"At first, I thought Her Highness woke up ahead of schedule. But now, it seems like that is not the case."
Chris frowned tightly in a dim room on the second floor of Vine Manor.
Before him sat a network of countless blood vessels in a complicated pattern connected to a massive, brownish-black coffin that was as tall as a personthree meters wide and six meters tall.
At that moment, an unbroken tremor shook the coffin from within. "I tried to connect to Her Highness' consciousness, but it still remains muddled and unclear. There was only hunger and killing instinct. No matter how I tried to communicate with and comfort her, it was still the same!" Chris put a tube of blood down, his countenance became more and more solemn. "If this continues, Her Highness will only use up her remaining strength and blood supply ahead of schedule!"
Rolana looked shocked. The red-headed Blood Clanswoman said anxiously, "There must be something that stimulated Her Highness, but we did not do anything!"
Chris' eyes were shining with a bright light. The previous still and lifeless expression in his eyes had now disappeared without a trace. The old man spoke resolutely, "Not us! Her Highness only began having this reaction five minutes ago. At that time"
Chris' expression changed drastically. As if he suddenly thought of something, he turned his head and shouted to Istrone who stood behind him with a solemn expression.
"That young child! Even we can smell the fragrance of his blood from two floors away. With Her Highness' sense of smell, it would have been Where is the young child?"
Istrone was anxious and agitated. Looking at the excited Chris, he answered instinctively, "Just now, it seemed he accidentally cut himself. Then he pulled off the half-disabled supra class' phlebotomy device and said some weird things. I didn't listen closely. And then he"
The expressionless Chris did not continue to listen to Istrone's explanation. The vibrations and dull tapping sounds continued to resound from the suspicious coffin. The old man rudely and directly cut Istrone off. "Bring the child up. No, Isa, you stay here; let Rolana go." Looking at the gigantic coffin that was vibrating more and more vigorously, Chris' eyes shone with a strange light, as if there were sparks in them. "What Her Highness craves for... is his blood."
"This plan is very risky." Thales calmly explained to Ralf who was on the floor. It was as if he had returned to the sixth house and was using everything at his disposal to protect those good, naive and innocent child beggars who had been suffering in hell since they were born.
"However, it is more unwise to sit here and be vulnerable to capture while waiting for some miracle to happen."
Ralf only quietly watched the boy whose gaze was so very different from the average person. With effort, he took a 'breath'.
'That serious face of his,' Ralf smiled in his heart and thought, 'definitely isn't inferior to Big Sister.'
The Phantom Wind Follower was not aware that, after facing a choice between life and death, he felt a lot more at ease.
Thales continued to explain detachedly as if he was not the one who was speaking. "I don't know how much strength you have left, but I estimate that it wouldn't be a lot. And the capability of that old man So, neither both of us taking a reckless risk nor passively waiting would be ideal for the situation now. Our best, and most opportune moment would be when my rescue army arrives. At the moment they break in"
"You won't be able to wait for your rescue army, little mortal brat."
A cold female voice interrupted Thales.
Ralf's face immediately tensed up.
Thales was momentarily stunned. Then, he turned his head in disbelief and looked towards the door of the prison cell.
Rolana Corleone stood outside the door, wearing a good-looking equestrian suit. She seductively grazed her lips with the index finger of her slim and beautiful right hand. At the same time, she yanked the lock of the cell door open with her now turned fearsome, sharp, clawed right hand.
"Istrone told you before, right? That no matter what you do, we will be able to hear it, Young Sir who played a trick on Istrone."
As if mocking him, Rolana laughed lightly and, with her attractively slim body, took elegant and sexy steps from the open cell door into the prison cell. "Too bad. Perhaps, after you grow a few years older, even I will be seduced by you. But right now, you are about to become Her Highness' fragrant and condensed energy drink. Perhaps the adorable Rolana would be able to take a sip too?"
Looking at Rolana, who appeared suddenly, Thales understood that she could subdue him at any time.
The boy heaved a deep sigh that seemed sincere and regretful.
"Ralf," he said mildly, without a trace of anxiety in his voice, "I need ten seconds."
Suddenly, Rolana felt uneasy.
She thought of Istrone who had been duped.
'What other cards could he have in his hands? The half-disabled supra class mortal creature who is trapped in the Night Wing Stone Lock?'
However, the cunning Rolana did not want to take risks. Her expression immediately became fierce and determined.
'This little devil, he's trying to make himself sound mysterious!'
In an instant, her attractive figure appeared before Thales' eyes.
'Wait till Her Highness sucks you dry into a mummy. See if you can still'
But at that moment, a gust of strange, violent wind stirred up in the tiny prison cell.
The fire on the torches swayed, and there were even a few times where they were almost extinguished.
The violent wind made Rolana stagger three steps backward. In deep shock, she immediately grabbed onto the bars beside her and stood her ground with all her might.
'Is this psionic ability?
'Impossible, it is impossible that this child is a Psionic.
'Then, it has to be' With effort, Rolana looked towards the supra class elite who was locked onto the floor beside Thales by the Night Wind Stone Lock. 'It has to be him!
'Surprisingly, he still retained some strength, even in this state.
'It's useless.' Rolana relaxed and thought cheerily, 'You are all locked up and heavily injured. Even if you have a psionic ability, how long can it last?
'On the other hand, that young trickster Later, even if I have to risk being reprimanded by Chris, I still want to drink a mouthful of your blood first.
'I will definitely make sure I leave a deep impression of it on you!' Rolana thought furiously.
"Then, let's begin."
Thales looked in front of him, at Rolana who was impeded by the violent winds. With a serene expression, he turned his dagger over.
Under Ralf's puzzled gaze, he grabbed the dagger's blade with his unblemished right hand.
"Good luck to both of us," he said.
'My first mystic ability trial.'
'It starts now.'
Thales stared at the black, stone shackles that held Ralf, but Ralf's face was red. He stared fixedly at Rolana, and the violent billows continued to buffet.
With a cold faade, Rolana grabbed tightly onto the bars beside her. Her left hand began transforming into fearsome, bright red claws.
'I want to break his shackles,' Thales thought quietly.
'And save this man who has nothing left.'
'If it is just as I predict it to be' Thales recalled various life-and-death situations in his mind.
Such as when Quide's hand strangled his neck.
When Asda's hand slowly tightened.
And the bloody scene in his distant memory, as well as the gentle person who still harbored all those adolescent delusions who existed in his memory, and whose name he could not remember.
Thales grit his teeth and closed his eyes. His right hand abruptly grabbed onto the metal hasp.
A wave of burning heat appeared from the metal.
But he clenched his teeth and endured it.
Rolana felt something. She turned her head in shock as she realized that the grill she had grabbed onto was vibrating.
'What's going on?' the Blood Clanswoman thought anxiously.
'That half-crippled man, how strong is his psionic ability?'
The bar, along with Rolana's hand, shattered into countless tiny pieces.
As Rolana, who could no longer stand steadily, pressed onto the severed wound on her arm and screamed shrilly, she was blown out of the dungeon by the violent wind summoned by the psionic ability in an instant.
Rolana's shrill and crazed growl resounded beside his ears.
The burning sensation attacked her.
'Light.' Thales thought with his now hazy consciousness, 'So much light.'
In the room on the second floor with the huge coffin, Chris' countenance suddenly turned strange.
"What is Rolana trying to do?" he said coldly, looking at the gigantic coffin that kept emitting dull tapping sounds.
"Perhaps she's getting a taste of the food," Istrone answered carefully, he could feel the elder's anxiousness. He continued speaking, "Towards delicacies, she had always No! They are"
Istrone's words were cut off by something from the outside world as their expressions turned into that of shock.
A loud bang that sounded like an explosion echoed from underground.
A cloud of dust burst in violently from outside the door.
The two Blood Clansmen, both young and old, changed expressions at the same time. Then, they exchanged glances.
'Something happened in the dungeon.'
The next moment, they appeared outside the manor!
When Istrone saw the scene in front of his eyes clearly, he opened his mouth wide in shock, in a manner that was completely uncharacteristic of him.
Under the moonlight, the supra class mortal creature without legs and who had a tattoo on his face, the man who was once the Phantom Wind Follower, Midira Ralf, was seen to have escaped from all his shackles.
He was flying in the sky by riding on the violent winds while holding the little mortal child tightly under his armpit with a determined expression on his face.
Not far away, while Gilbert was riding a horse and leading thirty Swordsmen of Eradication who charged at full throttle, his expression changed.
"Bloodline Lamp." Amidst the whirling sound of the wind, he spoke in a low voice to the female official beside him.
Jines, who was galloping along with her horse, looked at the Bloodline Lamp in Gilbert's arms with a solemn expression.
The flame of the lamp became red.
It was slanted.
"That direction" Gilbert recalled. His expression was solemn.
"It's Covendier Family's Vine Manor!"
The female official growled angrily and whipped her mount.
"Who cares about which family it belongs to? Even if we are facing the Eckstedt's Walton family
"...we still have to break in!"
Gilbert nodded, a determined and fierce expression appearing on his face.
"All teams, change direction and follow me! No need to preserve horsepower! Charge forward with increased speed! Prepare for battle!"