Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
The teenager asked again, puzzled. “Why? What is the matter with it?”
However, this time, Ricky clearly did not intend to answer Thales’ question.
“Barney’s Power of Eradication is ‘the Thawing of Glaciers’. It excels at seizing opportunities and going with the flow, but can you feel the presence of its essence in his combat style?”
‘The Thawing of Glaciers? Seize opportunities and go with the flow? Wait a minute.’ When he heard that familiar term, Thales was stunned for a second. ‘The Thawing of Glaciers. Wasn’t it…the Power of Eradication of the Fortress Flower, Sonia Sassere, whom I met six years ago?
‘Her Power of Eradication is the same kind as Barney Junior’s? But Barney Junior…’
The leader of the Disaster Swords turned his head around and looked at the heavily guarded Barney Junior in the distance. He said what was on Thales’ mind, “He is a ruthless man, isn’t he?”
Ricky gazed at Barney Junior’s figure while feeling a myriad of emotions in him.
“Even with those wounds in his body, he still managed to seize the opportunity and forced me into a corner.”
Thales froze for a moment before he recalled how Barney Junior fought. The prince was filled with questions. He could not possibly relate Sonia the Fortress Flower, who fought with easiness and grace amid the onslaught from Giza’s infinite tentacles, to Barney Junior, who crushed his enemies without fear of death while covered in blood.
Ricky turned his head around and continued to ask, “Do you know Barney? What kind of person do you think he is?”
‘What kind of person Barney is?’ Thales recalled the man’s hopeless expression when he intended to end his own life.
The teenager was just about to answer, but he realized that he could not provide his enemy more information, so he kept his mouth shut.
Ricky did not mind, however. He looked down and answered his own question, “Let me guess…” He raised his right hand, wriggling his finger slowly. “He mostly likely had a full training as a knight when he was young—I can tell by his gait and habits. But now he has ended up like this: boldly risking his life just to deliver an effective blow in the most perilous moments.”
Ricky’s gaze hardened.
“This is not a coincidence. He must have experienced something traumatic when he was young, which resulted in his decision to unlearn the formal sword style he had gotten used to. In the end, he resorted to extreme measures, completely changed his combat style, and thus became how he is today—sacrificing everything only for victory.”
Thales listened to Ricky’s seemingly sensible analysis as he recalled Barney Junior’s peculiar combat style. He tried his best to catch up to Ricky’s train of thought.
Ricky raised his head again, stared at Barney Junior, and said sentimentally, “Even his ‘Thawing of Glaciers’ was influenced so greatly that I could hardly recognize it.”
Thales raised an eyebrow. “But you did recognize it.”
Ricky shook his head and smiled a cryptic smile. “You are not getting my point.”
As Thales rubbed his head in confusion, Ricky sighed and spoke at a volume like he was talking to himself. “I suppose Quill Barney has had a rough life in his youth. Maybe it was even lonely, cold, and gloomy.
“On top of that, his tragic experience in these past dozen years had molded his extreme, vicious, and ruthless combat style—to both his enemy and himself. I believe he is an unyielding, adamant, even somewhat inflexible person who is hard to get along with—just like his Power of Eradication.”
Thales recalled Barney Junior in the prison, and the tragedy that haunted the Royal Guards for the past eighteen years. He did not speak.
Ricky retracted his sentimental expression, smiled, and said, “What do you say, am I guessing it right?”
Thales took a glance at Barney Junior from afar, then at Ricky with skepticism.
“You heard that from Samel, they are old colleagues.”
When he heard that, Ricky laughed. But he turned his head around and pointed at Zakriel, who walked next to Samel.
“Zakriel, the infamous Knight of Judgment. What kind of person do you think he is?”
‘Zakriel…’ Thales remembered his pained expression when he stopped Barney from killing himself.
Ricky was perhaps recalling the way Zakriel charged at him earlier. He dazedly said, “Samel told me about his Power of Eradication, I have also seen it myself. That man was basically a fully-equipped, large-scale army. Every move he made managed to make everyone flustered and confuse themselves…”
‘The Chaos of Armies,’ Thales thought. That was Zakriel’s Power of Eradication.
This time, he instinctively thought, ‘If I want to imitate that kind of power…’
Ricky’s speech went on. “What is more impressive is that he was able to think about things other than combat while he was moving, or when he remained still, even in times of peril. And he even did so with ease and no hesitation. God knows when he stuffed that oilcloth on me.
“To achieve that, he has to be very observant and cautious on a complex battlefield. He has to take everything in so that he can understand the condition of his enemies in an instant, make the correct judgement, take immediate action, have his body cooperate with his heart, consider the positions of both himself and his enemies, and he has to link all these things together without ever stopping, such genius.”
Ricky spoke with a myriad of emotions surging in him, “If he was not a warrior, he would definitely be a top-class chess player who is capable of multitasking, is sharp-minded, farsighted, and takes the entire game into account. Our conversation earlier has proven that.”
Thales frowned. As he listened to Ricky’s verdict on Zakriel, he seemed to have slowly understood what the latter was implying.
Ricky took a sip from his waterskin, and then casually tossed it at Thales.
“Therefore, I am guessing he is a careful person in his daily life. He is a well-rounded, perceptive man who always sees the bigger picture—a man you can entrust your life to.” But Ricky sighed immediately afterwards. “This is probably also a misfortune to him. Compared to Barney, who is willing to sacrifice everything for a single victory, Zakriel has too many concerns, which complicates the situation. His all-around talent and genius will most likely become his curse and burden.
“Nevertheless, he obviously does not like to complain or vent his frustrations. Instead, he moves on in silence, carrying the weight on his shoulders. But one with too many responsibilities is bound to stumble. As time passes, he will either be unable to move forward and be bound to his burdens, or become aggressive and unpredictable.”
When he heard Ricky’s depiction of Zakriel’s character, Thales was secretly frightened.
‘Did Ricky… know Zakriel a long time ago?’
When Ricky finished, he smiled and said, “Look, through their Powers of Eradication, I can learn so much about them, and why is that?”
Thales furrowed his eyebrows and shook his head. “Samel must have told you this, too. You gathered information about your targets beforehand.”
Ricky snorted. As he did that, Thales pursed his lips.
“Alright, then.” The teenager had a quick thought and dug up the memory of an old acquaintance. “Let’s say… Let’s say there is a powerful supreme class warrior with an unusual Power of Eradication…”
Ricky listened to Thales with interest.
“It allows him to change his mind and posture during an attack, at the last minute. He can retract a strike and deliver the next; he can deliver multiple feints and false movements; as his movements become unpredictable and impossible to guard against, he deceives his opponent and wins against them. What can you learn about him from this?”
Thales finished speaking and thought of the man who defeated him countless times in the past six years on the training grounds.
It also reminded him of… Dragon Clouds City.
“Feints? Oh, that is indeed unusual.” After hearing the description, Ricky was startled before he began to ponder, which was uncharacteristic of him. “You must understand that almost every fighter is taught to strike with resolution, and to defend with determination. Their steps have to be firm, their minds have to be attentive, and they should not have second thoughts when performing an attack. People who enter the battlefield and expect to reverse their actions for the next strike or search for a better posture, are commonly new recruits and drop dead quicker than anyone else.”
Ricky arched an eyebrow and said with uncertainty, “But your friend is perhaps a rather extraordinary person, perhaps he is another kind of genius who turns his weaknesses into strengths. He has an extra opportunity to change his mind while his opponents do not.”
Thales shook off his memories of the past and looked at Ricky attentively.
“Then, what kind of person… do you think he is?”
This time, Ricky thought for a long while. “If I must take a guess… Disoriented.”
‘Huh?’ Thales was astounded. ‘Disoriented?’
Ricky nodded and surmised, “Retracting a strike and delivering another. I guess this type of person probably wants to do better in everything. He is a perfectionist to a certain degree.
“Therefore, a man like this… I am afraid he will not live a carefree life. It is hard to imagine he will not feel disoriented and lost when he is alone with his own thoughts.”
Thales blinked with disbelief.
‘It can’t be. That dead-face… disoriented?’
Thales could not help envisioning Nicholas standing in a big city, facing the hectic traffic, and staring blankly at a map while scratching his head, confused.
He also imagined the Star Killer standing before neon signs at night, looking up at the sky, and taking a puff of his cigarette gloomily in the breeze, with the honking of cars acting as background noise.
Thales snorted and quickly masked it with a cough.
“Impossible,” he blurted out instinctively. ‘It can’t be… The images are too poetic, too strange. I don’t have the guts to imagine it. No way.’
When Ricky saw Thales reacting this way, he laughed out loud as well. After a few seconds, he retracted his gleeful expression. “Do you think this is funny?”
Thales was instantly stunned.
Ricky’s tone of voice was very formal. For a second, Thales thought he was back in a classroom, like the ones in his fragmented memories, or Asda’s lessons in reality.
Thales subconsciously stopped smiling and straightened up.
“Everyone’s Power of Eradication is unique. It is formed by both its user’s daily life, and during battle. It becomes one with them; becomes inseparable with their personality, experience, and habits. Even two powers of the same kind will be drastically different on two different users.”
‘Unique… Even two powers of the same kind will be drastically different.’ Thales listened attentively, and instantly recalled the Thawing of Glaciers on both Sonia and Barney.
Ricky lowered the tone. “In short, the Powers of Eradication’s characteristics match that of their users. They complement one another, reflecting their understanding of battle, of themselves, and their enemies. The power is a unique mark branded on each warrior.”
‘A unique mark… Branded on each warrior?’
Thales immediately thought of the main subject of their conversation. Doubt brewed inside him.
‘But the Sin of Hell’s River, the so-called omnipotent Power of Eradication…’
Ricky stared at him. His gaze was cold and sharp. His tone was straightforward and firm. “You, on the other hand, expect to spend only mere minutes, perhaps even seconds, on observation and a brief contact with your opponent, then re-enact the great powers countless supreme class warriors had created—with their enemies or opponents, their personalities, experience, and bodies through a collection of every battle, every instance of life and death, and every past experience in their lives?”
Thales was dumbfounded. ‘Personalities, experience, bodies… Even their opponents…’
Ricky narrowed his eyes. “When you were obsessed with the craft of mimicry, the biggest mistake you made, Thales, was treating the Powers of Eradication as tools independent of the warriors themselves. You imagined the Powers of Eradication as puzzles pieced together by lifeless components. You thought you could take one component away at any time you liked and ignore the other component. You believed you could be selective with their strengths and ignore the weaknesses.
“You thought you could emulate the strengths of those warriors in an instant while easily casting aside the blood, sweat, and the price they paid with past decades of their lives; you thought you only needed to remember them the way you wished to imitate, while neglecting how they had evolved into their current states step by step since a long time ago.”
Thales frowned deeply and began to ruminate what Ricky had said. Ricky leaned forward and peered at Thales. His voice grew harsher.
“Did you know that even the suicide squad in the greatest state of despair need Chaca Wine to boost their courage before performing a suicide attack on the battlefield in the Western Desert?
“But Quill Barney, a man of noble descent, managed it with ease. It means that he had to have countless blades graze his body. During the moments where either one action would mean slim victory or complete defeat, he had to stop hesitating and stop pondering over the upsides and drawbacks of his actions to seize fleeting opportunities. And then, he had to turn that into a habit, which made him the man he is today.
“Therefore, his Thawing of Glaciers, his power and combat style, is what I could imagine but never manage to grasp. It is because I cannot feel the horror during those perilous moments, and thus, could never master that kind of extreme style of combat, nor can I emulate those battles of his, which are filled with his unique characteristics.”
Ricky’s eyes glinted. He concluded firmly, “So, no, Thales, the Power of Eradication is not just a type of energy, nor a weapon, not even a condition. It is the warrior himself.”
Thales trembled slightly.
He might have awakened the Sin of Hell’s River on his own when he traveled from Eternal Star City to Dragon Clouds City, then to Western Desert Hill, and learned to wield swords, but in truth, he often regarded the Power of Eradication lightly.
It was simple, Asda’s words had affected his judgment. According to the Mystic, the Powers of Eradication were merely the by-products created for the knights by the magicians. In this world, magic, which was forbidden, was the sole representation of supreme knowledge.
Moreover, ever since he had experienced mystic energy, even knocked on the Door and entered Taurus’ so-called ‘matter’ stage…
Yet it was only now that Thales suddenly realize he had forgotten again. He forgot the Old Crow’s teachings and the realization he had in the past:
‘Yes. Perhaps magic could be all-encompassing and appear to be endless, therefore tempting all those who came into contact with it, but the Power of Eradication…
‘Based on what Ricky said, it is more specialized than magic, and it is much simpler, because it is the warrior itself.’ Thales thought deeply.
Ricky continued to speak, his words more severe than the last.
“In other words, Thales, your current Sin of Hell’s River is the true portrayal of yourself. You only know how to copy other things based on the situation. You haven’t found your true self which would be unaffected by anything else.”
Then, Ricky’s next sentence pierced his heart like a longsword.
“This is your Power of Eradication, and it’s also your current self. You’re forced to move forward, dragged around without a goal and direction. You stagger about and get carried along the tide. In fact…”
At that moment, Ricky glared at him, as if he wanted to see through Thales’ soul. “You don’t have a self.”
Thales was stunned.
When he saw Ricky rely on his observations on the Powers of Eradication to predict Barney Junior, Zakriel, Nicholas, and the other people’s personalities, he had found it interesting. But when it came to himself…
Thales sucked in a deep breath and lowered his head, dazed.
‘If my Power of Eradication is my true self… I don’t have any goals and direction? I stagger about, and get carried along the tide? I don’t have… a self?’
Ricky did not notice Thales’ abnormal state, the teenager remained absent-minded. For the time being, he could only hear his own breathing.
‘So… all this while, this is how I have been living, huh?’
But Ricky’s next words—spoken with a stern tone and sounding like a cold breeze that filled the entire room—dragged Thales’ mind back to the present.
“An omnipotent Power of Eradication? Copying? No, it’s far less beautiful than you think it is.
“If you aren’t me and you don’t know my personality, you won’t know whether I am radical or careful, whether I like to attack with thrusts or slashes; you won’t know the habits I have when I attack my enemies; won’t know the strength I use when I wield my sword; won’t know which muscles I use when I attack with my sword; won’t know what I faced and what I experienced in my previous battles; won’t know the life I lived; and won’t know how I came to form such a Power of Eradication…”
Ricky’s gaze became even more terrifying. He looked as though he had just suffered through an unbearable humiliation, as if Thales had just committed a great sin.
“…then you won’t be able to copy the most important thing about my Power of Eradication, and neither will you be able to copy its essence, the things which made it and me be ‘who we are’.”
Thales, who had been in deep though because of a certain sentence just now, could only listen in silence.
“If you never went through the Knight of Judgment’s life, you will then never be able to solely obtain Zakriel’s ability to multitask while ignoring the terrifying burden he has to constantly face; if you never saw Barney’s world before, you will also never be able to solely use Barney’s fearsome, destructive power without having to suffer the devastating price he has to pay when he puts his life on the line in his attacks.”
Ricky snorted coldly and rebuked him mercilessly. “No matter how intricately you copy other people’s Powers of Eradication with your Sin of Hell’s River, what it will produce will just be inferior goods, a grotesque piece of trash.”
During that moment, as Thales stared into Ricky’s eyes, he suddenly felt like his established impression towards the Powers of Eradication, along with his pride towards the Sin of Hell’s River, had shattered inch by inch until it was completely crushed.
‘No, it’s not just my understanding towards the Powers of Eradication. There’s also…’ Thales subconsciously clenched his fists and gritted his teeth. ‘My sense of self is also crushed.’
Ricky stared at Thales while the teenager was in a slightly dejected state. He shook his head slightly.
“More importantly, when you rely on imitating other people’s Powers of Eradication and ignore all these things, then it means that you lack the most basic thing for the Power of Eradication other people used their lives to form. You lack this thing towards all the people you imitate, towards all the opponents you fought, and even to yourself.”
During that second, Ricky straightened his back, and his gaze became incredibly serious.
“You lack respect.”
‘Lack… respect?’ Thales was shocked by his attitude.
However, the teenager could not help but begin contemplating. ‘When Black Sword taught me to imitate and copy other Powers of Eradication and told me about this so-called omnipotent Power of Eradication… Could it be that… it’s actually not a good thing?’
Ricky’s words almost froze the entire underground prison.
“You’re not even imitating them, you’re plagiarizing them. The sword in the hands and hearts of plagiarizers will never belong to themselves. The Powers of Eradication you counterfeited are just the surface of these powers. They will forever lack the most important core that makes them what they are. You will never become the mighty warriors who have already made their Powers of Eradication fuse into their eyes.”
Once Ricky finished saying these words, he stared at Thales without moving while he waited for his response.
Thales did not say a word. He did not know how to.
Then, a few seconds later, the teenager forced out a breath before he refuted, “So, coining the term ‘omnipotent Power of Eradication’ on the Sin of Hell’s River is actually a whole load of nonsense?”
Ricky snorted coldly. He leaned his body forward and raised his index finger at Thales. “No, this saying is correct, but you’re walking down the wrong path.”
Under Thales’ puzzled and confused gaze, Ricky spoke softly, “The meaning behind imitation is that you must understand your opponent.”
Ricky looked around him before he smirked.
“I don’t know Barney, Zakriel, and your disoriented friend. But through their experiences with their Powers of Eradication, I can understand them from another level.”
‘Another level?’ Thales thought hard.
The eyes of the Disaster Swords’ leader shone. “For example, through analyses and deductions, I can know…
“…that when I face Barney, perhaps I cannot forcibly parry the attack he delivered at the risk of his own life. I will have to use other factors from around me to hold him back, disrupt his movements, and foil his offense. Then, in the end, I will be able to defeat him.
“When I face Zakriel, I cannot compete against him in terms of exercising a perfect consideration of everything around me. In fact, I can neither hesitate nor think about too many things. I must focus on my strongest point and use it to break through his offense. It is only then that I will have a chance to fight back.”
Ricky suddenly stopped ranting.
Thales, who had been listening attentively, showed puzzlement on his face.
“I see, so that’s how it is. Ha!” With a show of realization, Ricky punched his own palm. He cast a glance in the direction where Barney Junior and Zakriel were, as if he had understood something. “A duel between Barney and Zakriel. It should be quite interesting.”
Ricky’s excitement faded away. He turned around.
“And if I have to face your disoriented friend, my best choice is not to face him head-on, not to fight him in multiple rounds, not to drag out the fight with him, and not give him a chance to find my weakness while he attempts to deceive me and throw feints at me. Instead, I will conceal myself, hide my intentions, and before he has a chance to react, I will deliver a fatal strike behind his back or from the darkness. In an instant, I will defeat him.”
Thales scowled, but Ricky changed the topic of conversation in an instant. He cast a profound glance at Thales before he said, “But did you know, you can do all this much better than I can.”
A thought struck Thales’ mind.
Ricky sighed and said, “My Power of Eradication has its own characteristics. It only reveals my greatest strength when the opponent I face has a fixed combat style.
“But you, Thales, your Sin of Hell’s River is ever-changing. Through imitation, brief contact and observation, you can achieve a more extensive, more detailed understanding of your opponent within a shorter amount of time. You can do more, and you can understand your opponent faster, better, and more comprehensively than I ever can.”
‘Gain an… understanding of my opponent?’ Thales pondered over the example Ricky had given and ruminated the meaning behind this statement.
“The Power of Eradication is one of the most marvelous powers humans have. How many powerful warriors had to go through endless hardship and experience various events to attain such an achievement?” Ricky seemed rather emotional. “The intention of the Sin of Hell’s River’s ability to imitate other powers is not to skip this process. On the contrary, it is to let you get a better understanding of your opponents’ experience, then modify and improve your own abilities, to boost your advantage during the battle, and give you choices to respond to their powers.”
Thales’ eyes twinkled. “You mean… I should not mimic my opponent’s strength, but find the key to victory?”
The astonished teenager recalled the elite warriors he had ‘seen’ with the Sin of Hell’s River.
‘The surging fluctuations that resemble a volcanic eruption within Arracca Murkh; the colorless but resilient power that filled the Fortress Flower; the elusive, flickering silver spark that moved from Nicholas’ head to his toes; the gray hue in Raphael’s body.’
All of sudden, Thales understood: He should not become them. He should…
“Through the Sin of Hell’s River’s power of mimicry, you can figure out one’s past experience, characteristics, strengths and weaknesses. You can figure out the most fundamental aspect of their combat skills and turn it to your advantage. Not lazily skipping this part of the process, wishfully pretending to be the opponents themselves, and copying what they had achieved.”
Ricky pointed at Thales, who had gained an epiphany from his words
“Remember, the point is how you navigate your power, not the strength of your opponent’s power. It is about how much you gain, not how well you can imitate them.
“Once you master this, you will be able to find your way out of any situation and figure out the solution when facing any strong opponent.”
Thales jolted. It was as if a certain train of thought in his mind, which had been blocked for a long time, had been cleared.
Ricky squinted at Thales whose eyes lit up gradually. The stern expression on his face softened.
“The Sin of Hell’s River’s flexibility is not to allow you to almost perfectly mimic your opponents’ powers and become all your opponents. Rather, it allows you to face all your opponent fearlessly and with composure.”
Ricky took a deep breath and stared at Thales whose expression had changed completely. He sighed faintly. “This is the true ‘omnipotent Power of Eradication.’”
Thales fixed his eyes on him and nodded slightly with a solemn expression.
“I understand. But…” Thales hesitated for a moment before he eventually asked, “Why did you tell me all this?”
Ricky gazed at him and did not speak for a while.
However, before Ricky replied…
A slight tremor came from underneath their feet. Everyone’s expression changed, Thales’ included.
A few seconds later, the rumbling sound ceased, and silence re-ensued.
Thales looked down at his feet, astonished.
‘This is…’ When he sensed the sudden lightness under his soles, Thales’ expression darkened. ‘The platform… has stopped.”
In that instant, everyone on the platform stood up, creating a small commotion.
“Ricky.” A few seconds later, Klein ambled towards them with a torch and said somberly, “We have reached the surface.”
Rocky nodded and waved his hand to form a signal. The Disaster Swords got into action. They geared up and were ready to move.
Thales glanced at his surrounding instinctively, and he found, much to his dejection, that he and his companions were still captives.
“Why did I tell you all this?”
Ricky turned his head around to peer at Thales and said profoundly, “As I have said, my dear, you own a key which can unlock a door we all long to open.”
‘A key?’ Thales frowned.
“Has anyone ever told you that you talk and act strangely, like the priests in the temple?”
Ricky was somewhat surprised. He let out a laugh immediately afterwards.
“Yes, someone has.”
While Thales was bemused, Ricky looked up at the ceiling that had drawn extremely close to them at some point. He looked as though he saw the world outside.
He gave an order loudly, “Be prepared, everyone, the day you leave the prison has arrived. It is time to look back at the Prison of Bones…”
Under the attentive gaze of the mercenaries, Ricky’s stare hardened, and a ferocious glint appeared in his eyes.
“…and say goodbye.”