Chapter 386: Manticore’s Trial
Within the underground laboratory, over a great fire stood a cauldron, and murky liquid roiled and bubbled within. Its color was ever-changing like a surprised cuttlefish.
Crushed bryonia, ribleaf, and mandrake root swam within the liquid. A blue concoction flowed through the swirling test tubes and distillery beside the cauldron. Slowly, the concoction dripped into a hot vat. On the rightmost work surface, an alcohol burner was heating up a gigantic graduated cylinder filled with purple liquid, and green smoke billowed from within.
A beautiful sorceress in a blue dress stood before her apparatuses, casting her spell like nobody's business. The light of magic swirled around her, and she pointed at the cauldron, the vat, and the graduated cylinder.
Sacks of dried herbs lying on the racks were cut into pieces, and crimson monster organs were in containers.
"Ghoul mutagen! Number one!" Lytta announced. The witcher behind her went ahead and tossed a red, fleshy mass into the cauldron.
The viral infections had changed the witcher by a considerable degree. Gone was the lean lad, replaced by a gaunt figure. His clothes, once snug, were now oversized and baggy. His lustrous hair was as dry and yellow as hay. There was barely any meat on his face, and his cheeks almost poked out of his skin.
His golden eyes were abnormally big, not unlike a pair of healthy almonds. But his eyes were bloodshot and crazed. The lad looked like a terminal patient, but he was fine within. His eyes seemed to flare with fire, and his pale cheeks were red.
"Arachas! Number two! Fleder! Number three!" Lytta gave a couple more orders.
Like a golem filled with chaos energy, the witcher carried out her orders perfectly. The duo kept on working, and five minutes later, Roy added the base mutagens to all three concoctions according to the preordained six to one to one ratio.
The sorceress started chanting, her fingers weaving signs at a speed faster than the eye could see. At first, the chant was silvery and singsong like a humming stream. But as the chaos energy started to saturate the air, Lytta raised her voice. Her incantation became the hymn of nature. Roy heard everything from the chirps of cicadas in the summer to the roars of the waves that crashed on the reefs and shores of the land.
A powerful gust of wind appeared all of a sudden, billowing her hair. It looked like flames dancing in the air, and her dress danced like a flag that was kissing the wind.
The lad could vaguely notice dark clouds hanging from the ceiling. The liquids in the containers started bubbling like water in the hot springs. An invisible hand was hastening the process, finishing the boiling and extraction in one fell swoop.
The liquid was drying up at a breakneck speed, and colorful gases flew into the air. A bizarre smell—something akin to the mixture of honey and blood—filled the air.
Lytta's incantation stopped, and so did her gestures. Three blobs of clear jelly-like liquid hovered in the air only to crash down into the glasses on the workstation.
Lytta wiped the sweat off her nose with a handkerchief. Her chest was heaving, and she let out a long sigh. She extended her hand and picked up the first cup of concoction. A moment of hesitation later, she turned around to face the witcher, her lips pursed.
"This is the first of the three concoctions for the Trial—Mother's Tears." It was emerald green, just like the river of life.
"This is the Wildrye Juice." The concoction was blood-red, just like a fatally alluring ruby.
"And this is Speargrass Sap." The last one was as blue as the sky, drawing the eyes of anyone who saw it.
"These things are going to kick in really fast and hard if we go with injections. It's risky for you. I recommend drinking them and relying on your stomach to deal with it. But do it in five minutes, or the effects will wane."
Roy tried to take the first concoction, but Lytta grabbed his hand. Her shoulders were shaking, and she stared into his eyes. With a voice as soft as cotton, she said, "It's not too late to give up. You can heal back up in six months at most. But if you drink these, then there's no turning back. Either you live, or you die in agony."
A griffin the size of a lion rushed to its master's side and rubbed its head against his leg. An unspoken plea hid in its eyes. The ever-loyal Gryphon laid witness to its master's changes over the days. The drastic change scared it. The prospect of losing the man who raised it struck terror into its heart.
Roy patted its mane and caressed its neck in silence. He turned his attention to Lytta, and an ugly smile tugged on his lips. "Remember the prophecy? This will work. It's going to be hard, but it will work."
Confidence shone in the witcher's eyes. Softly and firmly, he said, "And I won't leave you behind." He huddled closer. Despite his being skin and bones, the witcher was emanating a surprising level of heat. His eyes, though bloodshot and lethargic, seemed to be filled with stars.
He stared at the glass she was holding and took it from her. "I need to do something before this." He took a deep breath and turned around. He held the surprised sorceress and gave her a kiss. Long was the kiss, but they eventually parted when Lytta's lipstick covered his lips.
And he heaved a long sigh. "Trust me. Whatever happens, do not use magic."
The witcher downed all three concoctions in one go and lay on the operating theater. His head was resting on Lytta's lap, and she caressed his hair with one hand while holding his hand with the other. She stared at him without blinking once.
The Trial finally took place, and a tired Roy closed his eyes like he was going to sleep. His breathing was calm, and all his vitals were fine. His limbs would spasm occasionally, however, and his veins would wriggle like worms. They would swim around for a moment before slinking back down.
A few hours later, something happened. Blood flew up high in the air, and Lytta touched her cheek in surprise. She looked at her hand and was greeted by a big patch of blood.
Beads of blood were flowing down the witcher's face. The sorceress thought she heard the subtle sound of Roy's blood vessels bursting. Blood kept trickling out of his skin, and the young witcher coughed up even more blood.
His body temperature was rising at an alarming rate, not unlike someone who was infected by a deadly disease.
The young witcher kept bleeding. Ten minutes later, he had lost a tenth of his blood. His silk shirt was drenched crimson, and he looked like he just came back from a deadly battle.
Lytta was worried. She didn't even bother wiping the blood from her face.
But that was only the beginning.
The Trials were fighting, rampaging across their host's body like two rabid dogs. Eventually, they started tearing him apart. The skin on the left side of his nose broke down, revealing the muscles and veins underneath.
The crack started spreading from his face to his chest, then his back, and then all the way to his limbs. They resembled a big, grotesque cobweb on fire, and Roy was like a fragile item that would break at any moment.
Lytta bandaged him and stitched his wounds as fast as she could, but it couldn't stop the bleeding.
Her hands were covered in sweat and blood, all from the man lying in his own pool of life force.
She stared at Roy. He looked pale, and his back was icy, as if he were in a chilling freezer.
His skin is peeling off, and he's bleeding out too fast. Is this it? Is he going to fail? She thought it was sad. I shouldn't have let you do this. No witcher can take two Trials. I guess it's a failure, but I won't let you die.
She bit her lip. A healing spell was starting to converge on her fingertips, a holy light burning bright. But then she remembered what Roy told her before he undertook this ordeal.
Do not use magic.
It was but a moment's hesitation, but that indecision granted her the chance to witness something bizarre. Or, to be exact, something miraculous.
The unconscious witcher let out a grunt, and all the cracks on his skin pulled back and stitched themselves back together. It was as if an invisible hand were healing him. The witcher was still very much hurt and unwell, but the bleeding had finally stopped, and his temperature was going down. His blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate were going back to normal as well.
Lytta dispelled her spell and clutched her chest in great relief. And then she heaved a sigh. But then she started wondering about something else.
The moment Roy took the Trial, his attention was fixed closely on his character sheet. Debuffs like bleeding, high fever, and affliction kept popping up. His HP also took a drastic dip, bringing him an inch from death.
Activate, once again, swooped in for the rescue, and he managed to keep his condition under control.
"So that's what she meant when she said no witcher could take two Trials."
The Manticore Trial's toxicity was nothing to fear, but the clash between the two Trials was. Roy could feel two balls of invisible energy vying for control within his body, destroying his bones, vessels, organs, and even genes.
I need to get over this hurdle. At least I need to survive. I can't use Full Recovery just yet. If I stop the mutation halfway through, I'll be an incomplete mutant.
And thus, the charge of Activate he received from meditating every day was imperative in this deadly battle that was raging within him.
He slipped into the void of meditation and hugged the beautiful elements. Beyond the horizon stood four beautiful, ancient dimensions of the four classical elements.
All the sorceress saw was a witcher lying there in peace.
And then the Trial segued into the part Roy was familiar with. The Manticore and the Viper would clash within him once every day, using his body as their battlefield. They would run rampant through his veins, marrows, and organs like two knives shredding him piece by piece.
And the witcher would bleed, contract a high fever, have episodes of fits, bleed all over his face, murmur like a madman, sleepwalk, laugh for no reason, and yell at the air. Sometimes these symptoms would happen at the same time.
But thanks to Activate, he managed to heal thirty percent of his HP and save himself from certain doom every day. Thanks to that, he could hang on in this battle.
Lytta was shocked to witness Roy's miraculous resilience at first, and then she was numb to it.
She showed great understanding and care to Roy throughout the whole ordeal. The young witcher would look like a mess after the battle every day. He would be covered in blood and sweat like a foul beast, and yet Lytta didn't complain.
She would wipe the filth off his body every day with a soft towel drenched in warm water. She would take the time to cook a delicious and nutritious seafood meal for Roy every day, feeding him during the short time he was conscious.
Once, Roy even joked that if any hospital in the land had a nurse who was as beautiful and caring as Lytta, all the men in the city would willingly make themselves sick just to see her.
Three days remained until the month-long process ended, and Roy was inching ever nearer to perfection. He was getting better every day. Pain was not the only outcome of the internal battle. There was also a great change as well. His skin, muscles, veins, organs, and bones were destroyed and rebuilt time and time again. Through this destruction, his strength grew. And so did his life force. Now the young witcher possessed an incredible regenerative factor.
What was once a gaunt man was now lean and strong. He regained his lost muscle mass and became stronger. All the wounds on his body formed scabs and healed up, leaving nothing but scars behind.
And he gained some height as well. Lytta was slightly taller than him before the Trial, but now he could stare into her eyes without looking up. His hair grew at a blistering rate. Before long, it had tumbled down his neck, and a hint of grey appeared in his otherwise black hair. His heart was beating even stronger, not unlike a metal machine. It felt as if his heartbeat would ring through time itself.
Roy was going through another day of battle once more. His eyes were closed, but instead of darkness, he saw a terrible battle.
A gigantic, yellowish-grey pit viper with diamond-shaped scales was fighting against a lion that had the tail of a scorpion. The viper contracted its body, constricting the manticore until it was covered in blood. The viper then hissed and gulped the manticore's head, but the manticore refused to yield. It let out a roar that rumbled the earth and buried its stinger into the viper's flesh, tearing it apart.
The battle eventually came to a close. Exhausted and out of commission, the beasts slowly merged into one, their blood still trickling from their countless wounds.
And then darkness fell once more.
Roy felt a powerful surge of life force coursing through his body, raining down on his every cell, strengthening them. The young witcher absorbed this life force greedily.
Every muscle, every blood vessel, and every inch of his skin was filled with great power. His heart was beating as loudly as a drum, threatening to leap out of his chest.
Roy needed to let this energy out. And then he opened his eyes. They were gleaming with power. His right eye was still dark gold, but his left was split into two colors. Half of it was dark gold, while the other was shining grey.
Join our discord to chat about the series and get notified when a new chapter gets released!