My teeth were clenched the whole time as I willed a hole in the earth below us . Carefully placing Alea's cold, lifeless body into the center, I slowly covered her, using her weapon as a makeshift gravestone .

I couldn't even laugh at the sick irony that this dungeon happened to be named the Widow's Crypt…

Wordlessly, I spent some time burying each of Alea's fallen comrades . The once beautiful cave layered with a glossy bed of grass and a pond that glittered like shattered glass now looked like a national landmark of the fallen; the crude mounds of dirt and weapons for grave markers gave this place an eerie ambiance .

After finishing up the makeshift graves, I dragged my not-so-willing legs back to where I buried Alea . Kneeling, I placed my hand on the mound of dirt covering the once famous lance . She was considered the pinnacle of power here, no doubt respected and feared by many . However, to me, she was simply a girl—a lonely girl, regretful of the fact that she never had someone to love and someone to love her back .

As I looked at her in her final moments, a sense of dread dawned on me . She was almost exactly the same as I was from my past life, except she wouldn't be reborn into a different world . With my immediate reincarnation after my previous life ended, I didn't have the chance to even reflect on how I had lived . In Alea's last breaths, she had broken down and sobbed, crying that she didn't want to die like this .

"Damn it…"

I rubbed my eyes as tears unknowingly began streaming down my face, indignant in her stead at how her life came to an end .

Sending out another mental transmission to Sylvie, I sighed in defeat when I didn't hear a reply . Slumping back down against the jagged walls Alea and I had leaned against, I recalled everything the fallen lance had informed me of . From the information she was able to gather, there were a couple of speculations I could make .

One, there was more than just one black-horned demon . How many, I wasn't sure . My only hope was that there wouldn't be many . If one of them could easily kill a lance or gravely injure a dragon like Sylvia, then I was out of my league .

Two, they were definitely after something . I wasn't sure what, but my mind kept wandering back to the egg Sylvie had come from that the demon had called a "gem . " If they really were after Sylvie, then avoiding them indefinitely wasn't going to be possible .

Three, there was going to be a war in Dicathen . This continent would be in danger and we definitely weren't prepared . When the demon told Alea that there would be a war, though, I felt the underlying explanation that the black-horned demons weren't from this continent . Was the new continent that we just uncovered filled with these demons? I shuddered at that thought . Hopefully that scenario wouldn't come true .

However, the more I contemplated, the more certain I became that there probably weren't that many black-horned demons . If there truly was a race filled with super-powered demons, then they would've already annihilated this continent with ease instead of sneaking around different dungeons and infecting the beasts . They were obviously uncertain of whether they could take on this whole continent so they were going about it discreetly, at least for now . What bugged me was trying to figure out when the war would be . There was no marked calendar and no way to guess . Was waiting the only thing I could do… what we could do?

A sharp pain in my hands made me realize how hard I was clenching my fists, leaving me to watch the drops of blood running down my forearm .

What I was slowly learning, and what Alea's death reinforced, was the realization of how valuable the relationships I had with my families, with Tess, and with my friends, were . What I didn't have in my past life were loved ones I would give my life to protect . I had that now, but I don't have the strength to protect them; not for what was about to come .

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For the amount of potential I had, I was getting complacent . That needed to change .

I recalled Sylvia's message for me after she teleported me into Elshire Forest . Her message still rang clearly in my head; her voice echoing that I would hear from her again once my core reached past the white stage .

That was the most certain method I currently knew of to be able to get some reliable answers on what was going on . I was still unable to break from the threshold of dark yellow stage though . After yellow was silver, and then white . I still have a bit to go .

A ferocious roar sounded, echoing off the cavern walls . 'Papa!'

My head perked up as I heard a loud crash soon after from the direction of where I fell . Picking myself up, I dashed towards Sylvie's voice . stopping in front of a cloud of dust and calling out to her .

I'm here, Sylv, are you okay? I covered my face with my arms as the cloud of dust instantly blew away, revealing my precious bond in her full glory .

My heart thumped in excitement as I saw my dragon come into view .

Sylvie had become even more fearsome than when I saw her at the Dire Tombs . Her scales weren't glossy anymore like before—instead, they were now a dignified matte black . Her two horns had grown even longer, going past her snout, and another pair of horns protruded underneath them . If she looked crudely fierce back then, the feeling I got now was more akin to awe . She appeared as majestic as she did deadly . The spikes she had running down her back were no longer there and rather, because of that, she seemed more refined . Her gem-like iridescent yellow eyes pierced through me, making me doubt that she was the one who had just called me Papa .

'Papa! You're okay!'Distilling all of the bewilderment that had kept me from approaching my bond, she, once again, lifted me up from the ground with the force of her lick .

"Haha! You got bigger again, Sylv!" I beamed a childish smile . Hugging the snout of my dragon, Sylvie let out a deep purr as she rubbed herself against me, and just for a moment, I was able to forget everything I'd just been through .

Lifting me off the ground with her snout, she placed me on her muscular broad back .

'Hold on, Papa! Let's get out of here . ' With a powerful snap of her wings, a raging gust formed underneath us and we were instantly propelled into the air . For some reason, the sudden force didn't affect my body as I comfortably rode on the back of my ten-meter long dragon .

During the flight back up, my bond and I caught up on everything that happened while we were separated . She didn't really understand everything about the demons and the upcoming war but she did get the sense that whatever was about to happen wasn't good .

'Don't worry . Whatever happens, I'll be with you!' Sylvie's innocent response left me chuckling .

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Like a narration from a children's book, she announced a bit about what she'd been up to, which was, not surprisingly, fighting beasts and consuming beast cores . I really needed to be there with Sylvie the next time she trained; I was curious as to what she was capable of . Sylvie didn't really know the distinction between the levels of mana beasts so I was left pondering over how powerful she really was .

'Hmph! I'm really strong!'

"Haha, I know I know . " Patting the hard scales on Sylvie's neck, we soon arrived at the entrance of the dungeon .

As we landed in front of the ruined staircase leading up to the surface, I took a glance back to see the hundreds of minion snarler corpses . Sylvie transformed back into her fox form and leapt on top of my head, taking a couple of spins before perching comfortably in my hair .

Augmenting mana into my body, I lightly jumped from broken stair to broken stair, careful not to collapse the fragile remains of the staircase that was once worn down to an ivory smoothness .

A full moon greeted us as we reached the surface and, as expected, there was no one here . I breathed an outward sigh of relief knowing that everyone else made it back safely to Xyrus . It'll be a several hour trek to the nearest teleportation gate so I decided to hurry . However, making sure there wasn't anyone hiding nearby, I released a pulse of wind around me . Taking out the seal from my dimension ring, I carefully inspected it . As I was about to put it on, an image of Alea flashed into my mind . I took out the black fragment of the demon's horn—the horn of the demon that killed her .

Instead of putting on the seal, I took a deep breath and put the seal back into my dimension ring .

My stomach tightened and my eyes narrowed as a churning sensation stirred inside me . No more hiding . I had bigger things to worry about now . I couldn't be bothered with stressing over something like this . This demon horn shard would be my constant reminder of that .

'What's that, Papa?' Sylvie's head popped up as her paw tried reaching for the black shard .

"It's my goal, Sylvie," I grimaced as determination swelled up in the pit of my stomach . Patting my bond's furry little head, I began my trip back .


Needless to say, the guard in charge of the teleportation gate looked fairly startled when he saw me . He must've received orders to be on the lookout for me because, as soon as he verified who I was, he hurriedly began making multiple calls using the artifact he had on hand .

Quickly ushering me through the gate, I arrived back at Xyrus feeling a little queasy as Sylvie slumbered on the crown of my head . There was a driver waiting for me on the other side . Giving me a sympathetic smile, he tipped his hat before opening the door for me .

My mind wasn't completely there as I kept thinking of the future . For the first time in both of my lives, I felt a heavy burden weighing down on me . The pressure of keeping my loved ones safe; I've never had that even while I was a king . The weight of a country I had no affection for in my previous life couldn't compare to the few lives I would give my everything for in this one .

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When I reached Helstea Manor, I stopped in front of the giant double doors . Somehow, I couldn't bring myself to knock on the doors to my own home .

What would my family's expressions be? It seemed like every time I went out, all I did was worry them .

Taking a seat on the top of the stairs, I just let out a sharp, bitter sigh . Looking up at the night sky, I could see the faint colorations that supposedly signaled the coming of the festival . The sky turning blue, yellow, red and green indicated when the Aurora Constellate would begin . My eyes focused on a solitary cloud, slow-dancing above me without a care in the world . What an envious position to be in .


Lost in my thoughts, I didn't even hear the door open behind me .

"Hi Dad, I'm back . " I gave him a weak smile .

"Why didn't you come in? We heard from the teleportation gatekeeper that you arrived at Xyrus . " My father took a seat next to me when I didn't respond . "Your mother will be fine, Art," he said warmly, gently patting my back .

"I worried you guys again, didn't I? It feels like that's all I'm really good for nowadays," I chortled, knots churning in my chest as I said this .

I turned my head to my father and saw him gazing up at the sky like I had been just moments ago .

"She really loves the Aurora Constellate . Your mother may not seem like it, but she's strong, Arthur, even more so than me . If you think that all you've given us are worries, then you're wrong . Both you and your sister have given your mother and I so much more than we could've hoped for . "

"I know that you're not like the normal children your age; hell, I've known that since you were born . I don't know what sort of destiny you'll be caught up in, but I don't think it'll be anything you can't handle . " The skin around his eyes wrinkled as he gave me a reassuring smile .

I stayed silent, unable to form the right words .

"What I don't want you to do is feel like you're being a burden on us . All of this guilt that you're feeling right now, the weight that you're probably feeling—I want you to come to us so that we can be there for you . I don't ever want you to feel like you can't come home, that you aren't welcome . As long as you have the use of your two legs, I expect you to come home whenever you can and let us love you . That is our right as your parents . Okay?" My father ran his fingers through his trim, auburn hair in a gesture that revealed how he wasn't used to saying things like this . And just like that, the weight I felt accumulating inside slowly dispersed .

"Got it, Dad . " I managed a more sincere smile this time and he responded with his signature foolish grin .

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"Come on, let's go home . Once inside, a more ferocious beast than anything you've ever faced awaits," my father whispered darkly before both of us broke out into a fit of laughter .

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