When we stepped inside the house, the temperature seemed to have suddenly dropped . In contrast to the icy atmosphere, though, my mother's fiery gaze pierced down at me from the top of the stairs, the corners of her eyes struggling to keep her tears from rolling down her cheeks .

"Hello, Mother, I'm… back?" Cold sweat permeated through my pores as a pressure akin to an S class mana beast weighed down on my very soul .

I had to admit, I wasn't looking so sharp . My body was a canvas of nicks and scratches and my hair probably looked like it had been struck by lightning repeatedly, as if one strike wasn't to its satisfaction . The entire back of my uniform was nonexistent from when it was sandpapered away as I fell down the hole .

"Arthur Leywin…" My mother's voice dripped with frost .

Before she had the chance to say anything more, a familiar voice instantly broke the tension in the room .

"BROTHHERRR!" My baby sister bolted down the stairs past Mother, stumbling on the way down, and took a leap into my chest, her arms immediately clinging around me with the strength of a python on steroids .

"Erk! E-Ellie, it hurts…" my voice came out raspy as I gently patted my sister's head .

"A teacher came and said you… you were lost," Ellie managed in between sniffles .

My sister rubbed her face against my chest while attempting her almost incoherent string of words, as if wanting to burrow herself inside me .

Sylvie had stirred awake at this point . With her ears drooping down, she consolingly licked my sister's cheek .

"I know… I'm sorry for worrying you guys…again . " I looked up at my mother as I said this, my voice dropping to almost a whisper .

I could tell by her expression that she was torn between whether to scold me or just be happy .

Maybe she would do both .

My father took this chance to walk over to my mother and gently lead her down the stairs, comforting her .

"There's a time to be angry, Honey, but now isn't the time . Look, it's your son . He's back . " My father's soothing voice eased the tension between my mother's brows . As her expression softened, so did her will .

Breaking down into sobs, she wrapped her arms around me from the side, triggering a chain reaction, thus, causing my sister who was still wrapped around me to begin bawling her eyes out yet again . My mother's sobs made her soliloquy almost indiscernible; she seemed to switch between cursing God to thanking him .

"It's not fair…

"Why is my son the one that keeps getting so hurt?

"Thank God, you're safe!"

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My father and I made eye contact and he gave me a reassuring half-smile while he gently patted my bawling sister and mother, both of whom were angrily thumping me with their trembling fists, crying .

Their fists didn't particularly hurt but each shaking strike seemed to gnaw away at me; the guilt ate away at my insides, as I stood there, motionless, biting my quivering lower lip .

It took about a good hour before they calmed down; both my sister and mother reduced to a state of heavy panting and constant hiccups .

Somewhere in the middle of our scene, I spotted Lilia's mother, Tabitha, peeking from upstairs . I could tell she wanted to come down and comfort my mother and sister but before she could, Vincent pulled her back, giving me a meaningful nod .

Eventually, we got ourselves situated in the living room . My sister's breathing was still erratic to the point of worry, her arms wrapped around Sylvie . My mother was a bit better as her swollen eyes probed for any serious wounds before placing a gentle hand on my chest .

"… And let Heaven and Earth heal . " As she ended her chant, a soft white glow enveloped my body .

Almost immediately, I felt a soothing warmth covering every wound, even the ones I didn't know I had .

As the healing glow dissipated along with my injuries, I looked at my mother's concentrated face .

I wanted to ask .

Why could she use her healing powers now?

How was she able to heal Dad when he had been struck by the mage on the way to Xyrus? I still remembered her desperately healing my father as he ordered me to take my mother and run . That was before I'd fallen off the cliff .

But I bit my tongue and forced a smile . My father was right; I should wait for her to tell me first . My mother let out a sigh before taking her hand off my chest . She stared at me, and gave me one more firm, wordless hug .

We eventually began talking about what happened . My father took a brief moment to tell me how Professor Glory had visited and told them what had happened to me before she had to hurry back . All the while, my sister sat wordlessly on the couch, curled up with Sylvie, as she seemingly stared at a particular spot on the ground in front of her .

On my end, I tried not to make a big deal of what transpired for the sake of my mother . I skimmed over the fight with the minion crawlers, telling them how there was just a bit more than we expected .

Both my parents gave me a face that told me they didn't believe it was that simple . They knew me too well .

How much was I supposed to tell them?

My mind lingered towards the fragment of the demon's horn that floated inside the dimension ring I was twisting with my thumb .

The scene flashed through with such clarity, as if plastered to my brain . The dismembered corpses… The river of blood… Alea…

Taking a deep breath, I told them the full story . All of it…

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…at least, until where I landed .

I never understood why those old stiffs from the Council in my previous world used to say 'ignorance is bliss' . . . until now .

Nothing good would come out of knowing everything I witnessed at the bottom of that dungeon earlier today .

My mother's hoarse voice broke the silence that followed after my story .

"When Professor Glory came in yesterday during the middle of the night, she was wounded and tired, but from her expression, I knew she wasn't even thinking about that . "

"She said that you stayed behind with her to save the class . She told me you were a hero . But you know what? I didn't care . " Her voice barely made it to a whisper as she trembled slightly .

"More so than some hero, I just wanted my son to come home without being half-dead every time . What if one of these days…" My mother couldn't finish her sentence as tears began streaming down her face once more .

"Art, you're only twelve, but why does it feel like I've almost lost you so many times already?" Her voice choked . Words failed to form again as I stared blankly at a particular mole on my mother's arm . How was I supposed to respond? Her question felt like a trap with no right answer .

"Honey, that's enough . " My father reached for Mother's hand and grasped it tenderly .

I realized that, just like how I was growing, my parents were growing as well . My father's once immature, haughty side had been molded into a mature and gentle demeanor . He was still the same father that cracked jokes, but he had a layer of depth now that most likely came with raising my sister .

My mother had always been on the mature side but through the years, she'd become a bit more refined . Associating with the Helstea House and with Tabitha and Vincent's friends had made her more elegant, but right now, she seemed to have reverted back to an earlier age when her emotions weren't as stable .

I didn't blame her . I would probably be tempted to lock Ellie indoors if she ever came home even half as wounded as I had earlier today .

The rest of the conversation went by a bit more comfortably . Tabitha and Vincent came down after noticing that things seemed to have settled . I hadn't seen them in quite a while so after greeting them, we all took some time to catch up .

Soon, Ellie was nodding off to sleep so I carried her to her room, leaving Sylvie with her . Even in her sleep, my sister still sniffled from crying so much . Through the night, she didn't say a word . I knew that this episode had been pretty traumatic for her . A professor actually visited them, after all, and told them that I was missing . If not for the ring that my mother wore telling her that I, at the very least, had not died, she probably would've fainted .

It might actually have been worse for my mother, in this case, to have the ring . All she could do was stare at the ring, waiting for it to notify her that her son had died . What kind of mother would be fine after going through that?

Getting to my room, I slipped out of my tattered uniform and washed up . I planted my face directly against the current of the warm, gushing water, almost wanting it to erase what had occurred earlier in the dungeon . Alea's last moments kept pounding into my skull, a constant reminder of how weak I was .

The image broke as two short knocks tapped against my door .

"Can I come in?"

"Sure," I replied .

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My father entered, closing the door behind him before taking a seat next to me on my bed .

"Arthur, don't mind too much what your mother said tonight . She may have said she didn't want a hero but we are both proud of what you did back there in the dungeon . Knowing that my son isn't someone who would abandon his allies is something I can take absolute pride in . "

I always knew when my father was serious because he would call me by my full name instead of my nickname, Art .

"I don't know what really happened back there in the dungeon and I won't ask, but just know that I'll support whatever you decide to do . "

I struggled to swallow the knot that formed in my throat upon hearing my father's last sentence . It was supposed to be a supportive statement but all I felt was a sour taste in my mouth .

Without giving me a chance to respond, my father stood up and ruffled my hair . Opening the door to my room, he turned his head and gave me a goofy grin before walking out .

I didn't immediately go to sleep when he closed the door behind him . Instead, I sat cross-legged, and began doing something I haven't done seriously in a long time—train .

____________________________________________

The dark yellow core inside the pit of my sternum had cracks all over it, signaling that I was about to break through soon .

The various noises of the night were drowned out as I keenly focused on the activity going on inside me . Wind, Earth, Fire, Water… these were the basic elemental attributes that mana contained, but that was it; they were merely attributes .

When mana circulated inside the core and throughout the body, it wasn't distinguished as anything other than simple mana . Like the ki in my old world, it was formless, attributeless, and pure . Over time, mana adapted to its surroundings and formed attributes . For example, near regions in the north where there was much more snow and water, magic pertaining to those elements would obviously become stronger due to the attributes of the mana . The mana, depending on the environment, slowly changed and contained attributes to better exist there .

As mages, we were able to absorb, purify and guide mana with our will into different shapes and forms that we called "spells . "

The purer our mana core was, the higher the capability we had in manipulating the existing mana inside us . As to how well one utilized their mana, that would depend on how creative, sharp, and skillful the mage was in battle .

The whole aspect of elements lay in the underlying fact that everyone had elements that they were naturally more sensitive to—being able to manifest and shape that pure, attributeless mana into an element being the cause .

Alea, along with the other Lances, was most likely a white core mage, capable of causing widespread devastation if she truly wished to . Yet, Alea had been so easily defeated and killed by that black-horned demon .

Every pore in my body took part in absorbing the surrounding mana as the mana inside my core swirled fiercely .

I imagined the sound of the outer layer of my core cracking as the bright yellow underneath the crumbling outer shell was revealed .

As I let out a deep breath, I stood up and opened my eyes to stare deeply at my hands . I willed mana out of my body and it began circulating around me .

Letting out an unsatisfied tch, I sat back down again and began cultivating once more . It took me almost the entire night to break through when I had already been on the brink anyway .

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How much more did I have to train in order to even be on par with those demons? If even a white core mage had to give her life to merely chip off a fragment of the demon's horn, what stage did I have to get to?

What would happen after breaking past the white core stage?

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