Another day has begun in the Karatengu mansion, and within it countless demons went on with their lives like everything was completely normal, at least that was what it appeared like from outsider’s point of view. In truth, the members were rather nervous because the time of the Selection was fast approaching, now any day could be the day when the Great Ones announce time of Selection trials. The Great Ones were worshipped by Demon kind as the protectors and benefactors, leading the Demon kind by appointing each Demon King. Currently the balance of power and unity among the demons was rather in poor shape, due to the fact that the old Demon King, Akil Ras along with his entire family was assassinated. Many clans sought this as an opportunity to expand, so they tried to ally with those they could not overcome and squashed those they could. After all, enslaving your enemy is the ultimate way of showing your own authority.
Curiously, the clans that originally thought to be at the head of conquest-namely Kas, Jou, and Aiu clans were in decline. None knew completely what exactly happened to make all three top tier clans become so weak all of a sudden. Jou clan tried to take over Kalkan, but failed after their leader and heir was defeated and imprisoned by former Demon King. Kas clan likewise lost an heir and was driven away from their territories. Aiu clans lost all of its precious resources and were struggling to fend themselves off against opportunistic enemy clans. It was almost like some kind of a natural disaster has struck them, to make them topple over at such a critical time. Aiu clan was still active but weakened, desperate for allies to help them recover, while their enemies preyed upon them mercilessly. Kas clan, under the leadership of Nar Kas was fighting back, although they were driven off their lands, their spark for battle was far from finished. As for Jou clan, with their key members gone, other clans didn’t hesitate to crush them, now it was rumored that other than Korkau Jou’s younger sister Karli Jou, none was left alive of the clan.
Now, it was unclear what would happen next. Great Ones would find it hard to predict the next turn of events.
Meanwhile, inside the forge, within the Karatengu territory, a certain blacksmith was admiring her finished product. On the work table lay five razor sharp knives, each about the size of a forearm. The blades were glistening black, but were reflective and intricately sharp. The handles were black as well; they were ornamented to have markings on them that actually were minor enchantments to prevent rusting. This was one of the blacksmith’s best works. When she was asked by her employer to make this, she assumed they were made for the purpose of war, which was why they resembled nothing what the kitchen knives supposed to look like. For starters, the knives were double bladed, oversized, and worst of all were designed for combat not for cooking.
As she presented the knives to the demon who requested them, the demon just held the knives in disbelief in his hands, with a rather nervous expression.
The blacksmith confidently chimed in “How do you like it? These are my best creations yet, they can be used in any combat situation while imbued by the elemental energy of the user. What do you think; it’s a great success, isn’t it?”
Her employer’s right eye twitched. “Kizilkoz, this is a …. COMPLETE FAILURE!” he exclaimed so loud that the walls of the forge echoed the sound of his voice.
“What?” She stared at disbelief.
“What the heck were you thinking? These knives look nothing like the kitchen knives I requested! These knives look like they were made to butcher demons, not food.”
“Isn’t that the entire idea? To use the knives to cut down your enemies?”
“Of course not! How would I use these monstrosities in the kitchen?”
“In the kitchen? Don’t tell me…” Kizilkoz’s expression darkened. “You are not planning to do something horrifying in the kitchen, are you?” she imagined him using the knives to cut demons into pieces inside the kitchen.
“Who told you that? I will have you know I am very clean cutter. I sever the meat so neatly that blood only spills on three fourth of the room.” Ren referred to how he cut meat. But he gave off entirely another idea altogether, considering he was smiling with teeth showing while holding the knife in his hand in a backhand grip. To anyone who looked at him, he would look murderous.
“Aaah!” Kizilkoz exclaimed. ‘He is far more twisted than I imagined. No doubt about it, he butchers his enemies in the kitchen while smiling just like that.’
“I only asked for set of knives because I broke the original set. I suppose using knives as a chisel while hammering it down was not the best idea.” Ren of course referred to how he tried to cut tough vegetable resembling a giant nut with the knife as a chisel.
“Oh Great Ones have mercy!” Kizilkoz imagined Ren hammering the sharp knives into his suffering enemies while laughing maniacally. ‘Oh no, if I don’t do something to please him, I might end up next inside that horror kitchen!’
“So, I suppose I will keep the knives, but can you make me a skin peeler and some spatulas?” it was for taking off skin of fruits and flipping cooked meat. So far, the food he has made was far from edible even by demon standards, and he broke many tools as well. Since he was the heir of Karatengu clan, the ban on kitchen was lifted for him, and he began passionately experimenting with various ingredients, often with disastrous results. The worst part is that he kept trying, resulting in even more mess than there was before.
“Skin peeler and spatula?” Kizilkoz now could vividly imagine Ren skinning a demon with the demon having a fruit stuffed inside its mouth. ‘How in the world did I end up allied with a demon like this? He is far more scary than the Altyn clan demons or even Kumis clan demons!’ she sighed. ‘Still, he is my only ally; I can’t afford to lose him, even if he is a depraved lunatic with a hobby of sadistic cannibalism.’ Her impression of her ally was anything but right.
“Yeah, those would come in pretty handy, the skin is usually really rough, but the sweet, juicy inside is what counts, it’s essentially the best part about it. Then I can take the insides, cut them up and either fry them or make soup out of them. I still didn’t come up with a name, but what do you think about ‘Demon Soup’?” he referred to how the vegetables he was going to add would make the soup demonically spicy.
“Demon Soup?” Kizilkoz said with calm expression of horror, her eyes were focused on Ren, her face completely dark from fear. This demon, her ally, was not joking, he was extremely dangerous. She suppressed the growing urge to run away at top speed.
“Yup, I thought it would be a great addition to culinary list of the Karatengu clan. Don’t you think that would be great?”
“Yea… yes. It would be wonderful.” She said while cringing. ‘If I say something that would disagree with him, no doubt he would make soup out of me!’
“Yes! I am so glad you think so. Thanks for the knives; I will take them after all.” Ren reached for the knives and put them inside the Orin Yakit crystal hanging on his necklace. The knives instantly were transported into the pocket dimension of the crystal. “Well then, see you around.” Then he left the forge.
“In all my life, I never met a single demon who made me so afraid for my life while smiling like that. What the heck is he? Father mentioned Korgan Karatengu as extremely strong demon, on the same tier as Altyn clan’s patriarch, then does that mean Ren’s power is equivalent to his grandfather’s? That would be rather far-fetched considering how young Ren is, but that is the only explanation I can think of, considering my inability to sense Ren’s power. I couldn’t sense Master Korgan’s power either. Does that mean both are much higher level than me to the point I am like an insect in front of them?” She shuddered from the thought.
But at this time, it was the best demon she could rely on. The ones who attacked her family definitely were humans and the other clans would without a doubt be hostile to offspring of the deceased Demon King. Ras clan, despite the fact that it produced a Demon King had managed to make many enemies, many other demon clans opposed to the Ras clan and were only held at bay by the power of the Demon King. Now that her father was gone, the only thing left for her to do was to enter the Selection in hopes of reclaiming the throne. However doing such an arduous task by herself is impossible, she needed backing of someone very powerful, and that’s where Ren came in. Not only was he descendant of her father’s closest ally, he has also proven himself to be extremely strong even by her standards.
‘I must rely on him, no matter how scary he is, no matter what he demands of me; I must take back the title of the Demon King. I will restore the stability to the kingdom and exact my revenge.’ Kizilkoz wasn’t sure who was responsible for her father’s death but she swore when she finds out she will show no mercy to the culprit.
Meanwhile, Ren was practicing manipulating the Darkness element produced by Akjan.
“Ren, it might not be the best idea, considering the last time you have done this you have lost your consciousness. It’s far too risky for you to risk your health over something as trivial as this!”
“Akjan, it is absolutely necessary! I must learn to control this in order to be able to advance to the next stage, but unless I understand exactly how to control it I will never be able to go forward.”
“Still, is it necessary for you to be practicing with my Darkness element? Darkness is a rare element, it’s not one of five common elements, and so trying to master it right off the bat might be rather tedious. Why don’t you practice with fire instead?”
“Done it already.” Ren gestured at the candles lit with black flames. The flames rose into the air, leaving their candles altogether. Now the black flames were making circular arks based on Ren’s finger movements. Ren took his time to show his mastery of the flames by manipulating them in various ways. “It took me some time but I finally got the hang of controlling the flames without depleting too much of my stamina. Now I can even make it change color.”
“Wow, the flames turned white! This is…”
“That’s not all I can do.” Ren made the flames change their color to shade of red. “I suppose red flames are too normal, well then, what about pink flames!”
“Uhm, Ren, this looks weird. I am pretty sure flames are not supposed to be pink.” Akjan observed his flames. “Now they look somewhat sickly blue”
“Well, you can also have half and half. So what do you think about it?” top half of the flames was pink while the bottom was blue.
“Ren, this looks somewhat like a painting. But making such colors with flames and making two colors simultaneously… How did you do that? I thought the flames that each demon produces were limited to their own color, is that not the case?”
“I don’t know if that actually is the case, considering I did not produce these flames. I found out how to change the color after I fooled around with flames while trying to change the intensity with which I am suppressing the will of the flames. Depending on how intense by ‘squeeze’ upon the will of the flame is, I can freely control the colors, ranging from easy red to other harder colors.” Ren continued. “But that is not all I have learned.” Now the flames took on a tint of green, just like Aijasyl’s flames.
“Observe the flame, now it is not only a burning something …” the flame shaped itself into a hand holding a knife. Then the knife slashed at one of the candles. The candle was cut in half horizontally, with the top falling off. The surface between the cut pieces was visibly melted.
“The flame, it changed shape! You made it cut that thing… it interacted physically with an object without completely swallowing it! I thought flames would spread the moment it touched something.”
“Oh, the flames did want to spread across the candle, but I held it back, forcing it to just cut the candles without spreading too far. Had I not been concentrating on the flames I would have set the entire candle not to mention the surface the candle is on fire.” Ren sighed. “But concentrating on such small details takes too much wind out of me, so…” he took out a bottle filled with strange liquid. “…Shaula gave me an elixir that will restore my stamina every time I drink it.”
“What kind of elixir is that?”
“She said it’s called Em Elexir, it’s good stuff. It does not restore lost mana but it allows your body to feel rested and loosens tight nerves.” Ren gulped the elixir, swallowing cupful into his mouth. It tasted like grapes mixed with potatoes and honey. A rather strange but effective combination.
“Wow, I think I will ask her for one as well. It does sound very useful.”
“Yep, well so far I have learned how to control the flames and manipulate them, but the finer details still elude me. Firstly, notice that the place the candle was cut in melted a little. No matter what I did I was not able to make it cut without melting it. Secondly,…” the flames now returned back to the candles. “I am not sure how I am supposed to carry around someone else’s magic. I can’t produce magic on my own, so it’s essential I have spare magic on me at all times. But the trouble is, how do I do it? Obviously, I wouldn’t carry the candles with me everywhere, it has too many risks with it. If I get distracted even for a second I could catch myself or others on fire, so unless…” he sighed in defeat.
“Uhm, I think I know how to alleviate that particular problem.” Akjan said in shaky voice. She could tell that her beloved Ren really did his best trying to master control of mana. Now it was her turn to help him. She took out a small bottle from her pocket. “Mana can be stored inside of an object, like this” she showed him the small clear glass bottle. “If I just take my mana and create a substance” she created a small blob of darkness “and then compress it and put it inside of the jar” the compressed blob fit seamlessly inside of the jar “then command it to stay in standby mode until the next order is given, it will stay there until I will use it later.”
Ren looked at Akjan with eyes full of admiration. “Akjan, have I ever told you that you are the best demon I have ever met in my entire life? I feel so grateful for having met you, teacher Akjan Tang; allow me to bow in respect!” Ren proceeded to make a bow while on his knees. It was a bit off the top notion.
“Ren! Quit it! This is embarrassing! Teacher? I thought Aijasyl was your teacher!”
“All she taught me was how not to break dishes and clean the kitchen. I will take you as a teacher over her any day of the week!” Ren said while still bowing and holding his hands together as if praying for Akjan to mentor him.
“I see. I suppose I wouldn’t mind teaching you other things…” She said while playing with her right cat ear that has dropped down from embarrassment. The redness of her white face combined with red horns made it obvious that she found his compliment rather touching.
“So you are trying to replace me aren’t you?” a polite voice filled with malice sounded out. “Well, Master Karatengu, aren’t you the brave one? Your boldness is most commendable.” Her face however made it obvious that she was extremely angry. She was smiling, but that smile was clearly fake. Her eyes were closed in slits, so it added another frightening effect.
“Oh, Aijasyl! I didn’t mean it like that! I just meant…” Ren began but was interrupted by Aijasyl.
“Do not apologize young master, it is my fault for not being a proper mentor to you. Allow me to mend my ways by giving you the true lesson from hell.” She said the last part with her eyes open. She raised her arm into the air. “Ot jasyl! Aid me to strike down this fool!” immediately green flames sparked in her palm, becoming a green orb, then the green orb extended and became a green spear made of flames. “I have been doing some training myself on my magic recently, allow me to show you the fruits of my labors!” she threw the flame spear in Ren’s direction.
Ren jumped away from where the flame almost hit him. Now the ground was on flames as well.
Not waiting for Ren to run away, Aijasyl produced another green flame spear and threw it towards Ren. What followed was a cycle of her throwing flame spears while he relentlessly dodged.
“Please think of this as an exclusive training, master Karatengu. Try to defend yourself against my arsenal.” She changed the flames in her hands, now it became a bow and arrow. She started to shoot arrows made of green flames in Ren’s direction.
“Training? Please tell me you are joking!” Ren saw so many arrows fired at him. There was no way he could dodge, but wait! The flames that covered the ground! They must have been spreading due to her flames that ended up striking the ground. Sure, they were Aijasyl’s flames, but if the same principle applied to her flames as Master Korgan’s flames, then he should be able to do something.
Desperate to avoid the arrows Ren shouted out “Obey me!”
The flames on the ground heeded to his forceful command. They rose up from the ground, leaving scorched grass and burnt earth, towards the air. Now the green flames were under Ren’s control.
The arrows were still coming, there were at least ten of them, and there was not time to move far away, so the only thing that would save him in this situation would be…
A giant flame shield!
Obeying Ren’s will, the flames changed shape and condensed into an impenetrable floating shield. The arrows landed on the shield and got absorbed into the shield. It was obvious whose control was superior. If Aijasyl’s control was stronger, then her arrow surely would have penetrated the flame shield, but that was not the case, so her arrows got absorbed into the flame instead.
“Very impressive, Ren” Aijasyl said with a smirk.
“I am glad you dropped the Master Karatengu thing, it was getting really weird.” Ren continued. “I am personally am more fond of Red flames, so if you would excuse me.” The green flame shield changed to bloody red. “There, much better!”
Aijasyl only could watch in disbelief. “He can freely alter the color of my flames and control them to such an extent. Even I am limited between black and green flames, but he… he is something else.” Internally she thought ‘As expected of a true Karatengu!’
“Don’t think we are done yet!” She produced a green ball of flame and threw it into the air. When it reached certain height, the ball exploded and it fired off blasts of fireballs at Ren’s shield.
There was no sign of stopping this training, Akjan could only watch with awkward expression on her face. “This might have gotten out of hand.”
“It truly has, hasn’t it? I never thought those two would take playing with fire this far.” Master Korgan said after appearing behind Akjan.
“They are both amazing! But is it ok for them to be practicing here? They did burn the place down.”
“Not to worry, I will have both of them fix the training area after they are done; however right now, what matters is how far can they advance considering how much time is left before…” he paused.
“Before what, Master Korgan?” Akjan asked confusedly.
“You will find out soon enough, little one.” Master Korgan said casually and resumed watching Aijasyl and Ren’s mock battle. Neither one was trying to kill the other, but each one was trying to push the other to be more creative and apply more control over the element instead of producing more of it. Korgan observed that Ren was taking advantage of the fact that Aijasyl wasn’t reusing her flames but instead producing new flames in order to gain distinct advantage. It was obvious from Korgan’s view that Ren’s control was stronger, he no longer was passing out from exhaustion; his body must have gotten used to the mental stress of mana control. That was good; he is going to need it soon.
The training lasted for two more hours before both Aijasyl and Ren were too exhausted to move. Overall, the training was success, but of course Master Korgan held both of them responsible for the damages so they would have to spend the next day fixing it.
When the evening arrived, Ren was walking around exhausted. Even after drinking another bottle of elixir, he was still tired. It took all he had to keep up with Aijasyl. He had to admit; she was extremely strong with high mana capacity and advanced control. No wonder she is qualified to be his mentor.
Every Tengu clan member was going around with their evening, until every single demon felt an uncomfortable noise inside their skulls. It sounded like screeching metal, and many were clutching their ears for the sound to go away, instead a voice resounded within everyone’s brains.
“AS DECREED BY THE OBSERVERS OF THE KALKAN KINGDOM, THE FIRST TRIAL OF SELECTION SHALL START AT THE FIRST MOON OF THE FIRST DAY OF THE MONTH AT THE BORDER OF THE KINGDOM’ LIFE SPRING. BE WARNED, ONLY THE WORTHY SHALL ADVANCE FURTHER.” Then the loud proclamation had stopped.
Young demons were whispering among each, asking what just happened. Only Master Korgan just shrugged and said “It has begun.”