Chapter 17:

Is Togetherness A Blessing Or A Curse? (Balor Strongstone and Girad Giantfury) - Part 1

Mages and Dragons in a New Land? They Obviously Haven't Seen a Modern War Man! Book 2


“Go stronger, man!” a voice shouted, “Don’t hold back on me, got it? Keep it up ‘til ya’ hit me!”

His club clashed against one of the pair of gauntlets that the other person brandished. The other produced a long cylindrical gun. The single-barreled gun was filled with mana, the catalyst dividing it across the chambers.

‘Level 5 input…’ the boy thought as the mana flowed in.

Then suddenly, something went wrong. With a crack, the gun fell out of his hands.

“Tch!” he cursed under his breath. “Not Argentum too!”

He tossed the gun aside and delivered a blow to the other’s stomach. But the response involved the person just being pushed backwards. He kicked the gauntlet-wearing boy hard and almost immediately, the boy fell.

“Get up, Balor.” the boy said, towering over him. “Fight till ya’ drop unconscious.”

“Girad, I’m starting to get tired…” the other responded, “Let’s…take a break shall we?”

Girad just stood making a surprised face.

“Aight, I guess,” he responded as Balor sat up straight. Girad walked and picked up the gun. Tossing it towards Balor, he stretched, sitting next to him.

“I’m still impressed with how you managed to make somethin’ like this,” he commented.

“It’s no big deal.” Balor responded, “Guns are pretty common, although these ones are something I made myself. Aurum and Argentum they are called.”

“Oooh!” Girad exclaimed, “I’ve never seen these ‘guns’ you are talkin’ about.”

“Really?” Balor asked, “I’m sure the lab delivers them to the army on a six-month basis.”

“Well, I haven’t come ‘cross guns, ever.”

“Ah, that’s probably because they are not being used much on-field since there are some problems. Like Aurum and Argentum here.”

Balor produced another gun identical to the one he had with him and he placed his hand on one of the guns.

‘Level 5 input off’ he thought. The mana he put into the gun was being absorbed back into his body. Moments later, he sighed. Pointing the gun to the air, he willed one of the gauntlets to change shape, into a thin but a sharp screwdriver.

“How did ya’ do that?”

“Just change the gauntlet’s shape using mana.” Balor explained as he removed the grip panels, “There are certain weapons that work this way. It’s pretty easy to put this function in weapons that don’t have it. This gauntlet didn’t have this function before so I’m speaking from experience.”

Girad thought for a while and recalled a certain someone who uses similar weapons.

“So it’s like Nobaru’s weapon?” he asked.

“Yeah, it is exactly like that. Although, his swords’ craftsmanship is unique in itself. Never seen anything like it.”

Balor kept the gun down and observed the crystal within the panel. A small and green coloured crystal,

“It’s broken again…” he muttered in annoyance.

“What’s that?” Girad asked.

“The gem divides the mana into the chambers, compresses it when I want to and I fire bullets that way. If it breaks then the gun won’t shoot. Luckily…”

Balor went back to his gauntlets. It was in the colour of metallic silver and buttons covered its top surface. Moments after clicking and entering combinations and so on and so forth, the gauntlet opened to a compartment with similar gems but with different colours.

“...I have replacements.”

He then pulled a notepad and a small feather from his pocket and scribbled after a heavy sigh.

Gem - Red

Gem - Green

“That’s two gems that failed,” he muttered, frustrated. He picked up a cylindrical blue gem and placed it where the previous one was. Ensuring that it fit perfectly, he reassembled the grip panels. He then proceeded to do the same to the other one.

Several minutes later, he sat alongside Girad overlooking the setting sun. He watched as the people came and went.

“It’s been a day since we were transported here.” he said, “Do you have any idea what’s goin’ on?”

“No, I don’t.” Balor admitted, “It all feels like a dream to me. But I wonder… why are we here…?”

“It all started with Mr. Ige bringing us down there!” Girad complained, “Dang it! I knew there was somethin' fishy the moment it happened. Oh when I’ll get back, I’ll-”

“He’s a teacher.” Balor interrupted, “You can’t beat him up.”

Balor looked away, scratching his head, “W-well… You have a point.”

The two of them laughed, savouring the moment.

“Anyways… Let’s focus on getting back first.” Balor said, to which Girad responded with a nod.

The two got up, seeing as the sun had set.

“Well, that concludes our evening I guess…” Balor said, “You better get home before… you know.”

Girad’s face darkened and he ran his hand over a scar on his back.

“It’s still pretty harsh, hasn’t it?” Balor asked.

“Yeah. Illusion or not, this still stays…”

“You can talk to them, you know? They are your parents.”

“Nah, I won’t.” Girad objected, “Parents? Right! They are anything but my parents.”

Moments passed with silence. But a soft sigh interrupted it. “Sorry…” Balor said.

“It’s fine..” Girad responded, nonchalantly, “I know what your tryin’ to say.”

He rose up. Well, best get goin’” he said, offering his hand to Balor. He took it.

“Yeah, see you later.”

“Yeah,”

His response was interrupted by the sound of screeching static-like noise. The two screamed in pain as it rang in their ears. The scene shifted and swirled around them. It looked like they were wearing drunk goggles. The colours and shapes of the landscapes jumped around playfully as if making fun of their agonising situation.

Then everything just….faded away.

—-

A wall towered over the petite figure of the boy. Balor opened his eyes to a blood-red sky.

“H-huh…?” he heard his voice echo. He rose up, confused. “Where…am I?”

Then he noticed something was amiss.

“Girad would be screaming his head off trying to find a way out by now…”

Then it hit him. He looked around but alas, around him, he could only see the crimson sky and…the walls.

“Girad!” he called out, “You here?”

But there was no noise except for his own along with a faint sound from afar. He turned his head toward the sound, noticing nothing. He walked.

‘What is this place…?’ he thought, ‘Where is he?’

The maze was filled with walls, with paths. An endless labyrinth of nothingness. The walls were cold and metallic, the floor was even colder and him being barefoot didn’t help. But he proceeded for what seemed like hours. Left. Right. Left. Left… He used the notepad he had in hand to jot down a map of the place. But that didn’t matter. Once he reached somewhere, he couldn't go back.

It wasn’t until many hours, days, maybe even weeks, that he saw the first sign of change. His body was sweaty, his feet so sore. The wall looked wooden now. He placed his hand on it. The place felt….oddly familiar.

“Is this… home?”

A scene was of him as a boy, tinkering and playing with gadgets twice his size. He recalled the scene, an old memory.

Caestus

His body was all grimy but his face showed contentment.

“This was when I had created you,” he told himself. He saw himself put together the gauntlets which were back then, twice his size yet light as a feather. They were coloured a shiny silver back then but had gone through a lot now that the metal wasn’t shiny anymore. Just goes to show how the pair was his greatest creation.

He walked forward as a figure approached the little version of himself. It was that of his father. The pot-bellied man ruffled his hair, his brown eyes drifting down to the pair of gauntlets. The man adjusted the positioning of the boy’s hand.

“The screwdriver is far away from the place you want it to be.” he said, “It looks like you are being hasty…”

“I’m only excited for this thing to come together. It’s in its final stages of development.”

The man laughed, “I know… and I’m surprised you got this far. Adding functions to something that doesn’t have it is hard work, even for a pro. But patience is a virtue… you need not be hasty. You have all the time in the world.”

“I’ll be more careful.” the boy responded.

“Good… That’s good…” his father said with a weak tone, “S-sorry… I’m feeling a little down today.”

“Get some rest. Mom would be worried about you if she were still here.”

“Y-yeah… she would, wouldn’t she… You get some rest yourself, Balor.”

“I will!” he exclaimed cheerfully, “Sweet dreams, father.”

“Yes…” the man’s voice echoed, “Sweet dreams…”

As the current Balor walked past the dusty, old table, he couldn’t help but smile with longing.

‘I wish it was always like this. If only I had realised sooner."

He walked towards his dad’s position and reached out of his head, only to be reminded of the illusion he was in. As he proceeded deeper into the labyrinth, his resolve hardened. The walls began to grow older and the floor was now grassy. It was like he was walking in the woods. That’s where the workshop was. That was where he had spent most of his time when he was a little kid…

Now it’s just a bitter memory of times he wished he never had lost.

He continued walking with a heavy heart

—-

“It’s been a damn hour already!” Girad’s voice echoed, “The hell is this place? It made me miss my fill of the Roasted Cibium that I rarely get to eat!”

He exhaled angrily and braced himself.

“Time to brute force my way out of this!”

He ran at the count of three with his club in hand, past the metal walls and the crimson sky. For some reason, he was feeling alarmed about something despite seeing nothing there. “Comin’ through! Comin’ through!” he shouted as he barrelled towards the faint flame he saw at the distance, guiding him…luring him closer.

“Balor!” he shouted, “You in ‘ere?”

He ran and ran until he saw something that slowed him down. That dark, dusty chamber…. The man, ready with the whip in hand… The terrified young boy... enduring the searing pain that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

He roared in rage. He wanted to save himself. This was part of underperforming. Punishment. The iron whip fell followed by a deep, pained roar. Girad tried to strike the man with his club, only for it to pass through him. He let out a frustrated scream as he could only watch as tears fell down, shining as crystals would and the blood, dripping down his back like rubies.

Girad felt the long scar on his back that ranged from his neck to his waist. It’s long healed but it serves as a cruel reminder…

Girad recalled that day very well. He had to pass a test to be a warrior. He remembered dominating the field; swinging his club at his opponents' faces. He didn’t have much mana but he excelled at melee combat. But he didn’t feel that good towards the end. He was exhausted.

“It wasn’t my fault…!” the boy cried, “I was tired!”

“That is not a valid excuse!” the man’s voice boomed, “The battlefield doesn’t wait for no one.”

“But-”

Another hit came down on him. The man kicked him down.

“No excuses!” he shouted, “You are my son. Act like it already!”

The sound of the door slamming shut echoed across the dark room. Tears fell down the boy’s face. Girad silently sat down next to the boy. He couldn’t help but cry along. Moments passed like this. Girad forced himself to get up. As much as this small moment weighed him down, he couldn't afford to cry. His heart felt like it was melting under the pressure and slowly hardened into something stronger and unbreakable.

His face reflected a calm rage. He continued walking forward, gritting his teeth.

—-

Many slow minutes of mourning passed. His footsteps began to grow weaker as he came across another scene. It was that of the future. He stood watching his younger self, running excitedly into his wooden cottage. He had something big covered up with a huge, oily cloth. Balor followed his younger self into his father’s bedroom, knowing that what came next was something he wished that never happened.

But it was the harsh reality. The excited face of the boy turned into an expression of horror as his father lay unconscious on the ground. His breathing was shallow, his joints looked stiff. His eyes were open but he looked confused and distracted, staring into empty space. The scene shifted to something odd.

A lone figure stood facing him. It was distorted but Balor could make out who it was. Although the realisation only baffled him.

You are weak

Its voice resounded in his head.

The scene shifted as the figure beckoned for him to follow.

The walls around them were developing cracks. Balor followed with his guard up. He was confused about what he was seeing. Fragments of the walls slowly flew toward him as if being led by the wind. Fragments of his past… Memories, scenes he had wished to forget.

‘After my father had passed,’ he thought, ‘I was alone. The people around me loved me. But I couldn’t keep myself together. There was the memory that I was always alone...

I wanted the strength to protect. Therefore I adopted a persona. I decided to take it upon myself to take care of everyone I hold dear. So I won’t lose anyone like I had lost the one person I had as a family right in front of my eyes. But I couldn’t take it anymore…’

You can’t think for yourself. If you try taking care of everyone, who will take care of you? You can’t always depend on him.

‘But that’s all I am.’ he thought to himself, ‘I know.. I am a parasite, leeching off of the guy I call a friend. I try to gain strength but that’s not who I am.’

Why can’t you brute-force yourself out of your troubles?

Girad looked at the figure. He jumped as it stood right in front of him, looking him dead in the eyes. Its mirage-like physique glared at him, threatening him to come out of his shell.

‘That’s right…’ Balor thought, ‘That’s how Girad does things. My wit won’t solve all my problems.’

That’s right. Grit has its moments as well. So, defeat me then. Command me to step aside. Face yourself and overcome.

A fist fell into him, hitting his face and making him fall back. Balor spat blood and charged forward, delivering a similar punch with his gauntlets. The figure staggered back. The pair exchanged blows one after another, hoping to tire the latter out. Balor could keep up with the pacing.

‘This is nothing compared to training with Girad!’ he thought. He flipped back, noticing the number of fragments increasing. The figure copied his movements. The ground suddenly shook as Balor’s feet touched the floor. Dozens of humanoid figures rose from the ground. Without wasting time, Balor charged forward, equipping Aurum and Argentum in hand. He saw his targets in front of him and smiled.

‘Level 4 output.’ he thought.

He kicked one of them in the shin as he raised his foot. A group charged at him as shots rang from his guns like a symphony. Balor tried to force his way through only to see that more came his way and only to be overwhelmed by the multitude of foes. As he dragged himself forward, a dark shadow loomed over him enveloping him and covering him in the depths of darkness.

—-

Girad was falling.

The boy was terrified, scared stiff. Because what was below him was utter chaos. A deep pit of spikes and flames...threatening to swallow him up.

“How the hell do I get out of this one?”

This happened within moments. He ran and ran. Fragments of his past failures and past fears surrounded him. Odd mirages of him getting beaten up as a punishment, getting whipped, not getting enough food, not being allowed to sleep well.

He plugged his ears with his fingers but that didn’t stop the noise from getting to him. He didn’t notice that he took the wrong step.

And now he was taking a looooong fall, headfirst into the darkness. He was like Alice falling down the hole toward Wonderland. Only that he was falling to his death.

He couldn’t just punch his way out of this one. There was nothing to punch, to begin with.

“Why not use my noggin’?” he asked himself, “Well ‘cause I’m a dumbass!”

But he exhaled and looked around. The walls around him were distorted like glitches in the system.

“Balor told me that in situations like this, there would be an escape route.”

There always would be an escape route. The problem is the solution.

And sure enough, the distortions revealed themselves to be emerging from one point.

“Maybe an attack would work!” he exclaimed, “But my mana reserve is low…”

Just to prove his point, he shot a ball of fire at the wall. But what he saw surprised him as much as he noticed the single point earlier.

“I-I must be seein’ things, yeah?” he muttered in surprise.

The spell deflected off the walls, travelling like light particles until it dissipated into nothingness.

“That’s not supposed to happen. The ball should’ve hit the wall…”

Suddenly, he noticed something. The point was moving. It slithered like a snake into a different location. Balor cursed under his breath. It was at an uncomfortable angle. So he couldn’t attack directly.

‘The ricochet…!’ he thought with a hint of revelation.

He exhaled, calming his mind. He focused the last of his mana. The little mana he had, he used. He didn’t care if he would faint from tiredness. At least he would survive.

Dirige te venti furoris.

Inimícos qui te circumvéndunt perdat.

Liberet te a captivitatis compedibus.

Sit tibi libertatis dux!

Severing Blades!

A shrill sound echoed around him, spreading all around. He visualised scattering gusts of wind, damaging anything and everything around him. He opened his eyes and the shrill sound condensed and fired. The gusts were small but that was okay. One of them just had to hit the target. Girad instantly felt the tiredness hit him in the face. He could see one of the gusts arching towards the point. But as it neared an inch away from it. It disappeared. Balor sighed and closed his eyes.

‘Well, this… is the end.. of me, huh..”

The scenery was getting foggier and foggier. The last thing he heard was a noise that was almost like screeching, echoing inside the chamber.