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238 Who Is Zed?

    The sky was dark and gloomy as snowflakes continued to pour. Cold winds glided through the air and struck against the windows of a camping house below.

    The windows shook and made noises while snow struck on the glass panels, covering them with a blanket of snow.

    Through one of the windows, a bedroom came in sight. On the bed, Kiba, in deep sleep, was clutching his neck as sweat dripped out of his pores.

    He was trembling and kicking like a man who was being strangled. A golden force enveloped his body and powerful ripples radiated out.

    CRACK

    The windows started cracking apart like a piece of glass being smashed by a hammer. As the ripples collided on the table lamp and chairs, they instantly turned to dust. The heater, lights and other electrical devices started malfunctioning while emitting a buzzing sound.

    Swoosh~!

    More terrifying waves of energy surged out of his body. The bed shattered to fragments before the energy waves crashed on the walls.

    The camping house was made from enhanced metals and special stones to provide durability and strength in the face of an attack. Not even a fully powered level V mutant could make a dent on the walls, much less blast through them.

    Now, the walls exploded with a loud boom sound as if they were made of tofu.

    In a room across Kiba's.

    Ashlyn was sleeping on a bed. Suddenly, she opened her eyes as she heard the explosion sound. She instantly jumped on her feet and backed away as the energy waves moved towards her room.

    "This aura...Kiba!"

    At the same time, the energy waves crashed onto the electric circuits and the gas cylinders in the kitchen.

    BOOM

    A chain blast started and the entire house exploded into a cloud of fire. At the final moment, Ashlyn broke through a window and leaped high in the air.

    Everything around the house was instantly swallowed by the explosion.

    Far away, Ashlyn landed on the ground. The snow around her has evaporated directly as the heat from the explosion surged out.

    Ashlyn gripped the blue discs in her hands while looking towards the source of the explosion. Above the fire cloud, Kiba was floating in the air. His face was deadly pale while his eyes were shut tight.

    "He is having a nightmare?" Ashlyn made a guess.

    There were various case studies of mutants losing self-control in times of intense psychological distress. This was especially true for high-level mutants who posed a greater risk to society thanks to their deadly abilities. Such mutants have to consciously spend efforts to restrict their energy within their bodies.

    In the end, the stronger powers were the most difficult to wield. Nightmares and mental breakdown were a guaranteed way of triggering such powers into rampage mode.

    Ashlyn's expression turned grave. She has seen the extent of his strength during the battle with the serpent, and she was not sure she could deal with him without breaking her seals.

    "I need to awaken him," Ashlyn decided to not break her seals for the time being. She jumped in the air and conjured metallic beads in her hand.

    She aimed the beads on Kiba and threw them with full force. She clutched the discs and transformed into a blurry line as she shot forward...

    Meanwhile, in the dreamy world.

    The world started blurring as the claw proceeded towards the source of the world. The malicious smile of the owner of the claw continued to be indistinctively visible.

    "Kid, this is the easiest money I ever made. Hahaha!"

    The world turned misty as if it was enveloped with a layer of water...or tears. The indistinct sounds of screams and shouts subsidized as the darkness of death slowly took over.

    Just then, a shimmering blue point bloomed on the blurry face of the bulky man. In less than a second, the blue point evolved into blue fire.

    "AHHHH!"

    The claw retraced and the darkness was once again shredded apart by the light. The voices became clear, and now, the world only has a woman made of blue fire.

    "Rebecca! You bitch!" A blood-wrenching voice followed from distance.

    The woman's hands of fire stretched towards the source of the world, carrying a gentle force. The fire enveloped the world with tender warmness.

    "Zed! Are you fine?!"

    "Zed!"

    Voice filled with sadness and panic resonated in the world.

    "I'm so sorry! Just wait a sec and everything will be alright!"

    A crimson drop, emanating a heavy medical aroma, flew towards the source of the world. The blurriness in the world reduced and the images turned more vivid.

    The woman's face was covered with blood but there was a kind smile on her face.

    "Zed! Nothing would happen to you!"

    "I will protect you till my final breath!"

    "Zed!"

    In the real world.

    The metallic beads floated around Kiba. The beads opened up and released ripples of high-voltage current.

    Shua!

    The current shot into the golden force enveloping Kiba.  Behind, Aslyn gripped the discs like blades, and cut through the force protection.

    She didn't want to harm him so she used the discs as blades and only sliced through his protective barrier.

    "Zed."

    "Huh?" Ashlyn was startled as she heard a faint voice from Kiba.

    Earlier as well she has noticed his lips moving but since she was far away, she didn't hear him clearly.

    "Zed...are you fine?"

    Ashlyn clearly heard his words this time. She didn't stop and continued to break through the barrier while ensuring she didn't trigger his powers further.

    "Zed...I'm so sorry...I will protect you till my final breath."

    "Who is this Zed?" Ashlyn wondered as she cut through the barrier.

    She waved a hand and a cubic crystal materialized in her hand. As she saw the golden force about to go on a rampage for real, she shattered the crystal on Kiba's back.

    The crystal was like a dam, and as soon as it shattered, water swept out like a lake. At the same time, the current from the metallic beads used water as a medium and entered Kiba.

    "Urgh!" Kiba opened his eyes. He was fully drenched with cold water and the electricity coursed through him like a fire.

    He gripped a fist and energy surged around him, shattering the beads and evaporating the water. Behind, Ashlyn backed off as she saw an energy wave rippling towards her.

    "Kiba!"

    Kiba was feeling a severe headache with the terrible taste of blood in his mouth. Suppressing the pain, he turned around and neutralized the energy wave.

    Ashlyn landed on the ground, her eyes focused on him.

    "I owe you one," Kiba said after he stepped next to her. He looked around and let out a heavy sigh.

    Exhausted, he sat down on the cold ground. He pressed his forehead while trying to think of what just happened now.

    "Is this also caused by that monk?"

    He was sure Akshobhya could never attack him or anyone else after what he did to him. But during his fight, Akshobhya has landed psychic damage on him, and given what he has recently concluded about the life and death crisis he felt back then, he thought the event just now was also a side effect from that psychic attack.

    Kiba was only partially right though.

    Back then, Akshobhya attacked Zed's consciousness by making him relive his worst days through his memories. (Chapter 104).

    Those memories mainly dealt with the life he lived in the slum:  the torture inflicted by the caretaker and overlords, his farewell with Elissa, the event outside a charity gala where he unknowingly frightened children from an aristocrat family, and his meeting with Veronica when she gifted him 'The Eternal Wisdom of Dream.'

    Akshobhya has resurfaced all his memories, even those which were forgotten by Zed thanks to the passing of time. This included his time as a toddler.

    Such memories were stored in the furthermost corner of his consciousness, almost discarded. Akshobhya never got a chance to use these memories as Zed has transformed into Kiba.

    But now, after he saw the snow and trees, those memories got triggered and resurfaced as a dream...or to be precise, as a nightmare.

    "What did I faced in that nightmare?"

    Dreams and nightmares were vivid during sleep but they become indistinct and hazy after waking up. It is considered great feet if once could even recall half the details.

    "A claw?" Kiba clutched his head tightly, trying to remember what he saw in the nightmare that brought the metallic taste of blood. "A woman of fire?"

    "Here."

    Kiba raised his head. Ashlyn was standing with a water bottle.

    "Thanks."

    Kiba took the bottle and emptied the water in one large sip.

    "Haah," Kiba lied down on the ground while looking at the night sky. Snow continued to pour on him but he was no longer interested in its beauty.

    Ashlyn sat beside him and observed his face.

    "Zed," Ashlyn said.

    "What?!" Kiba flinched and he rose up in an instant. His heart was full of disbelief and he stared at her, unsure how she realized his secret.

    Does she know?!

    How?!

    "Who is he?" Ashlyn was started by his response so she completed her question.

    Why is he behaving like a cat whose tail has been stepped?

    "I..." Kiba rubbed his forehead, unsure of what was happening now.

    Just what has happened during the nightmare for her to ask about Zed?

    The only thing which relaxed him was that she didn't know he was Zed.

    "You were muttering his name," Ashlyn clarified after she realized he most likely didn't remember his nightmare.

    "I was?!" Kiba was bewildered.

    Ashlyn nodded.

    "Can you tell me what more did I said?" Kiba asked.

    "That you were sorry," Ashlyn answered in her usual cold tone. "And you also promised to protect him till your final breath."

    After he heard the details, he felt the sky twisting and the land shaking.

    "Why would I say sorry to myself, much less promise to protect myself?!" Kiba bitterly thought.

    "You must truly care for him to even have a nightmare about him," Ashlyn was uncharacteristically talkative now.

    In other times, Kiba would love to see her speak more. But today, every time she spoke, he felt like coughing up blood.

    "Care about myself?" Kiba's cheeks twitched.

    While those close to him would disagree, he believed he was a selfish man who only cared about his own interests. In a way, he was obsessed about himself just like any other man who lived a life of vanity and profanity.

    And yet, he was sure he wasn't obsessed to such an extent that he would have a nightmare where he would swear to protect himself.

    "She has no reason to lie though," Kiba wanted to cry.

    He was already feeling a severe headache thanks to the nightmare, and now the words she spoke were like a clap of thunder in his ears.

    "Oh god... no other choice."

    Kiba conjured a crystalline white pill in his hand. Without even looking, he stuffed the pill in his mouth. The pill melted into streams of energy which coursed throughout his body.

    This pill was a mental stimulant similar to recreational drugs. Only, its effects were countless times stronger.

    The pill he consumed was made of high-grade depressant drug materials. It induced a feeling of relaxation and calm in the consciousness, by modifying the perceptions, feelings, and emotions.

    Kiba smiled as the headache and the tension disappeared. He then felt as if he was thrown into a sea of pleasure, and he instantly turned more relaxed.

    Ashlyn turned around and released a soft sigh. Such drugs were not accepted in the society and their use was socially stigmatized.

    Ashlyn didn't judge him though. She could understand why he used such a pill now, and in a way, she internally agreed with his decision.

    She was sure he was not an addict, and as long as he was using the pills only in severe cases, it was fine. After all, such pills were also used as a prescription drug especially for high-level mutants who were prone to mental discomforts.

    An hour later.

    Kiba opened his eyes and rose to his feet. He was feeling rejuvenated and refreshed with no signs of discomfort.

    "Hmm?" Kiba looked at the place where the portable home was located. Now, there was just smog and scorched ground.

    "Regretting firing your house?" Ashlyn's voice came from behind.

    "Haha," Kiba scratched the back of his head. "I was thinking of changing that house so it is fine."

    "Oh? Do you have a new house?" Ashlyn asked.

    "...No," Kiba was instantly depressed.

    Such portable houses with advanced security arrangments cost a fortune even for someone rich like him. It was extraordinary to have a single home like this. But two?! Nope! He wasn't that crazy to waste so much money just for the sake of it.

    "We could borrow from someone," Kiba said after thinking for a moment.

    He felt at least some young scions from the aristocrat families should have such homes. Of course, stealing would have to wait for a day or two.

    "No need," Ashlyn materialized a crystalline cube in her hand. She pressed on the surface before throwing it far away.

    The cube split apart into hundreds of shards as they rushed through the air. The shards started spinning before they emitted a blinding flash of light.

    A few seconds later, the flash disappeared to reveal a crystalline house. The house was as the same size as the one owned by Kiba, but it has a unique aura emanating out of it. The snow in the air didn't touch the crystal house as if there was an invisible dome around it.

    "Crystal house?!" Kiba was surprised.

    The crystals used were no ordinary crystals, but actually made from the crystals extracted from the strange meteorites. Such crystals were something that only people at the top of the society could afford.

    Kiba obviously has rare materials from the meteorites in his lab and other sections, but he wasn't crazy enough to use them for making a portable house.

    "Preparation for the core region?" Kiba looked at her and asked. He felt only this could explain why she would have such a house.

    Ashlyn nodded and they stepped inside the house.

    Everything inside was made of crystals including the virtual interface. He sat down on a chair and brought out a whiskey bottle.

    "Drink?" Kiba asked as she sat across him.

    Ashlyn shook her head.

    "As you wish," Kiba filled a glass and added three ice cubes.

    Ashlyn observed him as he drank from the glass.

    "What?" Kiba placed down the glass.

    Ashlyn didn't say anything.

    "Just ask," Kiba said. He felt she was acting weird from the last few hours.

    "Who is Zed?" Ashlyn asked what she has wanted to know.

    Earlier, she has concluded he was a part sadist who took pleasure in toying with others. She even recalled how he said that what she saw between him and Ruby was just a play he designed for his own entertainment.

    Yet such a man cared about this Zed to such an extent that he had a nightmare. Despite her cold personality, she became curious about the identity of this man.

    Kiba was silent for a long time. He didn't know how to answer but finally, after taking another sip from the glass, he said, "He is my younger brother."

    "Oh!" Ashlyn's eyes glinted with understanding.

    Kiba has lied but she obviously didn't know.

    "You are a devoted and caring elder brother," Ashln made a rare compliment.

    Kiba smiled in response.

    "Truly surprising though," Ashlyn further added.

    ".........."
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