[Host has Awakened. Compatible with divine symbiosis now. Proceeding…]
Awakening gave Renard a second burst of life. An electric surge of energy wreathed him in vibrant, crackling arcs of blue and green. White Lily flipped away from Renard, her brows raised in alarm. The energy seeped into his every being, his every cell and nerve. It empowered all the tiniest components of his body with something foreign, something divine.
It was as if he had been deconstructed and reconstructed better and stronger than ever before. As he stood up, his injuries completely gone, he felt something was wrong. He felt like he was a stranger in his own body. He felt light, as if he would float away if he stopped concentrating for just a second, and his movements felt strange to him, like he was watching someone else direct them.
But there was this gnawing feeling that hit him the hardest, this feeling of being incomplete - and when he thought that, his blade returned to him, forming from a shower of blue and green sparks of power that danced around his open left hand.
When he felt his fingers wrap around the familiar handle, he felt whole again, at home in his newfound self. As he felt the familiar weight of the blade resting in his palm, he could feel life coming from it, as if there was some spiritual heart beating, linking him to it at a level far beyond the physical.
Never before had he felt surer of himself. Not because he was stronger, but because he truly knew who he was and what he fought for.
Regardless of that, though, he did have a real, physical enemy to prepare against. He went into a stance against White Lily, holding the tip of his rapier straight against her. All the emotions he had felt were dying down, but he still wanted to settle the score with her.
She had taken precious memories from him, and he was not about to let that just pass by him.
White Lily put a hand on her hip and smiled, nodding at Renard's angry gaze. "Now that's more like it. You give off the same vibe that a divine descendant does. Maybe even something like a demon."
Unlike before, when Renard had little clue when his system was doing something or what his abilities were, he now knew them by second hand nature, as if they had become an intrinsic part of him.
First, his new divine strength had improved his physicals by a considerable amount. No longer was he bound by mortal limits to brute force. In addition, that regeneration he felt helping him survive against White Lily had become a natural part of his self, constantly active so long as he willed it to spur him on.
Then came his blade. Sovereign, it was called, and its unique ability was an enhanced version of the Sword power that had come with his system. Whereas Sword allowed him to be compatible with all energy, Sovereign possessed the ability to interact with, absorb, expel, or nullify mystical energy when it came into contact with its blade.
But perhaps most interesting was what his system's Saint ability had evolved to. It was not an ability tied to his blade, but to his own being. It was called Inheritance, and allowed him to manifest the abilities of those that had given their hope to him.
And there indeed was already one who had granted her hope to him.
Renard's left hand held his rapier, its deadly point poised at White Lily, but his free right hand shuddered as he called up Lady Zhou's hope. It crystallized around his hand, forming into her same claws, the same blades that White Lily herself bared at him.
White Lily stared at Renard's claw, looking at it and then back to her own. "I did not expect that. At all."
Renard took the initiative and lunged. Wind whistled past him as the point of his rapier shot forwards like a bullet.
White Lily gritted her fangs as she twisted her body at the last second, preventing the blade from sliding through her shoulder, but nevertheless she was too slow to fully evade it – Sovereign's steel cut White Lily's arm near in half at the elbow joint.
White Lily kicked back and jumped up a tree. Her feet's claws dug into the bark, letting her scale it even with one arm as she attempted to get out of his range. Renard reacted by digging his own claw into the dirt, willing several tree-trunk thick vines to explode from the ground and reach upwards and ensnare White Lily against the tree she had attempted to scale.
Without a free arm to bat the vines away, White Lily found herself entrapped, the vines acting like chains as they held her. The vines quivered as White Lily squirmed against them, but she wasn't quite strong enough to rip through them. And with her claws pinned to her sides, she didn't have much ability to do anything else. Renard stepped in front of the tree and looked up at her and made his demands.
"First off, give me back my memories," said Renard.
"That's already been done." White Lily sighed. "Such a shame letting those delicious memories go, but the moment you Awakened and turned into something, well, more divine, the fair lady's artifact stopped having its hold over you. You're the dominant mind in this realm now. Honestly, you might even be able to steal the lady's memories if you tried hard enough."
Renard shook his head. "I'm not a sadistic monster like you."
"Careful with the insults." White Lily sucked in a breath and started to put strength back into her arms. This time, the vines shook, shuddering for a few seconds before she tore through them and landed on the ground, right beside Renard.
Renard reacted immediately and started to swing Sovereign at her, but White Lily raised her one good arm in surrender, the other one limping as a bloody mess by her side. Sovereign's steel stopped just short of White Lily's neck, the razor edge nicking a light cut through her furred flesh.
"I was only meant to make you Awaken." White Lily said. "With that done, I no longer need to fight you."
Renard kept Sovereign pressed to her neck. "You tried to kill me. You messed with my mind."
White Lily didn't look at Renard. "The fair lady told me to beat you into Awakening. If you died because of it, well then, in my opinion, you weren't going to survive much longer in the real world anyway. The messing with your mind part – that was all my idea. I thought it'd speed things up, and it did. Just look at your mind now: it's stronger than it's ever been and you know yourself better than ever before. Can you imagine how you would have gone about being a savior if you had those kinds of deep-seated insecurities still writhing in your head? And come now, be honest, you had some idea that you were going to have your life threatened when you accepted the lady's training, no?"
"I did, but I never imagined it would be something like this," said Renard, his grip on Sovereign shaking a little. "I didn't think she could actually let me die."
White Lily looked up at the moon and smiled. "She believed in you enough to send you here. I would have killed you without much of a second thought, it's true, but as a part of me, the fair lady would have known that too. And as a part of her, I can say pretty confidently that if she thought you weren't going to make it, she would have lopped her own head off with that fancy divine artifact to get you out of here."
"But if it'll give you any comfort, if you really do want to get revenge, then here -" She sighed and bared her neck with closed eyes. "Then you can go ahead and kill me. I owe you as much."
Renard felt hate trickle into his arm, making it press Sovereign closer against White Lily's neck. But when he felt that hate, he remembered Li, how his thirst for vengeance had broken him, and he took another look at White Lily – a monstrous spirit created from all the hate and vengeance Lady Zhou had locked away.
"I'm not that kind of person," he said. "I don't know if I can ever forgive you, but I'm not going to kill you. I don't want to get used to vengeance. I've seen how it hurts people, how it plants grudges that never get settled."
"You really are a kind soul," said White Lily. She opened her eyes and leered at Renard. "I do wonder how long you can keep that up, though. The Zhou sect is an isolated, peaceful speck in a broad world drenched in the very hate and vengeance you think yourself above. You have seen nothing yet. Your ideals won't last here. Sooner or later, you're going to have to get your hands dirty for the greater good."
"When that time comes, I'll make a decision," said Renard. "But if I can help it, I'm going to stay on the right path."
"Suit yourself." White Lily shrugged and looked around. She pointed towards Renard's feet. "Well now, would you look at that."
Renard saw that the ground beneath him was splitting apart. The dirt wasn't breaking up or anything, but it was as if reality itself was peeling back, leaving him standing on a patch of complete emptiness.
"So this is what happens when that divine artifact gets used against someone with divine blood." White Lily nodded. "The two don't seem to mix very well. Quite interesting, but now that you're on your way out, I know my job is done."
With a breath of exertion, White Lily enveloped herself in blood-red swirls of energy, healing her wounded arm and broken ankle with ease.
"Feels good to have the lady's seal lifted," she said, cracking her neck with a pleased sigh. "Goodbye, Renard. Let's see if you're still as naïve as you are the next time we meet."
More of the reality around Renard broke away, and eventually the void swallowed him up.