Episode 122 – Three Years Ago

Previously:

Elaru rescues the hostage and apprehends the criminals, thus finishing her practical exam.

Episode 122 – Three Years Ago

Elaru opened her large teal eyes to meet two equally large purple orbs.

Two heads, one red and the other white, stared at each other expressionlessly, silently, motionlessly.

With identical facial expressions, the two females that at first glance had nothing in common, suddenly looked oddly familiar.

The eerie silence persisted for several seconds before the redhead opened her lush lips to murmur softly: “Mageheart… is my compatibility ratio high enough to initiate a forceful switch of ownership?”

“No.” The white-haired beauty answered in an apathetic voice.

Elaru closed her eyes and exhaled. “How about in the future? Is it possible to raise it high enough?”

“Your compatibility ratio is currently on the rise. It might reach the required threshold in the near future.”

Mageheart paused her response briefly.

“However, no matter how high your compatibility ratio may reach, you will not be able to initiate a forceful switch of ownership. Even if the current owner abdicates voluntarily or dies, you will still not be able to become my owner. I cannot go against the prime directive.”

Elaru’s tired face finally revealed a bitter smile, yet it did nothing to lessen the enchanting beauty of her being. On the contrary, seeing a stunning beauty with such an expression would only serve to make one’s heart clench tightly.

However, Mageheart showed absolutely no reaction. Though she had a “heart” in her name, there was no heart beating in her chest that could clench in pain.

Another moment of silence passed with neither female moving to break it.

Reluctantly, Elaru got up from the egg chair, her teal eyes never leaving the purple ones. “Are my current user privileges high enough to lock out the current administrator?”

“Yes. Unique entity Elaria has been assigned authority second only to the owner.” Mageheart confirmed. “However, I would advise you against provoking the Arite family. The benefits it would bring you do not justify the price of turning the Arite family into your enemies.”

Elaru’s footsteps sounded in the otherwise deathly quiet room.

“Turning the Arities into enemies? What are you saying Mageheart?” A melodic chuckle reverberated inside the black room like a chime of bells.

“Arite family and me…” Elaru paused her walk several feet away from the white-haired woman. “We’ve been enemies from the start…”

Mageheart continued to stare at Elaru Wayvin unblinkingly as the latter walked past her, almost brushing her shoulder with her own. “….mortals only have a single life. And you…”

“…and I am living mine.” The redhead interrupted her, pausing her stride to give Mageheart a side glare. “And I don’t need an artifact to tell me how to live it.”

Once again, neither of the two females spoke, the only sounds breaking the deathly silence were Elaru’s retreating footsteps.

As her lonely back reached the exit to the room, her tightly clenched fists relaxed slowly. “Mageheart, delete all records of our conversation. Also, stop collecting capability data on Elaru Wayvin and Kiel Rroda and delete all capability data already collected from your memory.”

“As you wish.”

◈ The Forbidden Zone, 5th of July 1446 A.W. ◈
(3 years ago)

The flurry of snowflakes obscured the vision of the ten as they made their way through the thin mountain path. With a tall mountain wall to their left and a giant cliff to their right, each step they took was with the utmost caution, following the exact footsteps of the person in front. Due to the winds and low visibility they chose to proceed carefully on foot, instead of flying.

They would fly up only in case they lost their footing. The argel in the group were prepared to cast Acceleration at a moment’s notice, while the elibu were ready to activate the magical artifacts strapped to their boots which were enchanted to allow them temporary flight capabilities.

As the ten looked towards the mountain peaks above, all they could see was white, and when they looked towards the desolate lands below, all they could see was black. The Ink had spread, destroying everything it touched, not leaving a single blade of grass behind. Even the gray bones of various creatures strewn across the ground were not spared from the corruption. Their black blood had long left them, seeping into the land itself; the putrid liquid still lingered within the cracks of the dry earth.

Unlike the lands of death below, this mountain seemed white and pure, yet it was just as desolate. Perhaps the bones and blood were covered up beneath piles of snow. Or perhaps the Ink had never managed to spread up the mountain because there had never been much life in these parts to begin with.

Either way, the white landscape was a welcome view to the squad of ten. So welcome, compared to the alternative below, that they didn’t even mind the cold. Although the breath leaving their bodies was white, although the clothes on their bodies weren’t appropriate for the cold climate, their limbs weren’t stiff nor were they shaking with chills.

The argel members of the group used their temperature manipulation magic to keep themselves warm, while the elibu conjured flames to both light up the way and drive out the cold.

Since fire conjuration magic could only conjure the flames and not control their movement, elibu would anchor the spell on a part of their bodies and weave the spell roots outside the body. The spell roots designated the area where flames would appear, and they would move along with the movement of the main spell. Therefore, if the main spell was anchored to a moving object, the flames would follow.

Similarly to the floating flames, the ten followed each other. On the head of the procession walked a chocolate skinned elibu scout with markings all over his face and bald head. He periodically cast a Morph spell on their surroundings to feel the topology of the mountain range and determine which rocks were safe to step on.

After him came a tall argel with blonde and black spiky hair whose red eyes acted as the eyes of the entire group.

Afterward him followed Nelaira Helyot, who was checking out a large rolled up map parchment to pinpoint their position.

“It should be right ahead. We’ll rest there tonight.” Her voice was barely audible through the wails of the billowing winds.

Not long after her words fell, the squad reached a crack in the stone wall that was the height of almost two people and so thin that one could barely fit two fingers in.

At first glance, there was nothing remarkable about that crack. It looked like any other crack one would find on cliff walls. However, when Nelaira’s Morph spell activated on the vicinity of the crack, she was able to feel a shallow carving above the crack.

Nelaira wasn’t as knowledgeable about ancient runes as her fiancé, but as the carving was among the more common runes she knew its meaning – “South”.

This rune marked the south entrance leading to their destination.

Confirming that she had reached the right crack, Nelaira spread her arms wide, and the cliff walls moved, enlarging the crack until it was wide enough to fit a person.

The ten-man squad entered the darkness of the narrow passage, lighting it up with their floating flames.

Several minutes of walking later, the narrow passage widened abruptly to a large corridor with a high ceiling. When Nelaira’s conjured flames lit up their surroundings, they were met with an endless number of stairs going upwards towards the top of the mountain.

This manmade path through the mountain had not been used for decades, yet it still looked brand new, sleek and shiny. There was not a speck of snow or dust visible on the stone surface of the passage.

The stone stairs were intricately and lavishly carved by a Sculptor, depicting many different shapes and decorations into the stone. Although the ten could fly up the stairs, they chose to spread out and climb on foot, taking the time to inspect every shape and carving. To be honest, they didn’t expect to find anything new that their predecessors missed, but they gave it a try anyway.

The liveliest one of the bunch was an argel female in her late thirties. Her yellow eyes glittered with interest as she inspected the carvings. Her vivid red hair striped with yellow, that was tied to the side of her head swayed with each step. “Such a well-hidden place! As expected of Zor Arite!”

“Zor Arite is indeed Zor Arite.” Nelaira nodded her head pridefully as if she was the one that discovered this place.

“Hmmm?” A blonde-black haired tall argel raised his eyebrow. “While his achievements are not to be underestimated, I believe Rine Arite was responsible for discovering this place.”

“How so?” The red-haired woman looked at her other half curiously.

Before the man could respond, an elibu man with pink curly hair interjected. “Don’t you know what they say?”

The redhead’s eyes lit up, and she hurried to inquire: “What do they say?!”

The pink haired man gave her a meaningful look as if his green eyes contained many secrets within. “They say that she can see things others can’t see.”

“Eeeeeh?” The redhead exclaimed, covering her mouth with her hands. “Like what?! Ghosts?!”

“Pft!” Her husband, the blonde-black haired argel, broke out into a warm and husky laughter.

The redhead gave him the evil eye, her every thought (“What are you laughing at?!”) clearly written on her face.

Nelaira looked at her best friend strangely. “Don’t tell me you believe in ghosts?”

The redhead puffed up her cheeks and glared back. “Why not? If we’ve got phantasms then why not ghosts?”

A middle-aged argel with graying black-green hair and a monocle covering his left eye interjected. “They are not the same. Phantasm is a type of creature with an ethereal body, a ghost is a disembodied mind of a deceased.”

“Exactly.” The redhead lifted up her chin proudly. “Minds exist, so why couldn’t it be possible for them to remain in this world after death?”

The middle-aged man adjusted his monocle and continued in a matter of fact voice. “When people die, the connection between their mind, body, and soul is severed. When the soul gets freed from the clutches of the mind, it returns to the Origin. Without the soul, the mind is an unstable, volatile existence that perishes soon after. Since the dead no longer possess a soul, they cannot…”

“What do you know about death?” The pink haired man waved his hand dismissively, interrupting the speech of his comrade. “I bet there is a divine artifact out there that can sustain minds after death. If I were a god, I’d surely create one. How great would it be if we could talk to our deceased family members every day?”

The redhead nodded spiritedly. “Exactly, exactly!”

Nelaira laughed softly. “Luki, stop corrupting Laica’s poor innocent mind with your conspiracy theories.”

The blonde-black haired man scratched his head in resignation. “I hate to admit it, but he has a point. There might be an artifact out there that keeps the dead bound to this world.”

Laica Iphis, the redhead, beamed, her mouth spread into a smug smile. “Exactly. Ghosts could exist.”

The argel with a monocle looked at the redhead disbelievingly. “You can’t be serious? Even if minds of mortals could remain after their death, we wouldn’t be able to see them, hear them or feel them. They could be right in front of us and we wouldn’t see any signs of their existence nor would they be able to perceive us. A mind without a vessel is a meaningless existence. Ghosts that you speak of are but a myth.”

Luki Eryey, the pink haired man, frowned and rubbed his chin in thought. “But what if minds of the deceased could possess a living person, taking over their body and soul?” His eyes lit up, and he pointed his finger upwards. “What if the Arite family is making the spirits of their ancestors possess the younger generation and that’s why all Arites are so talented?”

I should have posted this flashback a while ago but I kept putting it off or feeling like you’d kill me if I inserted a long flashback in the middle of the action. In the end, I thought about skipping it in the draft version altogether and then including it in the final version of the book, but then I figured that wouldn’t be right, this flashback is rather relevant and tells of Nelaira’s story with clues to how it is related to other characters. So yeah, prepare for several chapters of flashbacks that will be filled with clues and hints about the actual plot and main characters of the story.

Also…he he he…

I feel so evil…but it feels sooo good…

I sometimes word things ambiguously just to muddy the waters and make it harder for you to connect the dots. Also, not all things characters believe to be true is actually true 😉

Coming up in the next episode:

What was left of the buildings didn’t look shabby at all. Every inch of stone was carved into delicate shapes that gave them an otherworldly, ancient charm.

“What do you think happened to these people?” The redhead spoke up in wonder.

“Tomorrow we’ll take a day off to rest and recuperate. You are allowed to enjoy the scenery or explore the ruins.”

“When Zor Arite found this place, he didn’t proceed further to the north, so we don’t know what to expect in the Valley of Eternal Snow. Be prepared to fight against Tainted at any time.”

“Zel would be thrilled! While other people dream of finding magical artifacts, he dreams of finding diaries.”

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