Episode 130 – Life Story

Previously:

Elaru meets up with Kiel after finishing her practical exam in which she subdued a familiar crew of ex-pirates.

Elaru finally finished her self-satisfied narration of how she passed her practical exam and turned to face Kiel’s unamused deadpan expression.

It wasn’t that he found her retelling boring, no, on the contrary, it was rather humorous. But he couldn’t quite laugh when he compared it to his own 30 minutes of torture.

And also, the story had disturbing implications…

“Why is it that you are familiar with a crew of pirates?” Kiel unceremoniously homed in on the issue Elaru glossed over, giving her a penetrating look.

Episode 130 – Life Story

“That… is an interesting question.” Elaru grinned. “Would you believe me if I said that I ended up boarding a pirate ship by mistake when I was young?”

“Did you?” Kiel raised an eyebrow questioningly.

“Yes.” She responded with a straight face.

“Then yes, yes, I would,” Kiel responded with a face just as straight as hers.

Elaru was the first to discard the solemnity in favor of a chuckle. “Only because you can tell I’m not lying.”

“And because at this point, nothing about you would surprise me.” Kiel pointed out.

“And that.” Elaru grinned sheepishly.

Kiel sighed and rubbed his temples. Elaru was… a special kind of trouble maker. She didn’t actively search for trouble, but one way or another ended up in it.

He had a nagging feeling that she’d bring that trouble to his doorstep too. And the worst thing about it is that he had no idea what kind of trouble to expect. He was left in the dark with no idea about what she was up to; no idea of her background and goals.

Kiel sighed again, with a mix of frustration and helplessness. “Do you ever intend to let me into your closed off little world?”

Silence descended, slicing the cheerful mood like a sharp knife. Almost palpable tension rose in the air.

Kiel stared at Elaru’s poker face for a while, before he got tired of waiting for a response.

She wouldn’t give him any.

He averted his gaze towards the fluffy white clouds above them pondering what to do.

Elaru just didn’t like talking about herself. That secretive nature of hers would probably not change anytime soon.

She… might be a bit similar to him after all… at least in their tendency to keep people at bay.

At first glance, one would peg her as an extremely outgoing and sociable person. She was charismatic, friendly, amusing, and cheerful – a person most people would enjoy befriending. Not only did she make people enjoy spending time with her, but she was also capable in many ways making her a powerful ally.

But when everything was said and done, did she truly have any close friends? Did she ever form any close ties, letting someone get truly close to her? To understand her?

She hid it quite well, but she was just as unwilling to let people get close to her as he was.

Elaru gave Kiel’s impassive expression a side glance, and unbeknownst to him, a flash of sadness briefly touched her face.

“Papa, Wade and I…we’ve spent last 18 years searching for something.”

Kiel’s head jerked towards Elaru so fast that it is a wonder how his neck didn’t snap. He stared at her with wide eyes but didn’t dare to even breathe too loudly let alone speak, afraid that anything he said or did would make her stop talking.

“We’ve been to every corner of the Lands under the Shield, and when we failed to find it within the Shield, we resorted to going to the forbidden zone to continue the search.”

Elaru sighed softly. “Whenever the search turned too dangerous to bring two snot nosed brats along, papa would leave us to one of our uncles and aunts, or later on, leave us to fend for ourselves as a part of our training.”

What kind of training would require two children to roam around alone, fending for themselves? Isn’t training just an excuse? Kiel swallowed down the protest, not wanting to interrupt.

Elaru’s eyes grew distant, looking towards the horizon. Her mental voice also became soft and airy. “We’ve spent a lot of time in Ashar and Malia, spending a few months here and there in D’Arca and Zelaih, and the remainder was spent traveling all over.”

Her mouth morphed into a soft smile, directed to something Kiel couldn’t see. “I’ve met so many people, learned and done so many different things. Even if I died right now, my life wouldn’t have been a waste.” Contrary to her proud words, her smile held no mirth. Calling it sad, or perhaps melancholic, would be more appropriate.

“I’m familiar with many different applications of magic and other magic related knowledge. But if you asked me what I specialize in…” Elaru paused to think before responding. “I guess… what I’m best at is…surviving.”

She smiled softly as she looked at Kiel. “I am great at stealth, combat, and detecting things, or rather, tracking things. I’ve also spent considerable effort trying to gain a deeper level of understanding towards how magic works, thus I have significant abilities in enchanting, mystifying and magic breaking.”

She fell silent for a moment, but she didn’t seem to be quite done, so Kiel held in all questions that were brewing inside his head.

“As for what I enjoy doing the most or hope to become in life…I don’t know.” She admitted. “I’ve never thought about the future. I’ve always been concentrating on the present.”

Another pause gave her some time to reflect. “I suppose what I love is being challenged. I like novelty. Exploring, adventuring, discovering new things…” She mused. “I suppose this way of life had become a bigger part of me than I thought.”

Kiel waited for a long while for her to continue.

She didn’t.

Don’t tell me she intends to leave me hanging with the most important question unanswered? Kiel fidgeted uncomfortably for a while, his usually great patience degrading rapidly.

Finally, he couldn’t hold it in anymore: “What are you guys looking for?”

For a moment, many complicated emotions flashed on Elaru’s face. Kiel suspected she wouldn’t answer, but after a moment of indecision she mused: “A way to change fate.”

Kiel didn’t believe in fate to begin with, so receiving such an answer would be inherently irritating; the fact that this answer shed no light on the matter only served to increase Kiel’s frustration.

People could call anything as fate, having an arranged marriage, growing old, even crossing the street every day to buy bread could be called fate. It was as if she didn’t answer at all.

Kiel couldn’t stop the displeased frown from marring his face. “What does that mean? What fate?”

Elaru gave him a sheepish smile. “That’s a secret.”

Another secret, huh? Well, he should be satisfied he managed to get her to reveal this much.

“However, I can tell you that I am specifically looking for knowledge related to gods, Aetherneal magic and the soul.” Elaru added.

Everyone is looking to know more about that. Kiel thought. Those topics had always been the greatest of mysteries that both the mages and the priests had been trying to solve for many millennia.

“And you think you might be able to find what you are looking for here in Muni?” Kiel probed.

“Perhaps,” Elaru whispered. “Muni holds the largest web of knowledge in the entire Lands under the Shield. Currently, it’s my best bet.”

Both of them fell silent, each absorbed in their own thoughts.

Kiel was once again the first one to break the silence. “I’m also interested in such knowledge. Specifically, the knowledge relating to the Aetherneal bond.” I can’t believe I’m saying this… “I can help you in your search.”

Kiel couldn’t remember the last time offering help didn’t leave a sour taste in his mouth. Usually, he offered assistance to people simply to uphold his flawless image of a kind and helpful person.

Outside of pretending, he never had the urge to help anyone. He didn’t care enough to help anyone.

But this time, helping out was something that would benefit him too, for the topic of the search actually interested him. And perhaps it was also…

…also because of Elaru.

Because he wanted to understand her better. Because he wanted to know her better?

As soon as his thoughts entered that dangerous territory, Kiel shook his head and diverted his attention to another tangential thought: “What about your mother? What happened to her?”

“I think this is where I’ll end my confession.” Elaru’s melancholy evaporated, and through the mischievous glitter of her eyes, Kiel could tell that he wouldn’t be getting anything else out of her today.

Which frustrated him to no end considering how many more questions he had to ask. This story of hers raised more questions than it answered, such as…

How did her father manage to get them out of the Shield? The Arite family only allowed entry and exit to their Purgers and in rare cases, other noble families.

One could argue and say that they somehow managed to sneak out, taking advantage of the time when the part of the Shield was naturally lowered to let someone else out, but the Arite family had employed various advanced measures to ensure that doesn’t happen. So how did they manage to get out?

The Purge would never let one of their men haul two children along, thus her father couldn’t possibly be a Purger. Other noble families would also not offer two of their expensive spots to children.

Unless their presence was necessary? Perhaps they wished to use them for their Aetherneal gifts? Elaru’s Aethernea would no doubt be priceless in exploring the forbidden zone.

If so, did Wade possess an Aethernea as well?

Was this why Elaru’s father kept hauling the two along instead of leaving them somewhere to have a normal childhood? It sure sounded like she had plenty of relatives that could take care of her so that shouldn’t have been an issue.

But then, why was it that Elaru seemed to revere her father if the man used her ability when he needed it and left her to other people to take care of when he didn’t? If the man was as bad of a father as he sounded, using her for his own ambitions and not sparing the time to raise her properly, why would she respect him so? Why was she not like Kiel, detesting her own father?

Kiel’s father was a very capable man, both as a mage and a politician, yet when he thought about him, what appeared in his mind first was irritation and anger, not respect and love. And compared to Elaru’s father, his almost looked like a praise worthy fatherly figure.

Kiel was awakened from his thoughts by Elaru’s unblinking, glittering eyes that simply dripped curiosity and expectancy out of their sockets. “I’m waiting for you to share your own life story now.” She pointed out.

Oh no…

I have no intention to…

No, no.

I’m not…

No!

Tsk! He could feel his resolve slowly cracking under her glittering eyes.

Fine… it’s not like my life story is a secret… He grumbled internally. “It’s not much of a story. I bet you could find people in a similar situation as me in every noble family.”

Elaru returned him the favor he showed her by staying silent while he talked. “My father and Rhur’s mother were victims of a political marriage. They never had much affection for each other and produced an heir just out of obligation.”

It was a common occurrence in the noble families. Most of them married for benefits instead of love. In fact, those that actually refused to marry whom their family assigned them to and instead married a person they loved were ostracized by the nobles. They were viewed as traitors who had turned their backs on the family that raised them.

Of course, there were families where such things weren’t viewed so negatively, namely the Thayn and Arten families, which didn’t chase political power or monetary gain to begin with, so they left their members a bit more freedom about who to wed.

However, no noble wanted to live like the Thayn and Arten families, a frugal life barely any different from the commoners. And as such, both political marriages and cheating on their spouses were the norm in the noble circles.

Still, while it was common, mistresses and bastard children were still looked upon with scorn, so no one would usually talk about being one. It was a sensitive topic.

Coming up in the next episode:

“To keep us safe from all the political problems, insidious plots, and a stigma of being a mistress and a bastard child, my father kept our existence a secret as long as he could.”

“Father brought me to the Rroda mansion where I was…” Kiel paused, trying to find a good word to describe it with. In the end, he settled for: “… educated.”

“I’m a bastard child too, you know.” Elaru added nonchalantly.

“Let me guess, your mother’s family didn’t approve of your father?”

Ready or not, the very last entrance exam was before them. In a few hours they’d either walk away in defeat or move into Muni dorms.

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LingTian
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Elaru’s dad could be Zor and her mother the village chieftan’s daughter.

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