Episode 19 – Distance Test (Part 2)
The first unexpected anomaly appeared when Elaru passed the 5 km mark. Kiel suddenly felt a sharp stinging pain in his heart. His breath hitched in his throat, his pupils dilated.
After the initial spike, the pain dulled, leaving behind only a slight stinging sensation and an uncomfortable chill traveling down his spine.
Was it caused by a soul tendril snapping? Kiel couldn’t be sure, however, as the distance grew, the stinging pain periodically reappeared, sharper every time.
Soon, the previous chill turned into a full blow discomfort that he couldn’t quite explain. It didn’t feel like physical discomfort, rather, it felt similar to nervousness or panic, maybe even fear.
Larger the distance between them, the more uncomfortable they felt. It grew unbearable to the point of feeling like an itch you just couldn’t scratch.
Kiel’s aura became so pitiful that it was just as bad as when he was a non-mage. The feeling left a bitter taste in his mouth. Never again! He never wanted to revert to being a non-mage. Even though he knew that this state was only temporary, the fear lingered, slowly eating at him from inside.
The periodic stinging pain increased in frequency along with the distance until the pricks of a needle turned into full-blown knife stabs. His senses dulled, trying to keep the pain from interfering with his bodily functions.
As the state of their body became harder to bear, it started affecting their concentration and impacted magic weaving and control. It was becoming unstable, as if one was trying to write with a shaking hand.
Quickly, their abilities started degrading until they reached an ability expected from an average mage at the distance of 8 km. Even controlling the magic felt difficult. It felt as if the spells that were supposed be like their own limb fell asleep, turning numb.
“Something isn’t right.” Kiel frowned. “Even if our body was in a worse condition, even if we were in more pain, our magic abilities shouldn’t be taking such a large hit.”
“You are right.” Elaru sighed dejectedly. “The problem isn’t the state of our body. Our Mind is getting less mana as well.”
Kiel’s eyes widened in realization. The body wasn’t the only thing that needed mana to survive!
His Mind, the ethereal projection of his consciousness, the embodiment of what made him who he was, the part of him that perceived the world and thought about it, the part that weaved mana and controlled the spells – it was sustained by mana!
Usually, the Mind would be glued to the flat side of the soul, where tendrils didn’t grow, and would constantly suck mana directly from the soul. However, Aetherneal bond changed that. His soul and Mind were no longer in direct contact. His soul was who knows where, and his Mind was now rooted in his arm – right where the mark of the Aetherneal bond was situated.
Elaru told him previously that the mark was linked to the soul, and it would transfer mana to him. This mark, was a proxy, a substitute for the soul. That was probably why his Mind had switched its target to the mark.
As he observed the mark, he noticed that the amount of mana it released was constant. It did not change in any way with the distance.
That was a good thing. However, Kiel’s expression darkened.
The soul was almost completely detached from the body; it couldn’t supply the body with enough mana. The only way for the body to receive extra mana was through the mark. The mana that was usually completely monopolized by the Mind would need to be shared with the body.
Neither the Mind nor the body would get enough energy to function properly. And if the Mind was not getting enough energy, the ability to cast and control magic would deteriorate – exactly like it had.
But that was only the first step. His concentration and even ability to think clearly would be impacted if this continued. In the worst case scenario, he would lose consciousness or enter a coma. If his Mind was deprived of the mana long enough, it would be damaged, and he might never awaken.
The question was, what would fail first? The body or the Mind?
Did it even matter? The result didn’t differ by much.
The pressure kept building inside their chests. It became harder and harder to breathe. At the distance of 10 km, flying became a health hazard, and Elaru was forced to proceeded on foot. This was also the distance in which Kiel lost the ability to hold up his mage armor. Not only was there too little mana in his aura to form mage armor, but even the little what was left went completely out of his control, chaotically surging around him and quickly dissipating into the surroundings.
He was naked, unprotected. Any random person could come in and end him. Every second in this state seemed to last like hours. Insecurity, dread, and vulnerability clouded his mind.
Elaru’s mental state seemed to be much better than his. Each time she spoke, her voice brought him slight relief from pain. It felt as if her voice was a rope pulling his mind back into clarity, for a short moment. He didn’t know if it was because she would shift his concentration away from the pain, because her voice was pleasant to the ear, or because the calmness of her mind soothed his. Or maybe it was something else entirely.
He couldn’t understand how she could retain her cool in this situation. The graver the situation, the calmer she became. As if all useless emotions got pushed out of her head, replaced by quiet apathy. She was alert, in control, without fears or regrets.
She stood firmly like a pillar of support, grounding both of them, dispelling the demons lurking about. It wasn’t that she was optimistic, or that she was unaware of the danger. He felt confidence within her. Confidence that she could handle whatever came her way.
In this situation, even with his degrading mental capacity, Kiel could feel it clearer than ever – Elaru Wayvin was not simple-minded at all. No matter how dimwitted, carefree or careless, she seemed, all that immaturity disappeared in an instant when the situation didn’t allow it. As if she switched gears, as if her personality was liquid, molded by the situation.
After passing 12 km, Elaru had no choice but to sit down and try catching her breath.
Covering 12 km was not something that would usually make either one of them tired. But in this scenario, it felt as if they had been running for days without rest. Kiel kept gripping the blanket on the bed tightly. He wanted nothing more than to pluck his heart out of his chest and stop the pain. It was becoming unbearable.
Kiel felt Elaru’s hard breathing reverberate inside his head. That is when he realized that he too was breathing hard. Their raspy breath seemed to be in sync. It felt as if their mutual pain was resonating with each other. As if the breathing of their cells started synchronizing, as if their hearts became one and the same.
His body was urging him to move towards a specific direction. Further away she went, more clearly he could feel her presence.
I don’t understand. The farther away you are, the closer to me you feel.
The entire time, their telepathic connection didn’t show any signs of losing power. On the contrary, he could hear her more and more clearly, feel her pain more and more distinctly.
He wasn’t a sissy, he could take physical pain and discomfort just fine. But this feeling was something else entirely. He would prefer it if he were beaten to a pulp than going through this again.
It was as if his heart was breaking, as if he was nearing the collapse of his mind.
It had felt like hours before Elaru reported reaching 13 km mark. But she didn’t even need to report it. He could tell clearly just how far she was. He could tell by how not even a drop of mana was left in his aura, he no longer had an aura. He could tell by the sharp stinging pain enveloping his entire body. His muscles were twitching, screaming in agony. Involuntarily he let out a hiss. He could feel it by his heart that was trying to leap out of his chest.
Kiel laid on the bed listlessly, his consciousness clouding over. Is this how mana deficiency feels like? His entire body was sore, he felt weak.
His mind wandered aimlessly. Until it reached the depths of his subconscious, where he found the memory of those gentle, bright blue eyes that he tried not to think about. Is this what you felt your whole life? Your whole body screaming for mana, constantly on the verge of collapse.
All this time, I kept complaining about being a non-mage. How naïve…how selfish was I? I even had extra mana I could use to cast magic. You…you didn’t even have enough mana to live…
Elaru’s weak voice brought him out of his daydream. “15 kilometers.”
He could feel her frowning. “I am having trouble moving away from you. I feel a powerful pull to turn back. I am doing my best, trying to overpower the urge to run back. My mind is drifting; my vision is blurring. I won’t be able to last much longer. Should I turn back?”
Kiel considered it for a second before gritting his teeth and replying. “No, let’s continue just a bit more.” He wanted to know their exact limit. Just how far they could go, how long they could last. They might need to know in the future. And even to compare their progress as the bond evolves.
Another 5 minutes passed when Kiel suddenly felt pain, unlike anything he had ever felt. It was so heart wrenching he thought he could die there and then just from the pain. He bit his tongue to stop from screaming. He could feel the metallic taste of blood in his mouth.
Every part of him was screaming, he could swear that his soul itself was shrieking.
A brief cooling feeling dulled the pain as he heard Elaru’s voice. “20 km…I am coming back… If I take another step, I might not make it back at all.”
As she spoke, he could clearly feel her. Her heard breathing, her limbs shaking. The sweat glistening on her skin.
“Yeah…come back to me…” He murmured between gasps. He felt feverish; he couldn’t think straight.
It had felt like an eternity before his mind cleared up enough to think clearly.
Why didn’t the telepathy show any signs of weakening? Our minds were 15 km away from each other. Could it be that the distance between the Minds is irrelevant? Or does the mark connect our minds even when they aren’t in proximity to each other? Just like it links to the soul?
No. It’s not that telepathy didn’t weaken; it did the opposite. Its effects increased.
The further they were, the more clearly he could feel her. Further away they were, the closer he felt to her. Each time she talked to him, he felt her every emotion. He felt her every twitch and shake. Was it because it became harder to control what to send through telepathy and what not? Was that why more and more feelings passed through?
Or was this…resonance?