Episode 4 – Aethernea of Sight
He was completely aware that he should run. If he stayed in her net any longer, he would not be able to escape. Kiel was aware that she had a power he could not comprehend or defend against. And for the second time in his life, he experienced an utter and devastating hopelessness. He was not the predator, but the prey.
Elaru continued, paying him no attention.
“What you lack is not skill, it is ability. On the exam, you would have gotten an exceptional score in every category other than Mana Flow Speed, Mana Pool Size and Regeneration, Multicast and Special – that makes 125 points.”
“Since you are very skilled in magic, I bet multicast is not difficult for you, and you could have easily gotten an exceptional score in it as well, just like the rest. But you don’t have the mana to cast that many simultaneous spells. So you can’t even demonstrate the skill that you do possess.”
“I’ll give you 10/25 for the Simultaneous cast.”
“As far as I know, Rroda family doesn’t have a magic branch they specialize in therefore I’ll guess you don’t have any skills for which you would have gotten special points.”
“Your mana pool size and regeneration is abysmal thus you got no points there. If there were negative points, you would have certainly got them. I bet you didn’t get any points for mana flow speed either. You have a pint-sized amount of mana, even if you transferred it instantly that would still constitute as a slow mana flow. You’d get 5 points at most.”
“With 140 points in total, you are 5 points short of the minimal entrance requirement.”
By the time she finished her monolog, her healing magic had completely removed any physical pain Kiel felt. It was like he had never run at all.
The only remnant reminding him that all of it was not just a dream was his racing heart.
Kiel had never heard of healing magic that could heal effects of fatigue, but even without knowing details of it, he could understand the scale of the spell. It needed to fix damage to the muscles, rejuvenate his tired cells with hydration and oxygen, and more. And all of that needed to be done permanently. Such a spell would be quite complex, requiring high precision and no doubt be a real mana drain. Just that one spell would require two or even three orders of magnitude more mana than he had in his entire mana pool.
Kiel could have pushed her away at this point. He could have yelled at her. He didn’t even open his eyes.
He didn’t want to see her, or talk to her. Kiel wanted to pretend to have never met her, to pretend she wasn’t there. Hoping that maybe, just maybe, she would go away on her own.
She removed her hand from his chest, suddenly correcting herself.
“Ah! Wait! Minimal points required to take the practical part of the exam are 120. Deducting 25 points you would have gotten from practical leaves you with 115.”
“Am I right?” Elaru asked him with a grin.
Kiel refused to respond. As if he would admit that she was right. As if he would tell her that her evaluation was completely and utterly perfect, not a single point was amiss.
He didn’t want to admit defeat. Kiel clung to that last tiny strand of pride he had left. He hoped that now that Elaru had finished her appraisal, she would just leave on her own.
She let him contemplate his defeat for a while, never moving from his side. He could feel the heat of her body even though they weren’t physically touching. It was like a warmth of a fire in the cold winter night, but instead of providing comfort, he felt as if it was searing his skin. Kiel didn’t want her close to him. He didn’t want anyone close to him, let alone her.
“The truth is, we met a week ago. I was just passing by Beyd through this very forest. You were here, in the clearing, practicing magic. You were so focused you didn’t see me. And I am always careful not to disclose my presence. Hence, you couldn’t sense me either.”
Kiel remembered. He was trying to fly, but he didn’t have enough mana for true flight. He could accelerate a few times, but it was nothing more than a high jump, he could glide a bit but would soon come crashing back to earth.
She turned her head towards him. Although Kiel had his eyes closed, he could feel her gaze on his face.
“Great martial arts by the way! With such skills, you could even take down a low-class mage!”
Kiel’s eyes snapped open in confusion, just in time to see her giving him a thumbs up.
Realization hit him hard. Wait…wasn’t that the time I threw a childish tantrum? Kiel remembered taking out his anger on a tall tree, throwing a bunch of punches and kicks at it until it was broken beyond recognition.
Soft pink found its way towards his cheeks. He looked at Elaru from the corner of his eyes, pretending as if he did not hear her compliment. Judging by her grin, she was teasing him.
She saw his rare moment of weakness…and had guts to tease him about it?
And then, she dropped a bomb. Something Kiel could have never predicted she would say.
Gently, softly, musically, her lips parted and formed words that struck Kiel to the core.
“I couldn’t get my eyes off your magic. It was utterly stunning. So…beautiful…”
The shock of her words made Kiel’s self-control waiver, and he laughed out loud.
To fall for the magic of a non-mage.
Kiel had been praised for many things. Many girls had fallen for him, or rather, the person they thought he was. Girls often told him that line – “I couldn’t get my eyes off you”.
However, no one ever fell for his magic. His teachers, his father – they taught him how to use magic. Nevertheless, magic was not something that could be seen with eyes. The results of magic could be seen, but never magic itself. Therefore, it is no wonder no one ever saw his magic or noticed its beauty.
And yet this elibu claims to have seen his magic?
“What does it look like? My magic?” Kiel asked her coldly, mockingly. Even he himself, the caster, didn’t know how his magic looked like. He could feel it, and he could imagine how it would look like. Nonetheless, he couldn’t truly see it.
“It’s not something that can be described by words. It’s like trying to describe how the color looks like to a blind man. …However, I’ll give it a try…” She paused briefly trying to come up with right words.
“Your mana has a very beautiful gradient. It comes in bright shades of blue, from azure to sapphire blue. When you are weaving it, it looks as if tiny liquid, fluctuating, shiny gas droplets are dancing. They flicker in many shades until they form a pattern that describes the spell you are trying to cast.”
Kiel’s eyes widened. He looked at her face. Elaru looked sincere; she seemed to be recalling it. Her eyes were closed in reminiscence.
It can’t be…can it?
“Can you actually…see…magic?”
She opened her eyes and looked straight into his. Her eyes didn’t just look like they were glowing. They were glowing. And not just that, they were fluid, animated – little dots and stripes were moving in an endless repeating cycle.
It was crystal clear from up close – those eyes were not normal.
She possessed the Aethernea of Sight – the fabled eyes that could see magic.
“What do you want from me?” Kiel sighed in bitter resignation.
“I thought it was obvious.” She tilted her head to the side and exclaimed bluntly. “I want you.”
If Kiel were someone else, someone who isn’t used to restraining his emotions, his eyes would have popped out of their sockets and his mouth would have dropped open so wide he could have caught a tiki bird in it.
Instead, Kiel’s face froze. A long moment passed, both of them staring in silence at each other.
“Are you bloody kidding me?! You did all this to get me to date you?!” Kiel blurted out in shock.
Elaru stared at him confused. “What? No! Why would you think that?”
“What do you mean why?! ‘Your magic is beautiful’?! ‘I want you’?!” He quoted her own words.
She blinked a few times before starting to laugh. It was a warm and pleasant laugh.
“No, no. That’s not what I meant.” Elaru found it hard to speak through the laughter.
“No offense. You are lovely and all that, but I am not interested in a romantic relationship.”
He was ‘lovely’? There must have been a thousand better words to describe him as. Kiel felt offended.
“What is it then? You must be aware that I am a Rroda only in name. I have no power in my family. There is nothing you can gain from me.”
“Your worth doesn’t lie in your family name. Whether you are a Rroda or not is irrelevant.”
That was a first. To call his family irrelevant. Did she truly have no interest in his family? She understood that the person everyone liked was not truly him. So what could he possibly offer her?
“I can’t offer you anything else. I can’t do magic beyond simple spells. I am a non-mage.”
Elaru pouted. It was a silly gesture.
“Don’t call yourself a non-mage. It is insulting to all other mages, because if you aren’t a mage, then no one deserves to be called that.”
“Enough with the flattery! Get to the point!” While he did want her to stop with the flattery, deep down, Kiel enjoyed it. The way she spoke was as if she was stating the truth. It held no trace of flattery as the motive. To be seen for what he truly was…it was a bittersweet feeling.
“You are a whirlpool of unused potential…like a large chunk of Xium hiding away in the shadows. You only need to be found and refined to turn into something truly magnificent.” She clasped her hands and spoke with strange excitement. “Lucky! I am so lucky! I never thought there would be someone so interesting in this town.”
Comparing him to Xium? Xium was a rare mineral that resembled common rock so most people wouldn’t be able to recognize it even if they came across it. When refined it becomes a beautiful, magical gem shining a rainbow colored light. Xium gems were considered to be kings of all gems because of their immense rarity and value. Kiel felt a strange feeling he couldn’t quite define.
“You are lucky too, Kiel Rroda. Because I was the one to find you. Because I have the power to turn you into what you were meant to be.” Elaru jumped up to her feet looking down at him.
Moonlight was shining down behind her, giving her an ethereal glow. Her hair was softly flying around in the breeze. Her eyes were glowing with magic. Elaru bent down and offered him her hand to help him get up from the floor.
Her cleavage was exposing the roundness of her breast. Her face showed pure excitement and glee. She was unaware of her own allure.
For a brief moment, Kiel felt a strange sense of déjà-vu, something about this situation seemed familiar.
“Kiel Rroda, will you let me unleash your true potential?” She asked him a question that carried more power than simple words could convey.
If Kiel didn’t feel like he was faced with life and death choice, he might have found the situation to be funny. This scene would surely look like a fairytale prince proposing to a princess. The fact that he would be the princess in this situation would only add to the humor.
However, Kiel was in no mood to be able to see the funny side of things. Power and charisma oozed out of Elaru in dense waves, even before the dreadful moment…the moment when she stopped concealing her presence.
While Elaru was concealing her presence, her mana was hidden behind a barrier, not a single drop coming in contact with him. But now, suddenly, it was as though the waves of the ocean rose and violently crashed into him.
Her aura washed over Kiel, striking his mind like a hammer. He froze, struck to the core by the potent emotions carried by her mana.
She could see him. Beyond his shell. Beyond the false face he showed everyone.
She saw the darkness dwelling inside; she saw his talents and his flaws.
And she thought him to be absolutely beautiful. Not in the superficial, physical way. But rather, something beyond. Like she thought his existence was beautiful. Like his existence was needed. She needed him. She needed him for what he truly was, beyond his lies and his family name. She needed the real him.
At that moment, he was glad that she held her mana away from him this long. Because the power carried in that aura was not something he was prepared for.
In a single moment, he had completely fallen into her grasp. Kiel could no longer just walk away and pretend to have never met her. How could he walk away from the only person who appreciated the real him? A stranger that craved neither the person he pretended to be nor his family name. Even if Elaru was a demon, even if she just wanted to use him in the end…he was unable to walk away.
“You say you can give me the power to become a real mage. What do you want me to give you in return? Myself? What does that mean?”
“I need you to become my partner, bound by an oath. If you agree not only will you have access to near limitless mana, but both of us would be able to use pure mana as a result.”
Since Kiel refused to take her hand, she retracted it and reached it out to the sky, a look of longing covered her face.
“Just like you, I have always wanted to fly. But, I can’t be bound to just anyone. That’s where you come in.”
That’s right. While he didn’t have the right amount of mana to be able to fly, she was an elibu – she didn’t have the right type of mana to be able to fly.
Elibu have a transmutation mana type, which allows them to cast only transmutation magic. Argel have an augmentation mana type, which allows them to cast only augmentation magic. Flying magic was based on velocity-controlling magic, which was augmentation magic. An elibu would never be able to fly.
By using pure mana, one could perform both transmutation and augmentation magic. And beyond that, pure mana users can cast arcane magic.
In the world of Halnea, there existed a fair amount of ancient divine artifacts able to purify transmutation and augmentation mana. Every noble family had a few; some non-noble wealthy families had them as well. The rest were under strict control of Association of Magic for use in forging magical contracts, the creation of magic portals and other important matters. The Association of Magic had been trying to reproduce them for hundreds of years to no avail.
Was she offering to lend him such an artifact? But Elaru said that her solution would make her able to use pure mana as well. If she already had such an artifact, she would already be able to use it. Does she know a location of such an artifact and needs his help in getting it? But then, how could he, a non-mage, possibly help her?
And what about his lack of mana? Does the artifact generate mana as well? Could it be – the legendary Soul Crystal – the mythical artifact said to be able to generate pure mana!?
She had succeeded in catching his profound interest.
Who are you Elaru Wayvin? Who are you really?! Kiel’s mind raced trying to connect all the clues.
Kiel jumped back on his feet skillfully. He didn’t want to look up at her anymore; he’d rather look down at her like he was used to.
“Are you an intelligence agent?” Kiel blurted out.
She frowned. “No.”
Not like an intelligence agent would admit to being one. Kiel stared at her suspiciously.
“No, really. I’m just a regular quest seeker.” She defended herself.
“Oh? What type of quests do you specialize in? Intelligence gathering ones?”
She rolled her eyes. “That would make me an intelligence agent. I already told you, I’m not a spy.”
She did seem to be sincere. But intelligence agents should be pretty good liars.
The brief pause allowed Kiel to regain back his composure and take back the control of the conversation.
“It’s such a waste. With your skills, you could be a top ranked intelligence agent.”
She pouted. “Bah, you sound like my…” – she paused. “I tried that route, but it isn’t for me. Too darn boring. You have to keep a low profile and passively observe people.” Her pout changed into a smirk. “I am an action person, I don’t do passive. Quit changing the subject!”
Kiel smirked. “My apologies, please continue.”
She opened her mouth to resume, but he interrupted her again before she could do so.
“On second thought, don’t. Why don’t we continue this chat tomorrow? It is getting pretty late, and I am tired.” He needed to clear his head and prepare to bargain with her. That is…to come up with a battle plan.
She looked at him with eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“You are not just saying that to get rid of me, are you? You think I am a creepy stalker, don’t you?”
That made Kiel snort a rare genuine laugh and grin wide. Elaru was so brutally honest it was refreshing. She is like anti-me. Kiel thought
“Yeah, you are a ‘creepy stalker’. In spite of that, I really am interested in your proposal.”
She returned his grin accepting his response.
“Well, alright. You’re currently out of mana, so you can’t enter an oath with me anyway. Meet you tomorrow, 8 AM, in that same clearing where you usually practice magic.”
Kiel nodded briefly before looking around trying to discern where he was and where home was.
Elaru must have noticed his disorientation because she asked slyly:
“Do you need help getting home?”
“Piss off!” His mouth spoke before he could censor it. Kiel was way too tired to be picture-perfect.
His irritation was amusing to her – she chuckled musically.
“Alright. See you soon!” She turned her back to him and waved while walking off into the shadows of the trees. Her presence vanished along with the glitter of her red hair.
Kiel jumped up to the branch of the nearby tree, and from there, leaped to the next branch in rapid succession until he reached the top. Kiel didn’t need magic to climb a tree. He had been climbing these trees for the majority of his life.
The view from the top told him where he was, and how to get back home. Luckily he had been running around his mansion in circles instead of running away from it. It was probably out of habit. Kiel was glad that he didn’t need to run for hours to get home.
Kiel hurried back home while replaying the night in his mind along the way. Over and over.
Such a dangerous female…She gave him a feeling of uncertainty and insecurity, a feeling he did not like.
And yet Kiel still wanted to meet her…her offer was too enticing.
I must be out of my mind. He thought.
Back then, when he had first met her, Kiel could not understand Elaru at all, even though he thought he did.
He had labeled her a lupax in meep’s skin, an intelligent and cunning demon.
He had never been more right and more wrong at the same time.
Even when presented with the pure and simple truth, bound by his own anger and prejudice, Kiel could not recognize her true form.
Unknowingly, he had already started walking along the path of no return. And even if he understood the gravity of the situation, even if he had seen through her to her core, it would have been too late.