Episode 5 – Calm before the storm
The warm light rays dancing across Kiel’s face awoke him from his restless slumber. The drowsiness was soon replaced by vigilance as he quickly got up and started his morning routine.
Last night, like a little child before a school field trip, he rolled and turned, too jittery to sleep, which resulted in him not getting enough rest.
Kiel dropped by the kitchen to grab something to eat. A warm smell of freshly baked bread combined with a sweet smell of hot cherry syrup made his mouth water. Bagels filled with cherries – his favorite.
The cook bowed down to him as he passed by. Kiel smiled politely in response. He grabbed two bagels from the rack by the window, careful to not get burnt, stuffing one in his food pouch and taking the other one to eat on the go.
He made his way out of the mansion into the surrounding forest. It was a slightly chilling morning; the sun had not been up enough to warm it up. The smell of dew lingered in the air, mixing with the delightful smell of freshly baked bagels.
He granted himself the luxury of using a temperature manipulation magic to cool down the bagel before biting down into its tender flesh filled with sweet cherries. The soft bread leaked warm syrup with an occasional large cherry that brought tantalizing pleasure to his taste buds. It slowly warmed him up from inside out.
Kiel tried to relax his nerves and get rid of the uncomfortable jitters. He distanced himself from the situation and tried to calmly analyze what had happened yesterday. One question repeated inside his mind in an endless loop: Who is Elaru Wayvin?
Was that even her real name? Wayvin was not a famous family name, yet she possessed a powerful aura and Aethernea of Sight. The possibility of her being born into a random family of nobodies was near zero. Using a fake family name to mask their affiliation was not new, most noble families did it; some more often than others. Nevertheless, why would Elaru need to hide her family name from him? Kiel was from a noble mage family himself, did she think he would be wary of her if he knew of her true origin? However, not knowing made him even more cautious.
Every little bit of information she provided opened up, even more, questions.
Elaru spent a week observing him from the cliff; he piqued her interest with his magic so she wanted to find out more. Assuming she sought to know more about him, she couldn’t just casually walk into Beyd and ask around. That would cause too much attention and in a matter of hours, the whole town would hear of her interest in Kiel. Therefore, she climbed the highest point in Beyd from which she could monitor him.
Creepy but effective.
In a short while, Elaru was able to learn more information about him than he thought possible. She was perceptive and intelligent. And more than that, she was able to perfectly gauge his magical ability with minimal information. Perhaps being able to see mana proved useful in estimating someone’s magical ability? Perhaps she could tell about his flaw just by seeing how much mana his body lets out in regular intervals (which was not much)?
Kiel’s frustration with the lack of information was passing through onto his eating manner. He devoured his bagel licking his lips with each new bite. His lips were turning redder. It was unclear whether it was from repeated licking or the cherry syrup.
He was barely aware he was already on the outskirts of Beyd. The people around him were greeting him good morning. The entire town knew him. He was a local celebrity of sorts.
He smiled, nodded and waved here and there, out of politeness. If someone were to ask him who he had encountered on his way, Kiel wouldn’t be able to remember a single face.
There was something strange, something eerie about Elaru Wayvin.
She managed to catch up with him last night without breaking a sweat. How? She was an elibu, which means she couldn’t cast augmentation magic to accelerate, float or fly. Because Kiel wasn’t able to use magic often, he was forced to train his body to make up for that flaw – which meant he was in top shape and able to run quite fast for extended periods of time. Assuming Elaru was just as fit, she should have been just as tired as him, if not more.
Did she use that healing magic to remove her own fatigue as well? How large would her mana pool need to be to allow her to use it twice in a row?
Impossible. Kiel reasoned, dark look entering his eyes. There must be another explanation. Kiel concluded devouring the last of his bagel. He wanted to lick the sugar powder off his fingers, but that was improper since he was in public.
Was Elaru a healer? She didn’t look like one. But if she wasn’t a healer, what magic did she specialize in? She claimed not to be a spy, yet she can conceal her presence perfectly. With an aura as powerful as hers, concealing her presence would be extremely problematic. If Elaru isn’t a spy, why bother with it? Was she a famous or wanted person? An outlaw or a celebrity? Was she on a secret mission?
What would that kind of person want with him? Elaru mentioned she wanted him to become her ‘partner’. What kind of partner? Partner in crime?
The disturbing thought made Kiel’s hair stand on end.
He hurried into the forest where they were supposed to meet, the sweet smell of sugar urging him to lick it. When he was sure no curious eyes could see him under the safe seclusion of the trees, he carefully licked the sugar off of his fingers. It was a sensual gesture, one that could make any female blush.
“Mmmm…” Kiel murmured and then sighed soon after. He should have grabbed a few more bagels; he didn’t know when he would be able to eat again.
Kiel arrived at the designated meeting point shortly. The dew had evaporated leaving the air heavy and moist. The sun was rising in the sky, showering the clearing with its warm glow.
Elaru didn’t seem to be there yet.
Am I early? Kiel wondered.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t show.”
Kiel turned his head to the source of the familiar voice. Elaru was sitting on the lowest branch of the tree to the right of him. He could swear she wasn’t there a second ago.
“Doing that is highly unpleasant and quite unnecessary.” He was referring to her hiding her presence and appearing out of nowhere.
“Sorry, habit.” Elaru grinned guiltily and removed the barrier hiding her presence.
Her mana washed over Kiel, causing a strange feeling of warmth to erupt in his stomach. Her mana felt nice, warm and relaxing. It was very different from how it felt yesterday.
Kiel’s father once told Kiel that person’s mana was like a window into one’s heart. Mana was in direct contact with the mind of the mage which meant that the intention and personality of the mage carried over to the mana. The feelings carried through the mana couldn’t be controlled by the mage. Mana couldn’t lie; it showed the pure and simple truth.
The warm feeling ensured Kiel that Elaru’s intentions weren’t hostile. Now, after he had felt it, he was all the more confused. Kiel thought she was calculating and self-centered, yet her mana felt like bright fire. It seemed gentle, comforting and welcoming, lighting up the darkness. Though, at the same time, he could tell that those flames could turn into an all-consuming inferno if provoked.
He had never met anyone with a mana similar to hers. So very pure; not pure light, nor pure darkness, but something else entirely. The purity that went beyond good and evil.
Elaru seemed like a different person entirely, however at the same time, she was clearly the same. Could changes in her mood really impact her aura to such a degree?
Kiel’s false persona was well trained, so it managed to recover from stunned silence much faster than his real persona. “Did you wait long?” Kiel asked her sweetly.
Elaru raised an eyebrow and her long elibu ears twitched. She was surprised at his sudden politeness. “No. Why do you feel the need to pretend you care?”
Kiel smiled softly and shrugged. “Habit.” His response mimicked her own response from earlier.
There was no reason to pretend with her. The only reason Kiel came on time was because he detested being late, not because he didn’t want to make her wait.
“I would like you to clarify a few matters for me.” Kiel started, replacing the soft expression with a serious one.
“Hold that thought!” Elaru exclaimed and jumped down from the tree. The sudden change of velocity made her ponytail flap behind her like a red flag. When her feet touched the ground, her long ears shook up and down a few times before settling in their original position. She approached the center of the clearing.
Elaru slammed her right boot to the dry forest ground. Almost instantly, as if it was responding to her hit, the soil rose up in front of her shaping three stumps. She was using a transmutation spell ‘Morph’ to control the earth.
Elaru twisted the soil forming it into a near perfect cylindrical shape, smoothing the corners in the process. She flicked her wrist and cast another transmutation spell, turning soft lumps of earth into lumps of rock. That way, the soil wouldn’t collapse when sat on. The purpose of her creation was obvious – she was making stools.
Kiel’s mind automatically translated the spells into ranks:
• “Morph” – Level 4 shape transmutation spell, quick and precise.
• “Material Transmute: Soil to Rock” – Level 5 material transmutation, solid state variant.
Elaru sat down on the stool closest to her and motioned for Kiel to sit down too. He hesitated briefly before sitting down opposite of her.
Was there really a need for comfortable seating?
Elaru, as if answering his unspoken question, placed her small backpack on the stool between them and dug around it until she seemed to find what she was looking for – a metal tube. It was a scroll case.
Elaru carefully unscrewed the cap and removed the scroll from the inside, following which, she spread the thin yellowish parchment on the table and looked up at Kiel.
“Do you know what this is?” Elaru asked him, ready to explain.
However, Kiel didn’t need an explanation. The first line of text written on the scroll happened to be the name of the scroll. It also happened to be written in letters so large he could have read it from a kilometer away.
It was a reusable Oath of Truth – a rare arcane contract.
Arcane contracts were specialized limiter spells. The contract spell would stay latent until activated by a trigger spell. The person who activated it would then be put under the contract. While the contract spell is active, it would limit the actions the person can take in such a way that he does not break the contract.
Oath of Truth made those who activated it unable to lie in a ten-minute time period. Unlike traditional contract scrolls which were one usage only, this particular one was reusable. As such, it was very hard to create and, therefore, pricey.
“How did you obtain that?” Kiel asked quietly.
“I know people.” Elaru shrugged.
“You are well prepared. After yesterday, I assumed I am like an open book to you. Could it be I am not that easy to read after all?” Kiel rose his eyes from the scroll carefully examining her facial expression. The corner of his mouth twitched. He was trying to prevent a smirk from appearing on his face.
Confusion flashed across Elaru’s face. “What? No. You’re not the easiest person to read. However, the one signing the oath won’t be you, but me.”
Kiel’s smirk, that never managed to emerge, died miserably and was replaced by a frown.
That was…thoughtful…and yet…insulting…
Kiel prided himself on being able to detect lies.
“That won’t be necessary. I am proficient in detecting lies.” As soon as the words left his mouth, he felt remorse for letting his pride get the best of him.
“Don’t care. I’m signing it anyway.” Elaru rolled her eyes completely ignoring his protest. Kiel’s eyes flashed with a chilling light.
Elaru flicked her wrist in a fluid motion. Kiel could feel her casting a trigger spell – she was ‘signing’ the contract. The latent spell placed on the parchment was activated by her trigger spell. Kiel could feel a soft burst of magic power. The black ink forming words on the scroll glowed golden briefly before disappearing altogether. The ink would return when the current contract expired, and scroll could be used again.
“Ask away.” Elaru motioned him to ask what was on his mind.
Kiel wouldn’t admit it, but he was actually glad she was under the oath of truth. A veil of calmness covered his face; he was able to relax now that he didn’t need to catch traces of deceit.
“Who are you really?” Kiel decided to not waste any time beating around the bush.
Her answer was not what he had expected, something he would soon get used to.
“You should be more specific in your inquiries. As I previously mentioned, I am Elaru Wayvin.”
Kiel’s eyes briefly narrowed before he continued his questioning. “Is that your real name?”
“Yes.” Elaru nodded her head.
Even if she was a part of a noble mage family, that doesn’t mean she had to have their last name. It would be easier to hide the relation if the name was not a lie. – Kiel reasoned internally. He should rephrase his question.
“Which noble mage family are you affiliated with?” Kiel leaned forward, placing his intertwined hands on the table.
“I am an independent existence. I am not under anyone’s banner. I control my own life.” Elaru’s eyes briefly flashed with an emotion Kiel didn’t manage to recognize before it disappeared.
She couldn’t lie while under the contract, but it was hard to believe nonetheless. How is it possible that a ‘nobody’ would possess Aethernea of Sight and enough money to buy a reusable Oath of Truth? This entire time Kiel had easily overlooked the possibility of her not being related to a noble mage family.
If Elaru was not a noble, could she be related to one of the non-noble families with high social standing?
“How can you afford all of your expensive equipment?” Kiel continued the questioning, his eyes drifting quickly over the empty scroll in front of him.
“Earned it doing quests.” Elaru stated in a bored matter. As if his questions were predictable and uninteresting. After seeing his narrowed eyes flickering with apparent doubt, she added – “Perfectly legal quests I assure you.”
“What kind of quests do you do?” If she was not from a noble family, nor a wealthy family, then finding out her occupation was the next best thing.
“Well paying ones.” Elaru smirked.
The contract only made sure she couldn’t lie. It couldn’t force her to answer questions she didn’t want to answer.
Kiel gave her a brief, meaningful look before deciding to change his tactic.
“What is your end game?”
“You make it sound like I have some deep, dark agenda. I am simpler than you think. I just want to live.” Elaru grinned.
She wants to live? What an ambiguous answer. Kiel understood that what she meant was not to merely stay alive, but to truly live. He could relate. He longed for a meaning in his life just as much. However, he knew not her true definition of living.
“Did you have me investigated?”
“No. What interested me about you wasn’t something I could read in a background report. Purchasing your life story from an information broker would have been a waste of money and, possibly, invasion of privacy.”
Kiel chuckled dryly. “If you had been concerned about invasion of privacy you wouldn’t have spied on my daily activities from the highest point in Beyd for a week.”
“I could have just as easily followed you around like a shadow instead of just watching from afar.” – She shrugged. “But I thought it to be a bit too intrusive.”
“I would have noticed an elibu trailing behind me!” Kiel’s eyebrow twitched. Was she serious?
She laughed out loud. “Mate, with my skills, you wouldn’t notice me if I was standing right in front of you!”
Was she trying to piss him off?!
Kiel took a silent, deep breath to calm down.
Don’t let her rile you up. She is obviously teasing you. He reasoned with himself.
“How did you catch up with me yesterday?” He finally asked the question that was bothering him earlier. He looked at her with expectation.
She smiled gently and shrugged. “Mate, you were running in circles. I just waited for you to stop running.”
Huh?! – Her anticlimactic response made Kiel’s eyebrow twitch. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.
She had managed to throw him off his track. He completely forgot what he wished to ask next.
“And how did you know when I stopped running? How did you keep an eye on me? How did you know I was running in circles in the first place?” Kiel sneered, followed by his cold gaze.
She pointed her fingers towards her eyes “Divine sight mate, remember?”
Kiel glared at her. She rolled her eyes and elaborated.
“The body of every living creature lets out mana in regular intervals. The mana let out by living creatures spreads through the forest like air, the only difference being that mana can pass through solid matter. However, every material has a specific mana resistance which influences how much mana manages to pass through it and how much is retained inside.” She paused briefly.
“What I am trying to say is: I can see the mana retained within the objects which allows me to pick up shapes of the objects, living or not, as long as they are in my range of vision. Therefore, I just sat on a tree branch and let you run around. I could see you clearly wherever you went because you remained close enough for my Aethernea to pick you up.”
Kiel’s eyes widened in disbelief. What a convenient ability! She could see the mana his body let out so she could effectively pinpoint his location. Aethernea of Sight did not produce a two-dimensional picture, it built a three-dimensional model. It was the ultimate Mana Sense!
What he could do with such an ability! He could tell if someone was approaching him and avoid them. He could relax knowing no one was around him.
When Kiel noticed he was clenching his fists he quickly moved them away from sight. But then he realized how futile that gesture really was. She could see the mana flowing through his fists. She could probably tell they were clenched no matter where he put them.
“Is it possible to hide mana from your sight? Like how people can hide their presence from being detected by someone else’s mana sense?” Kiel dreaded the answer.
“Sorry mate. There is nothing that I know of that can obscure my sight. There is a reason why the divine gifts are considered divine.”
Darn! He couldn’t hide from her or avoid her. If she wanted to stalk him, she could find him anywhere.
“How long is your range of vision?” In other words – how far away did he need to be to escape her sight?