Episode 6 – Deal with the devil
“How long is your range of vision?” In other words – how far away did he need to be to escape her sight?
“It depends on my state of mind and point of focus. Usually, when I am not paying extra attention or am sleeping, it narrows down to about half a mile radius.”
If Kiel had been drinking something, he would have spat it out at this point.
“You can see mana in your sleep?! With your eyes closed?!”
“I don’t see mana with my eyes; I see it with my Mind. In its essence, it is an enhanced mana sense. Just like you don’t stop sensing mana when you are asleep neither do I. If there were a sudden burst of mana near you, you’d wake up. You don’t stop hearing things while you are asleep either. If there were a sudden loud noise, you’d wake up. Same thing with my Aethernea. If there are significant changes around me, it will wake me up as well. And since it is a sense, I can’t shut it off. Whether my eyes are open or closed makes no difference. Whether I like it or not, I can always see everything around me.”
Kiel stared at her emotionlessly. Suddenly Aethernea of Sight didn’t look as tempting as before. It was constantly feeding her with information that she didn’t want most of the time. It was probably similar to standing in the middle of a noisy crowd of people all the time. She could “sense” so many things, and she had no way to shut it off. Every power comes with a price.
“If your power does not originate from your eyes why do they look…” He motioned to her eyes, trying to find an appropriate word to describe them.
“So magical? I might not see magic with my eyes, but it doesn’t mean that my eyes aren’t magical.” She winked. “Being able to see mana isn’t the only reason why my Aethernea is called Aethernea of Sight.”
Kiel raised an eyebrow. Being able to see magic wasn’t the only benefit of having Aethernea of Sight? Could there be even more benefits?
“Can you identify things based on their unique mana footprint?”
“I can see the color of someone’s mana so I can recognize them based on that. However, my eyes don’t have enough precision to distinguish between people whose mana is near the same shade of color. The real power of my eyes is not in being able to see raw mana, but in being able to see spells. It is much easier to identify a spell pattern than a color.”
Omnidirectional vision? Being able to identify spells based on their pattern? Of course! How had he not seen it before? It was in front of him the whole time! Elaru Wayvin was a Tracker!
Trackers were mages specialized in finding things. Be it other people, magical creatures, artifacts or even rare plants. It was an attractive job that was very well paid; which would explain why Elaru had the funds for purchasing an Oath of Truth. No wonder she had excellent observation and deduction skills, they were developed by years of tracking!
“You are a Tracker!” Kiel exclaimed his revelation out loud with satisfied glee.
Elaru raised her eyebrows. “I suppose. I do spend a lot of time tracking down artifacts.”
Now it all made sense. With her skill, she could find artifacts no one was able to find before her, such as the Soul Crystal! And because of it, if anyone could find something which could help his condition, it would be her!
Kiel felt an intense wave of self-satisfaction wash over him. Finally, he unraveled the mystery of Elaru. There was no feeling quite like when you finally find a solution to a puzzle!
However, Elaru did not give him time to bask in his achievement.
“We better hurry before the contract expires. You can ask me more questions later, let’s get down to business.” Her expression changed into her own version of a poker face. Kiel responded by putting on his own solemn and unreadable expression.
Elaru flicked her wrist in a useless gesture. Kiel could tell she cast a sound barrier around them to prevent any potential eavesdroppers from hearing what she was about to reveal. After ensuring no one but him could hear her, she put up her red striped scarf over her lips to prevent lip reading.
“Kiel, what I am about to tell you is sensitive information that must be kept a complete secret. No one must know about this.” He heard her voice loud and clear even though the scarf covered her mouth.
Kiel nodded in response. He could keep a secret. After all, he had been keeping his lack of mana a secret from the whole world his entire life. And that took much more effort than it would take to conceal knowledge. Though, why would she trust him with sensitive information? An arcane contract prohibiting him from sharing the information would be more appropriate. Perhaps because she was sure he would have no benefit from sharing it?
Elaru took off her left glove and afterward moved her sleeve, exposing her marked skin. Kiel’s eyes quickly scanned her arm, covered by curvy tattoo like markings, before he glanced back to her face. Why was she showing him her markings? Was there something special about them?
“These markings might look like ordinary tattoos, but they are neither tattoos nor ordinary. They are a manifestation of an ancient oath branded into the essence of my being. And to activate it, like every other contract, a trigger spell needs to be performed.”
Kiel’s eyes returned to her markings and this time he stared at them with more attention. Even so, no matter how hard he stared at them, her markings didn’t appear any more special than markings of any other elibu. All elibu were born with distinct markings on different parts of their body. It was a kind of a birthmark.
Were her markings special, or were the markings of every elibu an oath? He voiced his question – she flashed a satisfied smirk as if she was congratulating him for asking the right question.
“You never wondered why elibu are born with marked bodies?”
Honestly, Kiel had never put much thought into it.
“Well, now you know these aren’t just for show. Elibu are the vessel for the spell, and the trigger is you – an argel mage, or rather, the trigger spell, performed by your mana. The name of the oath is Aetherneal Bond.” Elaru’s eyes glittered as she was telling him this.
In this world, there exist four types of magic – transmutation, augmentation, arcane and aetherneal magic. By using pure mana, one can cast transmutation, augmentation, and arcane magic. If the mana is impure, one can cast either transmutation or augmentation magic, based on the mana type.
However, Aetherneal magic was different. It could not be cast by mortals, not even by using pure mana. Not much was known about Aetherneal magic since the only ones able to cast it were gods themselves, which is why it was popularly known as divine magic. Aetherneal magic was also considered to be “True Magic” because it seemed able to bend all rules and laws of magic. Or rather, mortals were unable to grasp its rules, as if it was unbound by the laws of reality.
“You want me to cast the trigger spell to activate your markings and become bound by the Aethernal bond?” Kiel caught on what she was proposing fast.
“That’s right!” Elaru almost seemed to purr with delight that he was quick to process the information. (And didn’t seem to consider her crazy.) “However, you won’t be the only one signing it.”
Kiel frowned. Signing the Aetherneal bond is beneficial? Suddenly he remembered Elaru’s promise of pure mana. His eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“How come I’ve never heard of this? I’ve heard tales of the Aetherneal Gifts such as Aethernea of Sight. However, I’ve never heard an explanation behind the elibu markings. Why isn’t it a known fact?”
“In the chaos of the Great Mage Wars, that decimated the population of Halnea, not many were left after the wars which were familiar with the trigger spell. All scrolls and carvings describing the trigger have either been lost or sealed after the war. Not many retained the knowledge of the trigger, so the purpose of the markings and existence of the Aetherneal bond was forgotten with time.”
“Then how did you get ahold of such knowledge?”
“One noble family retained the knowledge and is currently completely monopolizing the power of the Aetherneal bond. I was able to see the trigger when they were casting it for their own purposes.”
Kiel had a pretty good idea what family she was talking about. There was one family that stood above all others – only one family whose members all held pure mana without the need of mana purifying artifacts.
Everything made sense now. Why she warned him not to share this information, why no one was left alive that knows it. If that family didn’t wish to share the information then knowing it would be a death sentence.
She didn’t need to have him sign a contract promising not to disclose this information, because if he refused to do so, it would be suicide. She trusted his intelligence; she knew he would understand what it meant to know of this. While he doesn’t share the information, no one will be aware of his knowledge, and he would be safe.
Is that why she was careful to not disclose her presence? Because that family was after her?
“Are they aware you possess this knowledge?” If they were after her than associating with her could put him in danger as well.
“Thankfully, no. And I intend to keep it that way.” Elaru gave him a meaningful look, clearly telling him not to reveal this information to anyone if he valued his life.
So she wasn’t a wanted person? Was hiding her presence just a preemptive move to avoid trouble?
“Tell me more about the Aetherneal bond. What would happen to us if I activate it?” Kiel continued the questioning, his emotionless mask never wavering.
“The spell would create a link between us – a bond. Our souls would merge into one, which would allow us to share mana – you would be able to use my mana supply as your own. We would also gain the ability to purify mana.”
“What’s the catch?” Kiel stared deeply into Elaru’s eyes trying to fish out a response from their depths.
“The catch is that it is permanent. Once done, it cannot be undone. If we become bound, we will remain so until one of us dies.” She stared right back at him, unwavering.
“Does it have any adverse impacts on us? Such as shortening of lifespan?”
“No, on the contrary, it lengthens the lifespan.”
“Can the oath harm us in any way?”
“You can’t get hurt by signing the oath.”
Kiel examined her face carefully. There must be a catch, a reason to not do it. Could she use the bond to control him somehow? Would he become a slave of the bond and she, as the vessel, his master?
“Is the contract symmetrical?” A symmetrical contract places the exact same spell on all of the contractors. If Aetherneal bond were symmetrical, that would mean effects of the bond on him would be the same as on her. If she could control him, then he could control her too.
“Yes. The rules of the oath are the same for both of us.” She nodded her head in approval.
Was this really the truth? It had to be since she signed the oath of truth! Yet Kiel just couldn’t shake off a feeling of dread. Maybe he was just paranoid? His mistrust of people was getting in the way even when he was sure they weren’t lying.
“Why would elibu be born with such a powerful spell?”
Elaru shrugged. “I don’t know why elibu are born like this. My father speculates that it is a blessing of the gods – one of the first Aetherneal Gifts – a forgotten Aethernea.”
Kiel stared at Elaru with eyebrows raised high in disbelief. This sounded too good to be true. His eyes drifted to the oath of truth scroll, but the letters haven’t returned to it yet, meaning it was still in place. No matter how hard to believe this information was, it couldn’t be a lie. Even if it is not the actual truth, it is what she believed to be the truth. And if she believed it to be the truth, she must have had an excellent reason to do so. She had a sharp mind and divine sight, deceiving her would be very difficult.
“Why would I want to be bound to you? Any elibu with a large enough mana pool would do.”
Elaru smiled wide as though she was just waiting for him to ask that question. “It would do indeed…” Her smile turned into a devious smirk. “If you actually knew the trigger spell.”
Naturally, she wouldn’t show him the trigger spell unless he was to use it on her. He could accept her offer and then run away once he learns it, but she could find him anywhere with her eyes. She wouldn’t even need to dispose of him, she could just spread information about his knowledge in select circles, and he would get eliminated by the third party.
She didn’t need to advertise her own worth to him. It was either “do this with me” or “don’t do it at all”.
Elaru’s smirk turned back into a smile, a mischievous one. “But let’s pretend that you do know the trigger spell. Even if you search for another elibu, you’ll never find one which has more mana than me. My exceptionally large mana pool is put to shame only by my monstrous mana regeneration. I have way more mana than I could ever spend! More than enough mana for both of us.”
Kiel had felt the intensity of her aura. He had seen how dense her Mage Armor was. He noticed that she never seemed to get tired of using magic, even after using a powerful healing spell on him. Alas, he couldn’t have really known just how much mana that one elibu had at her disposal.
It stung Kiel like rubbing salt into an open wound; he was born with almost no mana, but she was born with near limitless amount?! Life was playing such a cruel joke on him! How could the fates be so unfair? With her soul, at least a dozen non-mages could raise to be real mages. Yet the fate condemned many individuals just so that one could be extraordinary.
“You have no mana, and I have plenty. Every fiber of my being is screaming ‘perfect match’. This might not be just blind luck; this might be destiny.” – Her eyes twinkled mysteriously.
Kiel’s fingers clenched into a fist. Destiny? He didn’t believe in destiny.
The question here had never been “why would he want to get bound to her”, it had always been “why would she want him”. Why? To him, it is important who he gets bound to because of his mana issue, though why would she choose someone with no mana? To him, it was the ideal choice, but not for her. To her, the benefit is only the pure mana, so why would she care who she gets bound to? Any argel which can perform the trigger spell would do.
“Why me?” Kiel voiced his concern out loud with a solemn expression. He left no room for excuses such as “destiny”.
Elaru clasped her hands, leaned forward and smiled deviously. “Our souls aren’t the only thing that gets linked. Our minds get linked as well, allowing us to communicate telepathically, share memories and senses, and even be able to tell when one of us is lying. I wouldn’t want to have a telepathic link to just anyone.”
Kiel could finally understand her reasoning. He wouldn’t want to have a telepathic link to someone he can’t stand either. Kiel imagined having a telepathic link to someone like Piala and unconsciously shivered in horror.
Usually, he would be quick to refuse a connection with another person, whatever that might imply. Kiel didn’t like people, and he didn’t like them seeing the real him. But even without the link, this girl saw right through him, and she wasn’t appalled, on the contrary. If it were a link with her, it wouldn’t be all bad. Besides, even if he had it with Piala, if it were for the sake of mana, Kiel could learn to get along with her. He needed this link. She had him from the start. He couldn’t refuse.
She probably wanted him as her partner because she liked him and she believed being connected to him would be useful for her. It was exactly as he had thought it to be – it was an investment. Her mana would turn him from a nobody into an important figure, and being connected to him then would only raise her own worth. He was smart and had many talents. Having an intelligent, reliable and knowledgeable partner would be beneficial for anyone. He might not be of much use right now, but she could see his potential worth.
She is just as bad as me. Kiel chuckled. Exploiting my mana weakness to her own benefit!
That candor and lack of judgment towards sins. She was both so pure and so devious. Kiel loved it.
He loved how this person didn’t hide behind believable lies pretending to be a philanthropist or a kind soul, nor did she show hostility and blatant cruelty of a demon. To her, good and evil were irrelevant. She did not think of what she wanted others to see. She didn’t bother with appearances. She acted only on her own instinct and beliefs.
Pure and uninfluenced by what society deemed appropriate.
Kind or mean? Good or evil? Argel or elibu? Who cares!
He thought he understood her now. That the puzzle of Elaru was slowly getting put in place. He noticed Elaru possessed a strange kind of purity: freedom from prejudice and societal influence, one of her defining characteristics.
Elaru was free. Truly free to be whoever and whatever she wanted to be. She was what he always wanted to be. Free.
He couldn’t refuse her offer. She provided him an excuse to break away from who he pretended to be, a push towards dreams he tried to extinguish. She was offering him an adventure into the unknown. And, he had little to lose.
She could give him all the mana he would need, and more than that. This little cunning elibu held great worth beyond her mana. With her smarts and ability to track anything – she would be very useful to him in the future. This would be quite a profitable partnership. He couldn’t have found a better partner if he was searching for one!
Kiel’s blank serious face faded away replaced by a sly smirk. Alright. If that’s the game you want to play, I’ll play as well.
This is how, just one stranger, a female elibu, twisted his life beyond recognition in a matter of days. Had he known what was to come…the man he was would have never accepted her offer, not even for the sake of pure mana.
He had thought he understood her, but he was wrong.