Episode 8 – Rebirth
◈ City of Eleasia, Temple of Fate ◈
Time is an infinite river, continuously flowing forward, branching into many possible futures.
The river is made out of countless drops of water – living creatures inhabiting the world.
Their drops of life are swept down the river, unable to resist the flow, unable to change the flow. No matter how much they struggle, what can one restless drop of water do in the stream made out of countless drops of water?
To the drop itself, its path is very important. If they hit a rock, or collided with other drops, the force of the impact could push them into another stream of drops.
But when you look at the stream, do you ever stop to think about the life of a single drop of water?
When you look at the water…all you see are the fish.
But when Sanarra Arten gazed at the river of time, she couldn’t see the fish. There were no fish in the river of time. Not anymore.
Granted, she, as the envoy of fate, could only see that which was right in front of her. She couldn’t look into the distance to see what was and what will be. She neither held the power to see the past nor the future.
What she could see was very specific. Very limited.
She couldn’t tell what decisions would a single drop make or the consequences of that decision unless it was never their choice to begin with but a path that had been already predetermined from the start.
She couldn’t see the possibilities, she could only see the inevitable, the things that cannot be changed.
That unchanging certainty – the lack of choice – that is what people labeled as fate.
Can the fate be changed? That question was as old as time itself.
Sanarra knew the answer to that question. Mortals can’t transcend the scope of their fate. Fate is an integral part of reality; only that which holds the power to alter reality itself on the fundamental level can alter fate.
And there existed only one thing that could alter the basic laws of reality – Aetherneal magic.
Sanarra, of course, couldn’t use Aetherneal magic; that was the domain of the gods. But she wasn’t completely unfamiliar with it. After all, she used to wear a divine artifact around her neck.
Still, as many times as she saw divine magic in action, she had yet to see it alter the fate.
She didn’t expect that ‘yet’ to come today. It caught her completely off guard.
It had been a hot summer day. Sanarra just had lunch and was relaxing, drinking mint tea in her chambers. A slight breeze coming through the windows made the chimes hanging all around her room jingle musically.
Her breath suddenly caught in her chest, her eyes widened, and her hands lost their grip on the tea cup.
Her eyes were glued to the flower-adorned cup, slipping through her fingers in slow motion. However, she could not see it – her mind had been pulled to the river of time.
That’s when she saw it, just as it happened.
She knew not what decision had been made; she didn’t even know which drop of water was decisive. It mattered not – the change was a result of a butterfly effect – caused by many, many decisions, all building up to reach this point.
Sanarra saw a dam alongside the river, sealing off the river and directing it.
She saw a single rock on the dam move back slightly pushed under the pressure of the water. Yet like a stack of dominos the entire dam crumbled in an instant, overwhelmed by the stream.
Every hair on her body stood up as a wave of chills traveled down her spine.
The path of time had been altered, the timeline shifted into a new branch. There was no longer a way to stop, to revert back to the old road. The future of the entire land of Halnea had been changed.
She didn’t hear her cup crash on the floor, for, at that moment, all she could see and hear was the time. She had been blinded by a brilliant golden glow of a single drop.
She knew that drop.
That drop was the key to everything.
And that key was in the form of a golden seed, deep inside of it. A seed that with proper nourishment could one day grow into a fish. A fish with the wings of light that could swim freely in the river.
It had been a fish of light that entrusted this task to the first envoy of fate several millennia prior.
The envoys of fate had only one purpose. They were created by the fish for the sake of the fish.
It was the invisible hands of countless envoys of fate that lead to the appearance of this golden seed, and it was up to her to make sure it turns into a fish.
Sanarra smiled, even though she knew not the path the seed needed to take for it to grow. She smiled as the river of time blurred and disappeared in front of her eyes.
She felt the thrill of the unknown coursing through her body. She was walking in the dark, yet she had hope. Inability to see the fate meant only one thing – the future was an ocean of possibilities.
Sanarra exhaled the breath she didn’t know she was holding and prayed.
Prayed that a waterfall wouldn’t come. Prayed that there would be some room for mistakes. Prayed that the fragile seed would survive the test of time. For if it didn’t grow in time, it would be swept away by it. Crushing the hopes of many envoys of fate that prayed, breathed and bled just to bring the light back into the river.
The choices were not hers to make.
All she could do now was pray.
* * *
Kiel was rudely awakened by the stabbing pain in his right arm. The sensation of thousand little needles jabbing at his skin was gradually fading away. He was lying on the forest ground, his vision blurring in and out. He blinked furiously trying to focus his eyes. Everything looked so bright, too bright.
He could hear many strange sounds in the previously silent forest bombarding him from all sides. Their perceived intensity kept shifting, as if they were suddenly getting louder or quieter.
Did his hearing improve? Is this, upcoming headache, a result of his mind trying to filter out all of the sounds, and make them fade into the background once again? Was this how the world sounded to elibu? Their long ears had much better hearing than short argel ears. Were they constantly annoyed by irrelevant sounds like these?
The thought made Kiel reach for his ears. He didn’t know what he expected to find, but he let out a sigh of relief when he found his ears just as small and round as they were before.
As he inhaled the air around him, his nose twitched. It wasn’t just sounds that suddenly became louder. Scents became stronger also. He could still smell a faint scent of the cherry bagel he devoured hours ago.
And even beyond the overload of his senses, he was overwhelmed with power. The spell was long over, but his entire body was still shaking, consumed by the power that showed no sign of dissipating.
His mind and heart were racing, even though he just woke up. His breathing was irregular and shallow. His feelings and thoughts were jumbled; he didn’t even know if they were his own – they felt so alien. It was as if his loss of consciousness merely paused the tornado until he woke up again.
His mind kept rejecting the reality. What was happening to him? Is this really happening to him or is it just a dream? This was definitely not how reality felt like! Everything seemed different. He didn’t feel like himself at all!
Realization struck him like a hammer.
What have I done?!
Kiel’s conviction wavered, regret and dread threatening to consume him. The thought resonated through him, creating ripples and shaking him to the core.
He did not sign up for this! How could he have taken all of this so lightly?! That spell was not just a simple contract; that was something much more. He felt truly bound to her, like she had become a part of him. He should have known it wasn’t as simple as she made it out to be!
Kiel would have entered a frenzy – afraid of what he had done, terrified of what he had become – if it weren’t for her mana. It flowed into him with every contraction of his mind; he could feel it clearly, it was undoubtedly her mana, yet it felt like it was his just as much as hers.
Elaru’s mana carried a gentle, pleasant lull, calming down Kiel’s racing heart.
Don’t panic. Kiel told himself. This was just a tradeoff.
Yes, it wasn’t all bad! He felt much more powerful, full of energy, so much more alive than before. He felt like anything was possible. He would get used to these changes eventually. This is a blessing in disguise.
Kiel took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He was going to be just fine.
As he calmed down and concentrated on the power flowing through him, excitement sparked deep within him. He never knew…he never knew how incredible it must have felt to be a mage, a real mage, to constantly feel such power flowing through them, like life itself. Pure, dense, abundant mana.
This was a good choice after all. Kiel reasoned with himself.
He didn’t know how long he had laid there unmoving before he got used to changes in himself and his own perception of the world. The sense of time taken by the spell slowly returned to him, it could have lasted minutes or hours, either way, it took him a long time to notice the softness under him, uncharacteristic of the forest ground.
He propped himself up on his elbows and looked down on top of what he had been lying.
The realization left him speechless.
His head was right next to Elaru’s, his legs on the outside of hers, her soft breasts were pressing on his chest.
Son of a…! Kiel’s jaw dropped. How the…wha…?!
He quickly pushed himself away and tried to get up hastily. However, his body seemed new to him and it didn’t quite follow his commands. His leg slipped on the soft mound of dirt and he fell back down, into the same position he started from.
Awkward. Kiel couldn’t remember the last time he felt so awkward. Luckily, Elaru’s eyes were closed and she didn’t have any reaction to his blunder, which made him feel a bit better.
He was so very glad they were alone in the clearing because this predicament looked quite wrong and would certainly be misunderstood.
Their hands were touching when they were casting the spell, so they weren’t that far apart. Their legs probably gave out after the spell. He most likely stumbled towards her and fell taking her down with him.
Kiel checked Elaru’s face to see if she was breathing. Even though he could feel she was alive just as surely as he could tell he was alive.
Unlike his breathing just a moment ago, her breathing was even and deep. Her eyes were still closed, most of her face was pale, other than a faint blush on her cheeks. Kiel would have thought it to be embarrassment if it weren’t for the fact that he felt no trace of embarrassment in her aura.
Was she not feeling well? He could tell she wasn’t unconscious, on the contrary, she was fully aware of her surroundings. He could feel her Mind spreading around him like a blanket.
She could have pushed him off of her. That’s what he would do in her place. Perhaps her body was even worse off than his? Maybe she felt a weakness in her limbs?
He noticed the cold sweat on her face and connected the dots. Cold sweat, pale face, feverish blush. Nausea? Or perhaps she was hurt when she fell back?
Wait… Kiel was just about to try pushing himself away again when his mind rolled back to his previous thought, giving him goosebumps. I can sense her Mind?!
A ‘mind’ and ‘the Mind’ are basically the same thing and often, in literature, writers use the former instead of the latter. The only times when people bothered referring to it as ‘the Mind’ is when talking about the metaphysical projection of the creature’s consciousness. Every person’s consciousness spreads itself and creates a flexible and fluid projection – the Mind. The Mind is rooted to the center of the person’s body, but it can stretch and bend according to the user’s will. It was exactly this projection that gave them ability to sense magic. It was the Mind that allowed them to sense auras – presences of other beings – and feel the intent and emotions carried through the mana making the aura.
However, no matter how acute the sensing capability of the Mind, a Mind could not perceive other Minds. It is as though each Mind was on a separate wavelength; as if each Mind was a realm of its own in which no other Mind could intrude.
Even if two minds were mingling, curving around each other, or even standing at the exact same spot, they would not be able to sense it.
Yet Kiel could clearly sense Elaru’s mind.
His face paled.
Elaru took this moment to finally spring to action, reminding Kiel he had yet to get up from on top of her – she reached towards his belt.
Kiel’s heart skipped a beat.
What was she doing?! Endless possibilities went through his mind in an instant. Not a single one looked good.
He pushed himself away, this time successfully, into a seating position next to her.
Looking back at her with a startled and uncomfortable gaze he noticed her hands were holding his water bottle.
Kiel mentally slapped himself. What was he thinking? Of course, she was after his water bottle that was hooked on his belt.
A few flicks of her fingers and gust of wind seemed to enter the bottle. When she returned it to him, it was full of water. She had just changed ‘shape’ of the air with transmutation magic, filling the bottle with air denser than what was originally inside the bottle. And then she transmuted the air inside of the bottle into water.
Kiel let out a tired laugh.
It took an Aetherneal Bond for her to finally notice his thirst.
Usually, he would refuse help, he didn’t like receiving anything from others. But this time, he was too thirsty and too mentally exhausted to care.
He nodded briefly to say ‘thanks’ before he gulped down the water as if he hadn’t drunk anything in days. The water was fresh, tasty and cold.
Her body was coping with the lack of water much better than his. He could somehow tell she felt slight thirst, yet it paled in comparison to his.
Kiel noticed how she always made a peculiar body movement when she cast magic, although magic was cast with the mind and movement of the body had very little impact on it. It wasn’t strange for mages to perform certain gestures while casting magic. It was easier to visualize magic that way and visualizing magic did make the casting easier. Even beliefs of the mage could impact the casting; if the mage honestly believed his magic was easier to weave while performing specific movement – it would become easier. Most mages started out by mentally mapping magic spells to a particular action.
One could even tell things about the mage from their movements. Assassins and Spies didn’t perform any movements to camouflage their intent while warlocks took the gestures to entirely different level to entertain the audience or ‘look cool’.
Kiel performed certain discrete gestures every once in a while too. Often while weaving magic it just felt unnatural to stay still. Elaru’s gestures were not over the top, they were graceful and quick; they almost seemed too precise. He couldn’t quite put his finger on it but there was something strange about them. As if his mind detected an anomaly but couldn’t quite decipher its meaning.
He shook the thoughts out of his head, it wasn’t important anyway. Her little body movements added something intangible to her character.
Kiel looked up into the burning sun. He felt refreshed by the coldness of the water and let out a long sigh.
Suddenly a shadow obscured his line of sight. Elaru had gotten up from the floor and stood in front of him, blocking the sunlight. She was looking at the sun too, probably determining the time from its position. Elaru scratched her head removing stray leaves that got stuck in her hair. She looked ruffled, her hair tangled like she had been rolling on the forest floor.
Her face looked bright. She mumbled something to herself gleefully. He wouldn’t have been able to hear it before the bond, but now, he managed to pick up several words: “So…works…even for me…”
Elaru inhaled the fresh forest air and turned towards him, her face lighting up with a wide, warm grin. She looked excited, thrilled at what they had done. She lowered her body towards him and offered her hand to help him up.
“Welcome to the secret world of Aethernea my soulbound mate!” She exclaimed without a hint of hesitation or doubt in her voice; to her, this was a splendid day.
Her hair was moving slightly in the breeze, the sunlight behind her giving her a brilliant glow, making her hair shine like it was made out of red glitterdust . Kiel felt a sense of déjà-vu again; this was the second time she offered her hand to him, and the second time that he refused to take it. He wondered if this would be the last time she would extend her hand towards him.
Kiel sighed in resignation and got up on his own. There was no point in crying over spilled milk; no point in sulking; he was an adaptive person, he could handle everything and anything! He’d make the best of his current predicament.
His internal encouraging monolog was interrupted by Elaru’s sudden movement. She stepped towards him and reached for his face.
He froze, unsure of her intentions. Was there something on his face?
In a quick and fluid gesture, she brought her face up to his.
Kiel almost gaped in shock, she didn’t intend to kiss him, did she?! She mentioned she wasn’t romantically interested in him! Was that a lie? He would have pushed her away quickly, just like every other girl that tried to kiss him before, but it happened too suddenly.
His pupils dilated, the time seemed to slow down. He wasn’t quick enough to react. He could only watch in horror as her face came closer to his, seeing every beautiful detail of her enchanting eyes, catching a wisp of a pleasant smell that was similar to cinnamon.
She closed her eyes, parted her lips…
…and pressed her forehead to his.
Vivid memories flew into his mind making him stumble back in shock.
She had, somehow, transmitted her own thoughts to him. She had shown him her own memory, the memory of the Aetherneal bond viewed through the eyes of an Aethernea holder.
It was indescribable.
He could have never imagined just how grand of a spell it actually was. Not even the incredible dance of light that he had witnessed came close to its beauty. That light show was merely a spark created by the giant fire. He would have never known how majestic and complicated of a spell it really was. That was a spell that not even he would be able to weave, even if he knew how and had the mana to do it.
It was truly something out of this world.
It was divine.
From then onwards, the world never again looked the same to Kiel.
Deep inside of him, a wish was born – he wanted to see the world through Elaru’s eyes.
Kiel moved his right hand towards his face to wipe off the sweat that had formed from his exposure to the sunlight. His hand froze in midair.
“Wayvin…what is this?” Kiel stared at the black mark on his right arm. It was on the inner side of his wrist. It looked very similar to Elaru’s markings, they had the same style.
“Ah!” She smiled and took off both of her gloves to show him her own wrists. “And I have a first name. Use it.” Kiel ignored her words and concentrated on her arms.
Unlike him, she had no markings on the right wrist. However, her left arm still had the same elibu markings as before. Kiel looked up to his own mark. It appeared partially the same as elibu markings she had on her left hand.
“That is the mark of the bond. It is a sign of our contract.” She explained. “You can think of it as a seed left by the Aetherneal bond.”
“A seed?” Kiel looked up questioningly from the markings into her eyes.
“Aethernal bond activated something within us and formed this seed that will slowly grow as our bond grows stronger. The mark on your wrist will also grow and evolve to reflect the growth of the bond.”
Kiel frowned. “The spell can grow and evolve?” Kiel had never heard of a spell that could grow and evolve. Growth and evolution were traits of living things. And spells weren’t alive. They weren’t. Right?
“That’s a good thing. As the bond gains power, so will we. Growth isn’t something you should be worried about. It’s the shrinking that is dangerous. You wouldn’t want that to happen.”