Episode 9 – Soulbound
“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.”
“I see; it is a state indicator. Useful.” Kiel inspected his mark. It didn’t look bad at all. It resembled a tribal tattoo. He always wanted to get one of those. His true persona did, the false one disagreed. A tattoo wasn’t appropriate for the image he was trying to uphold.
“Why don’t you have one? You weaved the spell with your right hand, but you have no mark there.” Kiel asked. “Is it because you already have elibu markings on the left side?”
Elaru nodded. “Yeah. My elibu markings became my mark of the bond. Now they serve the same purpose as your mark. If the bond starts losing power, my markings will shrink. If it starts gaining power, your markings will grow.”
Ah, so that’s how it is. Her markings shrink, and his grow.
“Will my mark grow to look like yours? Spawning from the wrist to the face?” She shrugged.
Kiel suddenly felt a sense of dread. He had missed something.
“Wait…define ‘dangerous’! What will happen if the mark starts shrinking? And didn’t you say that the spell was symmetrical, why are there differences between us?” His eyes narrowed in suspicion.
“I don’t know what would happen if the bond started shrinking, but I was warned that I should avoid it.” She shrugged again.
Kiel stared at her. What could possibly happen? Would they gradually lose the powers granted to them by the bond? Or is it something far worse?
“You claimed previously that the contract was harmless! How could you…” Elaru interrupted Kiel in midsentence.
“Actually, I said that signing the contract was harmless. Never said that the actual effect after the signing would be.” She smirked. “I don’t know the effects of the bond that well. There might or might not be any harmful effects.”
Kiel gaped in shock. She tricked him!
Her eyes twinkled and she added:
“It is symmetrical. The manifestation of the mark is the only difference between us; it isn’t an issue of the spell but rather racial differences.”
So the spell does the same thing, but their bodies respond differently?
He had asked her about a catch, and she didn’t mention anything. Now he understood why. Kiel almost face-palmed himself. If she didn’t know of any setback then telling him there were none wouldn’t have been a lie! Why was she so eager to get into something she wasn’t fully informed about?! He thought her to be smarter than that!
Kiel sighed in annoyance. This won’t do. He needed to find out exactly what Aetherneal Bond was and what it did to him. He knew nothing about it; Elaru didn’t seem to know much either.
All Kiel knew was that it was an Aetherneal spell of grand proportions that penetrated through the core of what makes him – him, and twisted it, modifying it beyond recognition. It had engraved itself deep inside of him, he could feel it in his every breath, in his every heartbeat.
Kiel couldn’t rely on what Elaru thought she knew nor could he be sure she wouldn’t twist the truth and deceive him again.
For all he knew, it could be a life draining spell or a curse. It might have been a forbidden spell that would eventually turn him into a monster or devour his soul forever breaking his cycle of reincarnation.
Kiel knew better than anyone that everything in this world came with a price. This bond was not a gift; it was an exchange. And he needed to find out exactly what he was offering to it.
He needed to find out as much as he could about it, discretely. His best bet was to search for it in the library of Ashar University of Magic. It was the largest vault of magic related knowledge in the entire land of Halnea.
He sighed again, this time in resignation. He should hope for the best and tackle one thing at a time. He would look for it when he managed to become a student. There was no point in thinking about it now.
Kiel looked at his mark again trying to decide what to do about it.
“You’ll have to hide your mark. My markings don’t attract attention because I am an elibu, but our bond might get discovered if a wrong person sees yours. You should get a pair of gloves or arm protectors.” Elaru spoke solemnly.
Kiel nodded in agreement. He intended to hide it anyway. It didn’t agree with the false image of himself he tried to uphold.
“Should we hide our ability to use pure mana as well?” Kiel hadn’t thought about it before, but even that fact would be suspicious. Hiding it would be simple because mana type isn’t something that could be ‘felt’.
There weren’t many ways to determine mana type, usually the method used was quite straightforward: weave one augmentation and one transmutation spell, if only the augmentation spell activates then you have augmentation type mana, if weaved transmutation spell activates instead – you have transmutation type mana, if both activate you have pure mana. As long as he used only augmentation magic, no one would ever know he possessed pure mana.
“We could hide it, but…” She paused shortly. “…all this soul binding business is meaningless if we can’t be free to use the powers we’ve gained.”
Kiel wouldn’t mind using only augmentation type magic for the rest of his life – for a non-mage, being able to just use magic, any magic, was a blessing. However, he couldn’t wholeheartedly disagree with her. Saying that he had no desire to be able to cast transmutation and arcane magic would be a lie.
“Don’t worry. It’s fine if people know that we have pure mana as long as they don’t connect it with the Aetherneal bond.” She continued.
“Wouldn’t that family make the connection from the start?” Kiel frowned softly.
“No. Neither you nor I have a relation to them so the possibility of our power coming from Aetherneal Bond won’t even cross their mind – as long as there is a perfectly simple and logical explanation for it.”
“Which would be?” Kiel questioned.
“Mana purifying artifact.” She smirked.
Mana purifying artifacts were ancient artifacts left behind by gods with the ability to purify mana. They were considered rare, but since they were indestructible, all noble families had managed to collect a few in the past millennia. In fact, the last time he checked, his family was in possession of 4 such artifacts. She had a point – to outsiders it wouldn’t be strange if a noble possessed such an artifact. The only ones that would question his possession of it would be his own family.
Kiel laughed a quiet, bittersweet laugh. So that’s why she chose him. A commoner in possession of such an artifact would be outrageous, a noble on the other hand – not strange at all. Her calculation went even beyond that – he was a noble that felt no loyalty towards his own family – a person who could easily hide a secret which could bring much prosperity to his family for his own benefit, a person that would be ready to lie and deceive everyone – for that’s what he had been doing all his life.
Everything had been a well thought out move!
Elaru Wayvin might seem reckless and impulsive, but that was just a mask. Just like his own false persona, it was a mask hiding the calculating monster inside. Which means that she probably had a good reason to enact this bond without fully knowing of its effects.
“You make a very valid point. However, how do you suggest I explain all this to my family? If they believed me to have such an artifact they would surely take it away from me and give it someone else. As I mentioned, I don’t hold a high position in my family.”
Elaru’s mouth twitched into a lopsided smile, her eyes twinkling mischievously.
“You just need to tell two different stories. One story for your family members, and the other for everyone else. To your family, you can say that your latent potential had finally awakened. Since every argel has the ability to activate the bond – using pure mana is a latent potential. It just needs to be activated with the bond. That way even if they forced an oath of truth upon you, you could still claim it to be true.”
Kiel raised his eyebrow.
“I’ve never heard of anyone’s mana regeneration suddenly increasing out of the blue. That doesn’t happen. My grandfather isn’t that naïve, even if I am under the oath of truth, he would still not believe it.” He sighed again in exasperation. He expected her to come up with something better.
She smirked, the mischievous glint never leaving her eyes.
“He doesn’t need to believe it to be the truth. What he needs to believe is that you don’t know what happened. And if you tell him that your mana regeneration increased because you had awakened your latent potential, while under the oath of truth – he will conclude you don’t know the actual reason and leave you be.”
Kiel’s eyes widened. Of course! Feigning ignorance! That might work!
He felt a single drop of sweat rolling down his neck. Elaru’s ability to twist the truth was unsettling. She might have been manipulating him all along, twisting the facts, weaving a new version of the truth.
“I get it. I can do that. But I’ll need a dummy artifact to make others believe it to be the source of my pure mana.” He mused softly, his eyes staring at her, his gaze strong, unwavering.
“Way ahead of you mate. I know just where to get one.” She barely resisted puffing up her chest in pride.
Kiel looked at her suspiciously.
Elaru looked at him in confusion. “Why what?”
“Why would you get me such an artifact? Wouldn’t it be simpler for you to just forbid me from using any magic besides augmentation? Why go through the trouble just so I can be free to use arcane and transmutation magic?”
No matter how he looked at it, it didn’t make any sense. Did she not trust him to be able to keep his pure mana a secret? Surely it wasn’t because she actually wanted to help him out?
She blinked at him, twice, before answering. “What is simpler to get, a dummy artifact or an arcane contract forbidding you to use transmutation and arcane magic?” – She paused briefly before answering her own question. – “The artifact is much simpler and cheaper to obtain.”
Elaru shrugged. “Besides, it doesn’t seem fair that I can use all three types of magic and you can’t.”
Kiel sighed in resignation. If she wanted to help him out, he wouldn’t complain.
“How long will it take you to obtain such an artifact?”
“A few days. I can get it before the Ashar entrance exams start.”
Kiel nodded in agreement. “Alright. Let’s meet in front of the university an hour before the beginning of the exams. You can give me the artifact then.”
The smile on Elaru’s face froze for a few moments before it turned blank, her lips pressing into a line. Kiel thought she probably wanted to test out telepathy or similar effects of the bond. However, he had no intention to communicate with her; he just needed that artifact and her mana. After that, there was no need for him to see her again.
It was time for them to go their separate ways. He had much to do – he needed to pack and leave for Ashar to sign up for the exams. And she needed to hunt down a rather hard to find artifact.
“I am grateful for your help Elaru Wayvin.” Kiel squeezed out. It’s better to leave things on good terms. She is not a person he would like to have as an enemy. And she could always change her mind and not get him that artifact.
“You’ve already confirmed we can send memories to each other. I think it is safe to assume that this contract was a success and part our ways.”
Her blank look disappeared replaced by a nervous laugh. A tense face looked strange on a confident person such as Elaru.
“Ah…I suppose you didn’t really connect the dots huh?” She scratched her head grinning sheepishly.
Hairs on Kiel’s neck stood up in alarm. “Excuse me?”
“We are now soulbound. Our souls are literally glued to each other.”
Kiel didn’t like where this was going. “Yes, I am aware of that. What is your point?”
She swallowed before explaining.
“One soul can only be at one place at a time, and we effectively have one soul now. When we move away from each other, our soul switches place to be right between us. Farther apart we get from each other, farther apart we get from our soul. Farther apart from the soul we are, more the mana has to travel from the soul to our body and mind to sustain it.”
Elaru paused briefly to catch a breath.
“The mark of the bond is a direct link to our soul and its main function is to continuously transfer the mana from the soul to our bodies. However, how much it can transfer depends on the growth level of the bond and the distance from the soul. If we pass a certain limit…” Elaru directed a meaningful look towards Kiel.
Kiel froze. His lips quietly voiced out the continuation. “…we get weaker and weaker to the point of feeling excruciating pain and ultimately death?”
Of course. It made perfect sense. Mana was life itself. Both mind and body needed mana to stay alive. Mana deficiency leads to weakness, excruciating pain, and death. Why didn’t this occur to him before?! How could he miss something so obvious?!
The aura around Kiel changed, temperature dropping rapidly, his face twisted into a coldest glare he could muster. His heart was clenching, his fury boiling.
“Weakness? Excruciating pain? You told me there were no disadvantages to this bond! How is being glued to you like a Siamese twin not a disadvantage?!”
She smiled apologetically. “I thought this side effect was obvious! Besides, being with me isn’t a drawback; we are going to the same place anyways.”
Kiel’s face kept darkening. Elaru quickly tried to salvage the situation.
“It is only a temporary disadvantage. Since we just established the bond, it’s just in its initial phases and mana transferring function isn’t powerful. Therefore, it’s only able to transfer a small amount of mana from the soul to us directly, which limits the range we can be away from each other. As the level increases, its efficiency will increase as well, so eventually, we won’t need to be near each other at all.”
“And what do we do until then?! How do we even raise the level?!” Kiel bit his tongue, preventing himself from a further anger outburst uncharacteristic for him. Elaru smiled and waved his hand at him dismissively.
“No problem, no problem. Like I said, we are going to the same place – Ashar University of Magic, so being close enough isn’t an issue! And surely by the time we both graduate our bond would have improved enough already!” She grinned. “Just like I said, no disadvantage at all!”
In all her life, Elaru Wayvin had never been so wrong.
A noble non-mage chained by his own past, bound to a nameless tracker whose entire existence depended on the dense veil of countless secrets.
It had been a foolish idea from the start. A dangerous, foolish idea, born out of desperation, put into action by unrealistic hope.
Yet, neither the grinning Elaru nor fist and teeth clenching Kiel noticed how this single limitation would utterly twist their life.