Episode 96 – Replica Dungeon
What stood in front of him was the most beautiful elibu female he had ever seen.
She wore an elegant sleeveless white dress that revealed her perfect curves in a modest manner. and made her skin look even paler. Her hair was as white as snow, looking like it was made from strands of silver. It was styled up into a sophisticated hairstyle that looked classy enough to be worn on a ball, yet simple enough to be worn to work.
Her skin was flawless and near translucent, giving her an appearance of a surreal entity. Intricate elibu markings decorating her left arm looked blacker than the deepest of night when compared to the rest of her completely white visage.
She had no wrinkles or blemishes on her face. Therefore, she had to be young, but Kiel found himself unable to tell her age. Her face was both soft like that of a child and sharp like the face of an adult. She had both the air of eternal youth and aged maturity.
Her timeless face was exquisite, almost perfect, the only thing ruining the perfection was her complete lack of emotion. She looked as empty as a porcelain doll, leaving one feeling uncomfortable.
Yet, what caused Kiel’s pupils to shrink in shock was neither her beauty nor his inability to feel her presence.
What caused his heart to still were her eyes.
Her eyes were breathtaking, but that wasn’t what shocked him. He felt as if those eyes could see right through him, as if everything was laid bare in front of those eyes, yet that wasn’t the reason behind his shock either.
No, what shocked him was that they were glowing in a way that was very familiar to Kiel. They were animated, filled with golden, pink and blue lights looking as if they weren’t eyes but the night sky.
Aethernea of Sight?!
Kiel barely managed to stop himself from recoiling in shock.
Who is this person?! This was Kiel’s first time running into someone with an Aethernea who wasn’t Elaru. And it was even the same Aethernea Elaru possessed!
Judging by the pure white hair of this female, she was certainly an Arite – Arites were the only ones in the entire land of Halnea who possessed a pure white hair color.
However, that didn’t make sense. Arites were noble and far above the mundane world. All their children were princes and princesses in the eyes of all Halneans. How could they send one of their own to serve as a host for examinees?
Even if this female was punished for something she did, surely her punishment wouldn’t come in the form of servitude?
“Welcome to the practical exam number 4.” The female’s ethereal voice brought Kiel out of his stupor. That voice was just as timeless and beautiful as her face. And just as her face, it too had only a single flaw – complete and utter lack of any emotion.
“Apologies for my lack of courtesy.” Kiel smiled apologetically and slightly bowed his head. “I am Kiel Rroda, the examinee number 5642.”
Kiel pulled out his exam pass and offered it to the female, however, to say that she showed zero interest in his exam pass would be an understatement. She didn’t even spare it a single glance.
Kiel awkwardly pocketed his exam pass.
“Take a seat.” The female motioned towards the edges of the room filled with empty egg chairs. That’s when Kiel realized that the chairs in the center of the room were already occupied.
The people slumped in the chairs were wearing Muni professor uniforms and looked like they were sleeping.
Kiel nodded to the female and chose a random empty chair. He stepped towards the chair but then paused in his tracks and turned his head towards the female.
“May I have the honor of knowing your name?” Kiel couldn’t help but ask.
He had to catch onto this strand of intel, perhaps it would lead him to more information on the nature of Aethernea?
The woman stared at Kiel wordlessly, her expression just as blank and apathetic as before.
Just when Kiel thought that she wouldn’t respond, she finally opened her mouth: “I am… Mageheart.”
Kiel blinked several times in confusion. Mageheart? What kind of a name is that? Is that some sort of a nickname?
Kiel smiled politely in response and made his way towards the chair.
When he finally sat down, the female spoke up. “Let me know when you become ready for me to transport you to the site of the exam. When the process starts, you will experience a sudden loss of feeling for a brief moment. Don’t panic, that is normal.”
Kiel gazed at the lady, expecting her to continue talking. He expected her to explain that they will be allowed to use up to two magical artifacts in the exam. He expected her to ask which ones he wanted to bring. In preparation for the question, he had even taken out a metallic egg from his pocket that the Elaru had given him yesterday.
Since the only magical artifact Kiel possessed was the ring, Elaru decided to temporarily lend him her egg-shaped artifact. She said that she didn’t need it and wouldn’t use it anyway. However, it might come in handy to him. Since his exam was a battle type exam, in case he was injured and needed to take a breath, or if he needed to block a powerful attack, he could use the egg.
The egg could establish a strong protective barrier around him that could stop anything from entering inside, be it a physical object, a person, mana, or magic. However, since it wasn’t a divine artifact, it couldn’t keep it up indefinitely. It would eventually run out of power.
Depending on the power of the attacks against it, it could last from 20 minutes to several hours. However, since the duration of his exam was 30 minutes, he couldn’t stay inside the barrier for long anyway. Otherwise, the exam would end.
When she offered the egg to him, for a moment, Kiel thought about refusing. He wasn’t used to receiving anything from anyone. Getting such a precious ring from her was already making him feel like he owed her, he couldn’t shamelessly continue receiving her resources.
But then he remembered, she wasn’t just anybody – she was his partner, his ally. The more powerful he became, the better it would be for her as well.
They were in this together.
Therefore, sharing of resources is only to be expected.
Thus, he accepted the egg. Seeing Elaru’s sincere, bright smile only made him feel like it was the correct choice.
She then proceeded to spin the different parts of the egg like a Rubik cube until it was adjusted. She said that it was a form of a password. That only the person who knew the right way to align all the parts would be able to activate the egg. She left a single ring not adjusted at told him in which position he needed to rotate it for the egg to activate.
Kiel clutched the egg in his left hand, waiting for the female to ask him about it. However, she remained silent.
Only after a long moment of silence did Kiel realize that she was waiting for him to declare himself as ready. Perhaps she was able to see with her eyes that he had only two magical artifacts on him, so she didn’t need to ask him which two he wanted to use.
“I am ready.” Kiel spoke out.
The words had barely exited his mouth when the world around him turned completely black. He couldn’t see anything, he couldn’t hear or feel anything either. It was as if he was dreaming. He couldn’t feel the existence of his body, he could feel neither pain nor the beating of his own heart.
The only thing he could feel in this darkness was his own soul. It was still releasing mana, feeding his mind. Telling him that this wasn’t a dream. That he was very much awake.
This strange sensation didn’t surprise Kiel.
Mageheart told him that experiencing a brief moment of blackness was normal and that he would be transported to the site of the exam. However, teleportation never caused such a strange feeling.
If it weren’t for Elaru telling him the secrets of Replica Dungeon yesterday, Kiel would have been very confused.
The blackness lasted only for several seconds before all feeling returned to Kiel. He blinked his eyes repeatedly until the world around him became clear.
He was standing in a small dark stone room. The only light in the room was coming from the exit in front of him.
Through the gaps in the bars sealing the exit, he could see a brightly lit patch of yellowish earth. He recognized it as the arena. He was currently in the waiting room for the participants of the battle. The other participants were probably in the similar rooms positioned all around the arena.
Since the exit was barred, Kiel couldn’t walk out immediately. So instead, he looked at his own hands and flexed his fingers.
A ring, in every way identical to the ring Elaru had given him, was on his right hand. He could feel its enchantment clearly concealing the mark of the Aetherneal bond.
He had been holding a metal egg before the “transport”, and indeed, a metal egg was gripped tightly inside his left hand.
Kiel pocketed the egg and looked towards his belt and his feet. Everything was in order.
He even stealthily pinched the skin on the back of his hand. The sharp pain told him that everything around him was indeed real.
He took a step forward and inhaled a deep breath. A pleasant musky smell of earth entered his nostrils.
There was absolutely nothing strange about this situation. It was as if he had been teleported to a distant place where the exams were supposed to be held – the Replica Dungeon.
Yet he knew that all of it wasn’t as it seemed.
The words Elaru spoke to him yesterday echoed clearly inside his mind:
“Replica Dungeon is a subspace inside the basement of Muni. Each floor is a separate dimension sustained by the divine artifact created by the goddess Luvia Arite.”
“Everything inside the Replica Dungeon is a Replica – a copy of an existing object.”
“For all intents and purposes, Replicas are completely identical to the original. The only difference being that they are sustained by the divine artifact and cannot exist outside of the Replica Dungeon.”
“The only thing that the Replica Dungeon cannot replicate is the soul. Even the gods cannot create the soul and thus neither can the artifacts they left behind.”
“Remember, everything inside the Replica Dungeon is a Replica – even your body. The divine artifact will detach your mind and soul from your true body and reattach them to the Replica body.”
“Your true body will remain safe exactly where you left it, in the basement of Muni. Even though your soul will be temporarily attached to your Replica body, the artifact will ensure that your true body receives enough mana to sustain it until you repossess it.”
“Once the exam is done, the artifact will reattach your mind and soul back to your original body.”
If not for Elaru’s explanation, Kiel would have no idea that the body he was currently moving, the nose he was using to smell the earth, the eyes that he was using to see the particles of dirt, everything was only a copy.
Suddenly, a loud voice coming from outside woke Kiel up from his inner thoughts: “Welcome to the Muni practical exam. You will be pitted against 9 others in a free for all skirmish. Show us all your prowess. You can kill and be killed without worry. No one will truly die. All of the injuries of the people present will be completely healed upon exiting the Replica Dungeon.”
If Elaru hadn’t explained to him the nature of the Replica Dungeon, Kiel would have thought this place to be just like all other Arenas which were in possession of a Memory divine artifact with the ability to restore a damaged or destroyed body.
Yet, Replica Dungeon wasn’t like the Arenas.
It was completely different.
“The battle will last 30 minutes. The more people that are left undefeated by the end of those 30 minutes, the lower your score will be. You have 5 minutes to prepare for the battle.”
These 5 minutes of preparation were meant to give mages the opportunity to set up battle enchantments.
Kiel used them to reinforce his body and sword. He even enveloped his body and sword in a Temperature isolation barrier in case some of the participants used Temperature based attacks.
He thickened his mage armor and aura, so that he would have plenty of mana available for future use.
He even cast a sustained Acceleration spell on himself so he would be able to fly at a moment’s notice.