An indescribably chilling sensation burst out from within my mana core as I activated Realmheart. Liquid frost coursed through my veins, desperately seeking a way out of my body. I watched the golden runes begin to form on my arms, glowing hotly against my frigid skin as my vision began to achromatize.
“I was only able to catch a glimpse of what your runes looked like earlier, but it truly is fascinating,” Myre mumbled to herself as she studied me.
Remaining seated and motionless as my caretaker continued to inspect the engravings on my body, I couldn’t help but become enthralled at what I was experiencing. This was the first time that I had actually taken a step back to study the changes in my perception while using Realmheart; watching the different particles move as if they each contained intellect and a goal in mind made me realize why magic was more accurately described as “mana manipulation” in this world.
Testing out a hunch I had in mind, I willed a small ember to appear at the tip of my finger. Sure enough, the red particles around me began to react as I conjured the fire. Even though what I had used was the refined mana from my core, there was a definitive response to the particles around my finger. I did this using spells from different elements to see the response in the particles, but no matter what I did, only the purple specks remained unchanged.
“Having fun, are we?” The asura was still in her Realmheart form as well. Her soft purple eyes peered through me as the edges of her lips curled upward in amusement.
“How is it that I’ve never noticed this?” I asked, more to myself than to her.
“It’s understandable that you would assume that this form was some power-up rather than a means to observe and study what cannot normally be perceived.” Letting go of my arm that she had been examining, Myre took a few steps back. “I’m not exactly sure how long you’re able to stay in this form now that you’ve broken through to a stage where you can sense aether, but there are a few things I want you to see before you release Realmheart.”
The asura raised a hand in front of her for me to see, her eyes narrowed in concentration. Suddenly, the purple particles around us that had refused to comply to my will slowly began to drift towards Myre. The movements of each tiny glimmer of purple seemed to differ from one another. Rather than manipulating mana, it appeared more like the asura was herding in a legion of tiny fireflies toward her hand.
“As I mentioned earlier, aether behaves fundamentally different from mana. You will be met with only failure if you try to manipulate aether as you have done with mana. Let me reiterate my point with the cup-of-water analogy since it has worked so well for us until now. You can drink, gargle, and spit out water as long as you know how, but you would be a fool if you tried the same thing with the cup. Aether is present all around us, yet it is the very boundary that confines us to the limits you and I have,” she explained as the particles of aether began drifting around the hand that she held up until it was completely enveloped. “Vivum, the influence over all living components. This is the very power I had used to piece back together your shattered legs.”
The silver mist that Myre had shot out at me in demonstration earlier looked like a purple cloud surrounding her hand while I was in Realmheart. However, when she released her influence over the aether, the tiny particles dispersed back to their original space.
“I saw the aether gathering in your hand, but how does that form into vivum? How did that heal my legs?” A million and more questions were running through my head. On one end, being able to witness and perceive this spectacle was truly a good fortune, but seeing this just filled me with frustration at my lack of comprehension.
“Subsequent to finding out that my affinity lied toward the branch of life, I studied vivum for centuries. However, even then, I am unconfident that I would be able to explain to you what you truly wish to know,” she confessed solemnly. “What I can explain with certainty is limited.”
“I want to learn.” I stared at her, determined to grasp what I could.
While her eyes remained solemn, a slight smile formed. “Very well. First thing you need to know is that, unlike mana, you cannot absorb aether; you are merely changing its presence and influence to reality.”
“Does that mean a core isn’t needed to be able to influence aether?”
“An individual’s core is what connects the body to the physical realm, so while aether isn’t directly manipulated in the way that mana is, the mana core is crucial,” she responded. While Myre’s words were simple enough, they reflected a deep wisdom that couldn’t be compared to mine.
“You will realize your path when the time comes, but since you are still in the beginning stages of your cultivation, it is best not to overwhelm you with knowledge that is unnecessary for now,” she continued, smiling gently at me. “For now, just know that after a certain extent, your cultivation will cease to depend on the rote ability to refine mana, but depend on gaining insight into knowledge that cannot be passed down.”
I pondered over her cryptic words. My brain was itching with questions but I knew now wasn’t the time to be asking them.
She nodded in contentment as I waited for her to continue. “I’m not sure if this is mere coincidence or fate, but there is a reason why you can—as limited as it is—utilize aether. Can you guess what it is?”
“I thought it was because of Sylvia’s will?” I answered.
“It is partly because of Sylvia’s will that you are able to bear the burden of aether, but not the reason you are able to manipulate it.”
There was only one other answer that came to mind. “Is it because I’m able to manipulate all four elements?”
“Precisely!” Myre praised. “It is through the ability to gain insight into all four of the fundamental elements that we were able to take a look beyond the water and realize the glass cup that we are held in.”
“Doesn’t that mean dragons are much stronger than the other races?” I remarked.
Shaking her head, the asura clarified. “We certainly hold a fair advantage over the other race. We dragons have the ability to control aether, but to what extent? Even the most powerful dragons are only able to scratch the boundless surface of what aether can possibly do. However, the other races hold much deeper insight into the element that they are predisposed to compared to dragons.”
I wasn’t sure how long we had been talking but I began to feel my strength leaving me from using Realmheart. Noticing my strained expression, Myre expressed that it was okay for me to withdraw the ability.
Color began permeating back into the world as I released Realmheart, and as always, the runes were the last to disappear. “So, Myre, have you found out what ability of aether is best suited for me?” I asked, letting out a relieved breath.
“Yes, but before you get too excited, allow me to forewarn you that even I cannot predict whether or not you will be able to consciously control aether like we can. Even though you do possess the ability to manipulate all four elements and have gained both a dragon’s will and the Realmheart Physique, you are still a human.” While her message was harsh, her words held no pretension or condescension.
“I see,” I muttered. I would’ve been lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed. In a world of not just humans but other races—more powerful ones—that coexisted, I was beginning to see this invisible ceiling that I had been ignorant of in my past life.
“Like I had mentioned before, you cannot compare aether to mana. Aether can be thought of as an organism, almost sentient, that needs to be coaxed and coerced into action. Because of this, the manipulation of aether places a heavy burden on the caster. You’ve probably felt this every time you used the time manipulation ability.”
“You’re right. And no matter how many times I’ve used it, it doesn’t get any easier,” I confessed, leaning against the wooden headboard of my bed.
“And I doubt it ever will. My dear, although I’m unsure as to why the ability to manipulate time, albeit briefly, showed itself to you, you were never meant to go down the route of aevum.” Taking out a pen and a small parchment from the nightstand drawer, she began drawing some symbols. “Arthur, you were able to tap into aether manipulation only because of Sylvia’s will, but I imagine that you weren’t able to get a grasp of how it works.”
“In terms of theory, I still have no idea as to how it occurs,” I acknowledged reluctantly. Using the first phase of Sylvia’s will allowed me to stop time for a brief moment but whenever I had used that ability, it felt like I was simply looking at a manuscript in a foreign language: I knew what it looked like, but I had no idea how to read it or what it meant.
“This is why.” Myre held up the small paper she had been writing on, revealing an array of familiar symbols. “Just like Sylvia had, you were meant to control the very fabric of the boundaries that keeps the physical realm in place; you are of the spatium genus.”
Despite the revelation, I wasn’t happy. Not at all. “But, as you’ve said, regardless of this knowledge, it’s still fairly possible that I wouldn’t be able to consciously control this ability.”
Myre regarded me with a solemn gaze but didn’t respond.
“From what you’ve told me so far, I was only able to even use the time manipulation ability because it was pre-embedded into the will that Sylvie imparted to me before she was killed.” I was doing my best to contain my frustration, but my voice was growing steadily louder. “Please, Myre. Tell me what I need to do. So far, everything you’ve told me about this grand ability is that I have the qualifications for it, but because of the physical limitations of my species, I wouldn’t be able to handle the burden!”
The asura stayed quiet for long time, doing nothing else but combing softly through my ruffled hair. “I truly pity you, Child. You have such an overwhelming potential for greatness, but your capacity is hindered by something you cannot control. The reason I told you everything that I have is not to mock you for something you will never be able to accomplish, but rather to encourage you to do something beyond the ordinary. Even as you progress into the white stage and beyond, you may be unable to control aether like dragons can, but that does not mean you do not have that ability at your disposal. Knowledge is an immeasurable strength that can overcome the boundaries that even asuras place on themselves.”
“You’re right, I’m sorry for taking my frustrations out on you. I know you only mean to do what is best for me,” I whispered.
“Yes, my child. Only what is best for you,” she echoed. When I looked up at Myre, however, her face was lined deeply with an expression of sorrow.
“Arthur. I have broken many rules by imparting all this knowledge to you. This knowledge can certainly be used against the dragon race if it fell into the wrong hands, so please believe me when I say that I truly do wish for what is best for you.”
I still couldn’t figure out why Myre had shown so much care for me since the beginning, but if there was one thing I had learned in my previous life, it was being able to read the intentions of those around me. The asura meant well despite the fact that we knew very little of each other.
“Even if Realmheart cannot be utilized to its full extent, it can become an irreplaceable asset in the coming battles through its sensory functions. With Realmheart, your ability to manipulate all four elements, as well as your remarkable combat prowess, you have many tools at your disposal to take advantage of…” Myre’s voice trailed off, filling me with apprehension for her next words.
“But?” I asked.
Letting out a deep breath, she took a moment and stared into my eyes. “But this movement technique that you’ve created, the one that placed you into my home in that horrid state…cannot be one of them.”
As if her words weren’t clear enough already, she clarified for me once more.
“Never use that technique again.”