Chapter 251: The Next Message
I bristled in anger at the sight of the black ball of flames.
“Why…” I seethed.
“Why what?” it looked back in confusion. It’s expression was so lifelike, so…sentient, that it infuriated me even more.
“Why?!” I roared, taking a slow and painful swing at Regis.
My hand slipped through its snarky face, the momentum causing me to lose balance in this debilitating body. I toppled forward, slamming my face hard on the cold smooth floor of wherever the hell I was.
“Don’t do that!” the will-o-wisp snapped before muttering, “…I feel violated.”
Rage continued to bubble up and rise as I stared at my left hand, the exact spot on my palm that Regis had come from. “Why. Why the hell are you here now? After years of draining my mana and doing what you want, why do you appear now?”
I whipped my head up, glaring at the black flame. My vision blurred as tears welled up in my eyes. “If you had come out earlier, I could’ve won. I could’ve saved everyone!”
A trace of what looked almost like…guilt manifested on Regis’ face before the horned will-o-wisp shook its head and turned away. “Well aren’t you a ray of sunshine. Even asuras would die trying to fight over a sentient weapon yet here you are, moping about—”
“I needed you,” I whispered, tears dripping on the ground beneath my face as I clawed the smooth floor.
Regis remained silent as I let all of the emotions out of my system. I was angry at Regis, but I was doing the same thing—using him as an excuse for my own failures.
After some time had passed, my tears ran dry and my parched throat started letting out raspy stutters trying to take in more air.
Regis’ voice sounded from a small distance. “There’s a pool of clean water here. Drink before you cry yourself into a mummy.”
I hesitated, not knowing whether I even deserved water when the small iridescent egg glistened in the corner of my eyes.
“Yes, that’s it. You can do it! Do it for that rock!” Regis cheered, hovering around me like a fly I couldn’t reach.
Pushing aside all of the emotions that weighed down on my body, I dragged myself in the direction Regis led me.
My milky pale arms looked foreign to me, even as I moved. I felt like I was still in a full suit of armor despite being almost bare.
Time crawled alongside me as I slowly pulled myself across the smooth floor, my biggest source of motivation getting my strength back to shut Regis up.
“Come on, pretty boy, almost there,” he continued.
“Shut…up…” I mustered, my voice barely coming out as a wheeze.
“If you have the strength to drawl, you have the strength to crawl!” he intoned.
I’ll kill him, I decided.
I focused my attention on the marble fountain beckoning for me, spouting water so clearly and silently from the top that it looked like glass.
After struggling once more, trying to pull myself up over the rounded base that held the water, I immediately buried my head inside.
It felt like I had slammed my face into a wall of ice, but I didn’t care. I opened my mouth and gulped it all in, the water crisp and cool as it rushed down my throat.
My body continued to swallow mouthfuls of water until I couldn’t hold my breath any longer.
“Gah!” I pulled my head out, gasping for breath, when a curtain of beige covered my vision.
I tried moving it aside, assuming that maybe the back of my shirt had fallen over my head, when Regis chortled behind me.
“You’re acting like a pup seeing its own tail for the first time.”
“What are you talking about?” I grunted, still trying to flip my shirt off of my head.
“That’s your hair, oh-wise-one.”
“Huh? That’s impossi…” I looked down, seeing my reflection for the first time since waking up. My eyes widened.
The person staring back at me looked a lot like myself yet a bit older, with sharper features and skin the same milky white as my arms.
The red scar around my throat that I had gotten from the witch was no longer there, showing only a smooth long neck and adam’s apple.
But what shocked me the most were the changes in my hair and eyes. My eyes were a piercing gold and the color seemed to have been completely washed out of my once-auburn hair. The head of deep reddish brown was now a grayish wheat color, even more pale than Sylvie’s hair in her human form.
My chest tightened at the sight of my reflection, my own hair and eyes now a sore reminder of what my bond had done for me.
“W-What is this? Why do I—” A scream suddenly tore out from my throat as a searing pain ignited inside me, as if my mana core had caught on fire.
My vision doubled and became hazy until I heard a voice. It was one that I hadn’t heard in a long time, but one I could never forget.
“Hello, Art, this is Sylvia.”
My heart pounded against my ribs as excitement rose up. “S-Sylvia?”
“I recorded this at the same time as my first message to you, but I suspect that, for you, it has been quite a while since hearing my voice. Haha, I suppose I should say that it has been a while.”
I let out a laugh as I felt fresh tears stream down my cheeks.
“I’m conflicted by the fact that you’re hearing this message. On the one hand, I’m proud that you’ve been able to get to where you are now. But the fact that you’ve had to push yourself to this point means that life has not been easy for you, perhaps even more difficult than your previous one.”
I felt the weight of her somber tone but continued to listen.
“Having gotten to this stage means that you’ve had to battle foes much stronger than you in life-or-death situations and based on history, I can only assume that it would be Agrona and the Vritra that serve him.”
I bristled at the mention of Agrona’s name, but Sylvia’s voice only seemed sad…almost heartbroken.
“I figure that a war between Agrona and the asuras is inevitable, and Dicathen can only be caught in the middle of it. There is much to tell you with the limited amount of information I can store without it being traceable so I shall be succinct.
“With my daughter as your bond and the fact that you are reborn, my father will most likely have taken extreme measures to bring you in and most likely even train you. And through your exposure to my people, you’ve most likely received a very one-sided story.”
Again, Sylvia’s voice was tinged with sadness.
“The tension between the Vritra and the other asuran clans are not as simple as they’ve made it out to you. Unlike fairy tales and bedtime stories for children, life does not always have a good and bad side—only a ‘my side’ and ‘their side.’
“Agrona can’t be forgiven for all of the atrocities he has committed over the centuries, but neither can the other asuras—myself included.”
Confusion replaced and overwhelmed my other emotions.
“Agrona, who had always been fascinated by the lives of lessers, had been the one to uncover the ruins of a civilization of mages. Mages that had learned to harness aether.
“And it was only a matter of time after this discovery that he found why they had fallen despite their technological and magical—both mana and aether—advancements. Centuries ago, the Indrath clan had brought upon genocide of these ancient mages.”
What? Why would they kill off a—my questions were interrupted by Sylvia’s answer in her message.
“The Indrath Clan had been distinguished as leaders of the other asuran clans and basically revered as beings closest to true gods not just for our strength but because our control over aether could not be replicated by any others. But after, one of the emissaries from the Indrath Clan discovered that there were a reclusive civilization of lessers that were able to harness their powers.
“Fearing that their power and authority would be questioned, the elders ordered for their…elimination. From what I’ve been told, unlike our clan that had developed and trained our aether arts for battle, these ancient mages had only sought to improve life through technological advancements.”
Sylvia let out a sigh and remained silent for a few moments before continuing.
“Needless to say, their genocide had been kept as the Indrath Clan’s darkest secret and their technology had been concealed and studied, but because of how elaborate their underground cities were, we were never sure if we had truly discovered all that they had hidden. Which is why the lesser kin of dragons inhabit both Alacrya and Dicathen, making sure even now that there aren’t any of the ancient mages left alive.
“Agrona had found one of these concealed ruins and threatened to expose the Indrath Clan for their wrongdoings and noblesse oblige that we asuras held over lessers. You can imagine how my clan elders reacted to this. Taking advantage of the fact that Agrona loved to disguise himself to sneak off to Dicathen and Alacrya for his research, they accused him of having intimate relations with lessers before exiling him to Alacrya.”
I shook my head. It was such a cliché—even amongst higher, older beings, there was still political strife.
“My biggest regret was allowing my family to completely destroy the life of my betrothed…and my unborn child’s father.”
My jaw slackened as I felt my eyes bulge from their sockets. So not only did Agrona not escape Epheotus like Windsom had told me, Agrona was also Sylvia’s future husband and Sylvie’s father?
“Signs of my pregnancy only showed only a few months after Agrona had been exiled. Normally, a new member of the Indrath Clan being born was a rare and celebrated occasion but I knew that neither my clan nor any of the clans of the Great Eight would approve of me having this child, and so when I learned one night that my father was planning an assassination for Agrona in Alacrya, I knew I had to get to Agrona first.
“I confess that I was young and foolish, Arthur. Rebelling against my parents for depriving me of the man I thought I loved, I found Agrona in Alacrya before the unit my father had sent after him could. It was then that I found, not the coy and charming knowledge-seeker I had fallen in love with, but a man driven mad after the betrayal of his clansmen and his love—me.
“He and his loyal followers from the Vritra Clan had scoured through the buried texts of the ancient mages and tried to build upon their work in a different direction, using the lessers as test subjects. I do not know what his end plans are aside from conquering Epheotus, but he had been investigating an element—an edict, higher than what aether encompasses, above that of time, space, and life. Fate.”
The word ‘fate’ immediately brought to mind one person. Elder Rinia. She was not only a diviner but someone who could control aether. She had expressed adamantly that she was not related to the ancient mages but…
My brain hurt from trying to wrap all of this information together.
“Fate ties into not only the life we live in now but lives elsewhere and elsewhen.”
My breath hitched.
“I would surmise this sounding familiar to you. Fate, afterall, is the core component to reincarnation. Agrona believed that the vessel was the key component in forceful application of reincarnation, which is why I could not risk you falling into Agrona’s hands. After finding out that I had carried a child from both the basilisk and dragon lineage, he kept me imprisoned until I gave birth. Of course, I couldn’t let my child be subject to his cruel experiments so I locked my child in the pocket dimension that I created within the stone.
“As I have said before, I could not figure out the scope of Agrona’s plans before my escape, but I found that there are four ruins built by the ancient mages that he nor any other asurans are able to cross into. I was able to imprint and pass on the locations of these four major ruins that Agrona had been breeding and sending lessers into in hopes to learn more about what is down there.
“What I am leaving you with is not some grand quest; that was never my intention. But if you are in a situation where you are lost or feel weak and outnumbered, perhaps the answer Agrona is looking for is the answer you are as well.
“Take care of my daughter and yourself. Goodbye, little one.”
Just like that, Sylvia’s voice faded, leaving me stunned in such complete silence that it was palpable. It was only when Regis appeared out of my body that I jolted out of my daze.
“Well, that was a lot to take in,” the black will-o-wisp said, letting out a sigh.
I stared at him, dumbfounded. “You were able to hear all of that?”
“Why else would I want to literally be inside you.” He rolled his eyes. “Now, I’ve got some good news and bad news—well, two pretty good news and one really bad news. What do you want to hear first?”
I hobbled back to the area where the iridescent stone was and picked my bond up—Sylvia’s daughter that she had entrusted me to take care of.
“Let’s just start with the good news,” Regis said, hovering in front of me. “Based on what I discovered while you were lying over there half-dead, I think we’re actually in one of the hidden ruins of the ancient mages.”
I pried my gaze off of the stone in my hand and looked up. “What?”
“Yup, take a look at the door on the opposite end of this room. Along with the dried blood and drinkable water fountain, I’d say that this is some sort of waiting grounds for whatever horrendous challenges that the ancient mages built to keep outsiders from whatever knowledge is stored at the bottom.”
After looking at the metal door etched with runes along the frame, I studied Regis.
“You’re pretty smart,” I admitted.
Regis gasped. “I have gained master’s approval! I am worthy!”
Ignoring him, I looked back down at the small stone in my hand.
“The second good news is one you probably guessed, but I confirmed that Sylvie is alive by taking a peek inside.”
“You went inside here?” I asked, holding up the stone.
“Bite me. I was curious,” he—assuming by the timbre of his voice—quipped. “Anyway, your bond used a high-level vivum art to give you some of her asuran body in order to save you…”
Regis’ eyes turned sharp. “Which leads me to the bad news.I don’t think you were able to hear Sylvia’s message because you’ve ascended past the white core stage. In fact, your core is damaged beyond recognition.”