Chapter 24: Winter’s Cruel Bite
“Are you sure you don’t want to start with something easier? A constant enchantment is much more difficult to cast than a permanent one.”
Washing yet another chalk drawing off the dress, Nisha didn’t give in to the old elf’s attempt to dissuade her.
During the past three days she had repeated this gesture countless times, designing many arrays differencing slightly from one another for the [Fire Wall] spell she wished to bequeath on the fabric.
“At least change the element, creating a variant spell that would hide someone with the darkness element is probably a lot easier.”
The enchantment the dragon girl wished to create indeed had a close connection with obscurity, she wanted to develop her own variant spell like Eldrin had with his own [Water Wall].
The idea that had originally inspired her were the various enchanted and inscribed items throughout the house that did not need to be supplied with mana or aura, yet still had some kind of effect on their surroundings.
Bringing up this odd occurrence to her teacher, he had no choice but to tell her about a more advanced topic.
Unlike active enchantments, a few selected spells exhibited their effect until their mana reserve was used up, effectively creating a passive effect.
Animated by the new concept, Nisha had settled on creating a clothing that would allow her adopted sisters to roam the forest like her, unseen and unbound.
I can take them back to the den with me then, and introduce them to my other siblings. I hope they will get along.
Creating such an item however was not something even the genius girl was able to accomplish in a short time. She had started by creating temporary designs of a normal [Fire Wall] on the dress with a piece of chalk and was washing it off every time it did not achieve the desired effect.
The chalk lines effectively replaced a stitching or carving on the material to test an enchantment before permanently fixing it in place.
Driven by her interest in the new subject, the dragon had repeated the process many times and quickly acquired the basics of enchanting, the patterns she drew up now worked without fail and were producing a regular fiery barricade every time she supplied it mana.
Initially delighted to make progress with the conception of the red screen of dancing fire mana, as she was seeing it in her [Spirit Vision], Nisha had then remembered how Eldrin had camouflaged the house with his own illusory spell, and thus had began to aspire to make something similar.
“If I really can’t get you to think about it again, I can try to guide you at least. It’s a shame that you are only in possession of the fire and dark element, I personally have only ever trained with water mana and seen my own master cultivate light mana.”
Sitting on one of the armchairs in the living room, the tired elf interjected while Nisha was wringing out the wet clothing, ready to go at it once again.
He had not been walking out of the mansion recently and sitting in the chair when he was teaching his adopted granddaughter seemed to be all he could muster from his exhausted body.
“A variant spell varies from both the normal and unique approach, because they interact with the world after being casted.
With the same incantation everyone produces the same spell, that’s why those kind of spells are called by standard names.
A unique spell is something that either completely changes the effect or the ability of a technique, and as such receives a new name suiting the incantation, it’s a rare occurrence that many mages aspire to come into possession or create by accident.
The idea of a variant spell however is different. It has the same incantation as the normal spell and is hard to differentiate from any ordinary spell when it’s being casted.
The effect is very diverse and often only achieved after the acquisition of insights regarding nature, and in particular regarding the chosen element.
Personally I have meditated for many years on the mysteries of the water element and its connection to the world, my achievements being the variant spells I can utilize and a precious fundamental insight.
Water is everywhere, using it is possible anywhere.”
That doesn’t sound very convincing…
“Based on the doubt on your face, you don’t understand why this is important. In every living thing and every possible material, there is a tiny amount of water. Realizing that there is a connection between my goal – manipulating my surroundings – and the element I control allows me to influence both living things with my illusion spells and materials with the corresponding enchantments.
What you need to do now is not practice enchanting over and over again, although I am once again astonished by your large mana capacity. How many hours have you been at it already? And you are still not exhausted … but I digress.
The affiliation between the darkness element and the camouflage of things from one’s sight is many times stronger than it is with the flames that illuminate.”
Knowing the stubborn girl, the old elf closed his speech with one more piece of well-meant advice.
“There probably exists an affinity between the fire attribute and the spell you want to create.
You might not be able to do it today or in the next few years even, but if you keep steadily meditating on the mysteries of the fiery element and try to gain insights into it, you will be able to do it one day.
Make sure you put out the fire before you go to bed.”
Struggling for a second to get on his feet and grab his cane, the elf eventually made his way into the bedroom at the end of the living room. Annabelle and Lydia had already given up on convincing the hardworking blind girl from switching her objective to something easier or at least use the darkness attribute, and they retired into their own rooms.
Fire is no stranger to me. I’ve lived with it, hunted with it and breathed it when I was still a dragon. I know I can do this. But what are the element’s secrets? I have always only used fire because it was convenient, yet I have no idea what fire actually is …
Reminiscing about her past when she had been rampaging through the forest after mastering her flame for the first time put Nisha in a nostalgic mood, contemplating on a time when she had been controlling her powers perfectly and didn’t need an incantation for a [Black Flame Breath].
Thinking of this memory, the dragon got struck but an odd thought. Eldrin had taught her that every spell and ability had its own invocation chant, however she was unable to figure out what she should chant to summon her abilities.
Meditating hard on the feeling Nisha had been having whenever she had employed one of her skills, she tried to imitate the sensation, to conjure a flame again.
Staying completely still on her armchair in a cross-legged position, the blind girl wasn’t perceiving the passage of time, the blink of an eye and an eternity at the same time passed by her.
Her vision slowly shifted, as she pictured the flame she wanted to call forth after a long time without summoning it, a close friend she had grown up with, who had always answered her call even without words; it began to claim everything she was capable of seeing, setting it in a blazing red sea.
No actual flames had manifested, but deep immersion on the flame element’s nature had put Nisha in a state of profound reflection.
Ever so slowly, a physical flame ignited between her hands, yet it went unnoticed in the ocean of flames that filled the room as far as she could see.
Several figures made of different-coloured light congregated and silently approached the dragon girl, who couldn’t feel any heat from them or her own fire , that burned in a overflowing vermillion and golden hue, smooth under her touch and waiting for her beckon, ready to devour the world at her call or fill an injury with the life of a blazing inferno.
The flare and the dragon communicated without words, learning more about each other in a tender, friendly manner.
Over the course of the night, the burning light dancing around Nisha’s fingers slowly shaped itself into many forms, from a raging fire to a several-petaled thorny flower, and numerous other forms before finally settling into the replication of a large dragon made out of black and red fire, glaring at the world with its large and innocent golden eyes: Nisha in her full glory before the transformation.
“Wake up sleepy head. You didn’t go to bed yesterday and slept here all night?”
“Five more minutes Anna … I don’t want to get up yet.”
Mumbling, more to herself than to the older woman who was trying to get her to snap out of her slumber, Nisha was curled up on top of the chair, engrossing herself in the smooth sensation of the high-class fabric through one of her cheeks that was pressed onto it, that position hindering her speech somewhat.
Annabelle didn’t relent and continued to shake the left shoulder she had grabbed, along with the small wing that went with it.
Unable to win against the intruder, unable to go back to sleep, the sleepy girl shifted into a sitting position and stretched her arms in the air while yawning.
What was I doing again … I think I was trying to concentrate on my flame to gain a better understanding on it and call it before me and then –
Nisha did not get to finish her thought, a bright red flame suddenly materialized in front of her, coloring the room in a bloody glow.
“How did you do that? I don’t see the dress you use to practice enchantments on, and I didn’t hear you say the incantation either. What happened?”
Initially, Annabelle had been on her way to the stables to take care of the animals, a task she had chosen to carry out on her own ever since the old elf was not suitable to do it anymore, but she had came across the sleeping and adorable girl in the armchair and decided to wake her up so she could either accompany her to tend to the animals or directly move to the kitchen, the sun was about to rise and it was Nisha’s turn to make breakfast today.
The sight of a flame suddenly appearing did not startle her too much, as she knew about the enchantment practice, but not seeing or hearing the spell intrigued her.
Nisha, on the other hand, did not seem to hear her question and just stared at the flame, moving it in small circles and adjusting its size with a growing excitement.
This doesn’t feel like a spell or enchantment. I am connected to the flame and it reacts to the thought I send it … just like when I was a dragon, this is my flame. I know it.
“Tell grandpa I’m going out for a few days! I think I figured out my special enchantment, I’ll be testing it in the forest.”
Snatching the still unenchanted robe after her flash of insight, Nisha ran outside without stopping for breakfast or explaining her actions.
When she had summoned her flame just know, the flaring fire had appeared in the shape of a small fire ball, flickering around and casting shadows, giving her the answer she needed to direct the required spells on items.
The blaze of the flame is not meant to blind the observer, but rather to hide something beneath the light and the lambent twilight right beneath the brightest point.
Confident in her own capability to cast a variant enchantment, the dragon girl ran off in the forest to check her new spell before showing it to her grandfather and sisters.
Bestowing an hex onto something was a very different experience from the conjuration of her flame: a fireball she had casted was a form of power she could handle with great precision and control, but she had no intrinsic knowledge about it at all besides the chant.
Her own fire on the other hand did not always follow the commands it was given, and Nisha wasn’t able to control it fully at all times. Yet she knew the flame like her own body, considering it as an extension of herself; it was always there even if she did not project it outside. Currently, the elemental being was still with her and it was sharing its power and knowledge with the blind girl.
Intoxicated by the success of the creation of an enchantment, Nisha proceeded deeper inside the woods without looking back.
You are going to be so proud of me, grandpa!
Watching from the living room on the second floor, Eldrin was leaning on the frame of the windows.
He did not anticipate that Nisha would leave this early, and also did not know where she was heading to or when she would be back, but since this was a good opportunity for him, the old elf determined himself to take care of the matters regarding his illness during this day.
The two women inside the house went to look for him after seeing that he had missed breakfast and had not left his room for a long time.
Annabelle found him sitting at the secretary that Nisha and him were sharing to write. Two finished letters bearing his personal seal and a third he was currently composing were laying on the table.
“Sir Eldrin, is something wrong? You haven’t said anything, but Lydia and me… We couldn’t help but notice that cane, and we even took over the care of the animals recently. Is there anything we can help you with?”
“One second please, I’m about to be done with the letter, then I’ll tell their content to you and your sister, please call her too.
And did Nisha say something, when she will be back or where she is going?”
Without looking up, the elf continued to channel aura through his right hand, keeping steady the quill he was writing with, and preventing the ink from spelling.
He could observe the small scraps of metal inside the liquid, it looked like stardust to him, but he had troubles seeing things clearly without the support of his earth aura, sadly depicting his poor condition.
“Of course sir, Lydia will be here in a moment.”
Having noticed the serious tone, Annabelle did not dare to tarry and directly headed to get her sister who had readied a portion of breakfast for the master of the house.
Explaining her in a few short words the worrying development, the two of them hurried back up the stairs to the large bedroom, not chatting like they were usually doing, only exchanging anxious glances; Eldrin had never called the both of them in such a grave manner.
When they entered the room, the elf had a severe coughing fit and was struggling in his seat, spilling deep crimson droplets on his grey robe though he was pressing his hand on mouth.
Alarmed by the blood and the endless coughs, Lydia rushed to get a wet towel while Annabelle hurried to Eldrin’s side to support him.
With the combined help of the two girls, the old man got his breakdown under control. He heaved slightly, his coarse hand constantly moving up and down his throat, feeling itches, as if someone had set it on fire.
“I am sure you have figured it out by now, but I am getting old.
This place was supposed to be my last resting place before Nisha and the two of you came along, but it seems like the fact that it will be my tomb did not change…
Maybe you two already know it, but mages and fighters both reach a similar fate at the end of their life span.
I’ve lived for about a thousand years, seen a lot, lived through the rise and fall of kings, experienced great love and even greater loss… With such a life, I can’t be dissatisfied with it ending here … but I have to admit that spending more time with the three of you would have surely been pleasing.
My decaying carcass now only holds on by relying on a permanent aura reinforcement and continuous healing with mana.
Yet, those powers, as mighty as they may look in your young eyes, cannot go against the natural course of life and as a result my body is slowly deteriorating.
Before you say anything, you should know that these three letters are addressed to three different persons.
The first one is for Nisha, it explains what I will be leaving behind for her when I will no longer be able to stand by her side, as well as a choice. She was formally adopted into my house and is thus a noble of this kingdom, which is important for you to understand the second and third letter.
The second one is for the two of you and contains a written confirmation of your affiliation to my House, and now the House of Nisha, the House Dharnas, as freelance tradesmen under my patronage. I know that the two of you always dreamed of seeing the world and make more out of your life than being servants, so this is the final gift I can give you.
Please ask Nisha for her decision after she reads her letter and please deliver the third letter to the capital, that’s the last service I ask of you before stopping to burden you, and letting you roam the world or build your own life in Thurgau, according to your wishes.
The third and last letter is for my son and explains what happened here over the last turn. I also asked him to let you stay at our House, and to hand my personal belongings to you, it should suffice as starting capital for anything you want.
It is a blessing that Nisha is not here, I would hate to have her see me like this.
Please convey my apologies to her if I’m not here anymore when she returns and ask her to read the letter, I have written down more words only meant for her, my precious granddaughter…”
Halfway through his long speech, that Eldrin could barely pronounce in one go by mustering all his strength, another attack had rocked his figure, a small stream of blood running down from both corners of his mouth, yet he had prevailed and was able to complete the things he wanted to pass over to his companions, his voice getting hoarser with each sentence.
Unable to maintain his demeanor any longer, he just leaned back in the large chair, slumping and revealing his actual condition for anyone to see: the body of an old man ravaged by illness and age, only kept together by his strong willpower and iron determination to help, for a while longer, the ones that had lived with him.
Lydia and Annabelle had long since bursted into tears, mixed emotions torturing them.
Concern, gratitude, pain, regret … these and many more were arising inside the sisters as they were helping Eldrin, the one that had rescued them from hell and taken them in to provide them with love and a proper education, to lie down in his bed, their visions blurred as they got him a wet towel to wipe away the blood and fed him bits of the breakfast originally prepared to be eaten without assistance.
“Nisha went out … to test something … she wanted us to tell you that she will be back after a few days… she looked so happy.
How are we going to explain this to her when she comes back?…”
Holding onto her big sister, Lydia informed the elf on the whereabouts of his granddaughter in between two sobs and looked up for comfort from Annabelle, who was painfully managing to control herself a bit more than her junior, although currents of salt water were dripping freely from her face, unstoppable.
From their most casual gentle words to the last letter, Eldrin and Nisha had completely turned around their lives. The two of them were first meant to die in the forest, in the Wilderness, after being ravaged over and over again and later discarded by two nobles and their entourage.
Through Eldrin’s kindness and his teachings, depending on their emotional bond to Nisha, they had overcome their trauma and left behind these atrocious memories of the noble’s party; they were now able to become citizens in the capital, moving up in the social ladder and obtaining the rights of free individuals.
“Don’t worry … we are still here for Nisha, if she need us. And we don’t know if Sir Eldrin is truly going to die, maybe Nisha will come back soon, she will heal him too … she has a dark attribute technique to heal wounds, it will surely work on him. But we will stay with Sir Eldrin until the end, one way or another. It is our duty.”
A new wave of sadness and grief struck them at the realization that there would be no cure, no chance at rescue, not this time anymore; before a thought hit them, the dragon girl had once revealed the deal she had swore to uphold with the two beings who took over their bodies once, Gabriel and Bael…
The elf had calmed down and was no longer bleeding, only calmly looking at them, taking low and panting breaths, following their conversations.
Without his granddaughter around, his obligation to keep appearances had vanished and he freely gave in to this chance to drop the act.
“Sir, this might not be a solution, but Nisha told us about a deal she made with two persons who introduced themselves as Gabriel and Bael and treated her very friendly.
In exchange for something precious she had, they saved you, maybe they can heal you again. She also said that they completely held up the deal and brought you back from certain death, so maybe they can do something for you … do you have any idea where we can find them?”
The old elf had already figured out that Nisha’s sight had been the price for his life, the dragon was not very adept at lying at first, a flaw Lydia quickly made her correct, but he was still surprised to learn that two goddesses had lowered themselves into speaking in amiable terms to Nisha.
“Ah, I don’t think it will make a difference. You see, I struck a deal with the two of them too, and I have contemplated on their exact words many times. I don’t think they will help me again, because -”
At this point a strong wave of power spread through the house, almost visible to the naked eye, cutting Eldrin in the middle of his sentence.
A low rumbling shook the whole mansion from beneath. Annabelle clinged to Lydia, waiting with her for the nightmare to end.
The whole affair did not feel real to the two young women, they had so many more things to say to Eldrin and his adopted granddaughter, who had saved them; but the new dreadful development pushed all of that to the back of their mind, especially so when a pair of nailed boots resounded loudly on the stairs leading to the living room after the receding of the thundering noises.
It was announcing the arrival of a very powerful being, and led all three of them into hopelessness, as their protector was grounded because of a sickness.
To their relief Nisha was not here at the moment, and they readied themselves as the doorknob turned.