Prologue features a short battle part that is set in the future. Since you don't know how magic works and aren't familiar with the characters yet you can skip that part of the prologue if it would bother you. It only serves as foreshadowing. Don't let it intimidate you, from the next chapter the world, magic and the characters will be introduced slowly. You won't be feeling like you don't know what is going on ever again.
If you are reading this story for the humor - it starts getting funny from chapter 12 or so (you might want to avoid eating/drinking while reading Aethernea. Readers have been complaining about spewing their drinks over their keyboards.)
If you are reading this story for the romance - keep in mind that romance in Aethernea due to the personalities and pasts of the main characters develops gradually, step by step. Therefore, a lot of chapters will need to pass for it to turn from initial dislike to full blown passion. If you want to read a chick-flick or shallow romantic subplot as seen in most chinese xianxia, Aethernea isn't it.
Thank you for giving Aethernea a shot!
Episode 1 – Prologue
People are not born equal.
Some are gifted with power, intelligence and status from the moment they leave their mother's womb. Others might spend their entire lives helplessly chasing what they had been denied from the start.
Kiel, who was born as a non-mage in a world ruled by magic, had become painfully aware of this fact at a very early age.
But Kiel, as he was now, was no longer the same.
The old Kiel had died. Even now, he remembered the deafening silence of his heart clearly.
He was now someone… no, something else.
This was clearly evident in the way he jumped around like a bouncing rubber ball, trying to avoid a stream of daggers, flying, swishing and slashing at him from all angles. Kiel put several reflective barriers up to ward off the daggers. However, they were enchanted with a high-level piercing magic that prevented a change of their velocity from external sources.
They would collide with his barriers, the spell on the daggers causing strong waves of interference with his own spells, shattering the barriers in a single hit. The impact would send the imposing daggers flying away from him, however, the rest of them would continue on their path of destruction.
Kiel didn’t have enough time to put up a stronger, more durable barrier. He didn't even have the time to glare venomously at the enemy mage who attacked them for no apparent reason. Was it premeditated? Was it personal? Were they too close to something dangerous? Kiel didn't have the time to ponder over it.
All he could do was respond quickly with low-level spells, such as the weak barriers he was currently casting, which were quick and easy to put up. Unfortunately, he could not put enough barriers up to stop all of the daggers. Even he, as great a mage as he was, couldn't create hundreds of barriers in a span of few short seconds. He doubted even Elaru herself would be able to do something of that magnitude.
Kiel swore under his breath as a dagger whizzed past his head leaving a stinging shallow cut on his cheek in its wake. The searing hot blood pumping through his veins took his already superb reflexes to the next level when he was faced with the question of life and death.
Kiel's eyes briefly glanced towards the other side of the ancient, decaying hall, his eyes searching for Elaru. He was worried that she would be in a worse condition than him, knowing how reckless she was. Elaru was able to forget her own mortality and disregard her pain in the midst of battle, fighting and enjoying the rush. For the same reason, she often didn't notice just how much damage she was taking in the process.
However, Kiel's worries were misplaced.
Elaru didn't have a single scratch on her - just a few cuts on her clothes, which didn't reach her skin. Unlike him, who could attack both from the distance and from close range, Elaru almost exclusively and carelessly charged right into melee combat. All together, it left an impression of as if her luck was going to expire at any moment; like the next battle would be her last.
Only by disregarding appearances and concentrating on the pure and simple truth, would one realize that Elaru was a combat master. When she suffered damage, it was because she deemed it necessary to get closer to her goal. Her movements, though they appeared reckless, were precise and planned, comparable to the flawless actions of a well-calibrated machine.
Kiel let out a quiet "Tsk". She made his blood boil. He hated being outperformed by her.
She had become the determinant of his worth. The one he could compare himself with. The one who motivated him to exceed his own limits.
He had to become better. Faster. Superior.
Elaru dished out spells and avoided daggers with such speed and precision that one would think she could stop time itself. The swirling blades hissed as they fell down on her like rain, reflecting soft rays of light onto her long carmine red hair. Her ponytail flailed around like it had a life of its own. It was ethereally shining in the darkness of the ruins as if it was glowing. Which gave that last push to the beauty of her playful dance into otherworldly realms.
Kiel was a high ranking mage, so his reaction speed and casting speed were both quite incredible. Elaru, on the other hand was on an entirely different level.
Kiel swore again, his brief moment of distraction was enough for a few daggers to graze his skin.
I don’t have time to worry about that monster! He thought.
Unlike her, he was on the defensive. Keeping himself alive was already a big deal in itself. Besides, it's not like she shared his sentiment! She was clearly enjoying the situation.
She laughed, her lips spread in an eerie and wide, yet somehow attractive grin. In the midst of battle was where Elaru felt the most alive.
Kiel's mind was filled with possibilities. How to defend, avoid and destroy. All the facts gathered inside his mind into strains of clear and coherent thoughts.
Each dagger was enchanted with three different magic spells. Acceleration, which allowed it to fly around swiftly, Piercing, which negated outside attempts to change the velocity of the dagger, and Protection which rendered attempts to destroy it meaningless.
There were a few hundred of them and each had the three high-level spells cast on it.
Sustaining that many simultaneous high-level spells was too much for any mage. This meant that daggers had a certain degree of autonomy and they were not drawing their power from the mage himself - they drew their power from crystallized mana. The mage prepared the mana days beforehand, maybe even weeks. Which means that if Kiel shattered the mana crystal powering them, the daggers would lose their enchantments, making them just regular daggers. And normal daggers were no threat to a mage of his level.
Unable to avoid…
All that was left was to destroy them before they destroyed him.
He smirked. Pinpointing the source of their mana was easy. Especially since they needed a lot of it to sustain them.
He spread his mind, like it was a gentle wave of water, touching the magic of the daggers. Hundreds of small lights blossomed inside his head, giving a presence to the intangible magic that was brewing inside the daggers around him.
He raised his arms in front of his face to protect it just in case he couldn't shoot all of the daggers down before they reached him. His body was protected by enchanted gear, but his head was bare.
With an icy tempest pulsating through his eyes, he started his offense.
Dozens of high-density mana bolts spiraled and separated from his aura, mashed into existence with the sole purpose of destruction. Silently they honed in on the daggers.
With incredible speed, achievable only through the lack of mass and through perfect accuracy, they collided with targeted mana crystals.
The show of magic bloomed like a reflection of the storm hiding behind his eyes. Magic rained down on him. When his bolts collided with the crystals, a small explosion cracked and shattered them, creating a shower of beautiful mana sparks, turning solid matter into fluid vapor. Some of the bolts even pierced through their targets taking out multiple daggers with one well-aimed mana bolt.
The air was crackling with glowing fireworks. Daggers shined like silver stars, glittering brightly just before their magic broke and they fell down to the floor, clattering and turning into nothing more than useless scraps of metal.
His magic was beautiful. He could tell that much even without being able to see the magic, but he still craved her approval, the admiration and delight shining through her eyes down to the depths of his core. Unfortunately, she didn't even spare one look at him. It was as if he wasn't there at all.
There was still a whirlwind of weaponry in the air around Kiel. He had managed to shoot enough of them down to raise his survival chances significantly. Despite that, blinded by the fireworks, he almost suffered a severe injury. He jumped backwards just in time, the sturdy cloth had torn from the force, leaving him with a new shallow cut on his thigh.
He swore for not being as adept at evasion as Elaru was.
However, the cut was worth it, he had lowered the number of daggers around him considerably. He should have no trouble stopping the next batch now.
Just as Kiel was about to launch his finishing blow, the daggers stopped mid-air and changed their direction of movement away from Kiel.
In that short moment, a brief sense of achievement and pride washed over him. The mage pulled back his daggers to avoid their destruction!
...Until a potent thought flashed across his mind quieting all others - Elaru!
His eyes quickly darted towards her, confirming his suspicions.
The daggers weren't retreating.
They changed their target to Elaru.
She got too close to the enemy mage threatening his well-being. The terror taking over the mage was radiating off of him in waves. Kiel could feel its intensity through his mana.
Elaru's abilities were a perfect match for this type of battle. Her aura was so thick that it influenced all the daggers that came in contact with it. The density of her mana interfered with the spells cast on the daggers, disorienting and weakening them. Such daggers were inadequate, they couldn't possibly hurt a fighter of her caliber. She didn't even consider them a threat, it seemed like she ignored them completely and returned fire to the enemy directly.
In that regard, it was understandable why the enemy was starting to panic.
Ignoring me huh? That miscalculation will be your last! A cruel smile appeared on Kiel's face, even more chilling than the iciness of his eyes. He readied himself, he was itching to try out his newest spell on a real opponent. Since he didn't need to avoid the daggers anymore, his spell casting speed increased greatly.
A wide, bright ray of light emerged from Kiel's spread hands and flashed towards the mage, disintegrating everything in its path in a sizzling and zapping high pitched sound.
Giving Kiel enough time to cast a high-level Lightbeam spell was a fatal mistake. The Protection spell on the daggers might be high level, but when faced with a higher level spell, it would inevitably break.
Time seemed to slow down as the daggers standing in the beam’s wake disintegrated into nothingness; leaving almost no sign of their existence, not even little fragments of metal. Not even dust. The only proof was the smell of melted metal spreading through the stale, moldy air.
The eyes of the enemy mage widened in realization of his imminent demise, horror seeping through them as he recognized that he had no time to defend against it – his full focus was already spent on his fight with Elaru.
The beam light illuminated Elaru's face. Her eyebrows twitched in annoyance, her mouth morphing into a frown. Kiel felt no gratification from it, for when he understood the source of her displeasure, it was already too late to stop the beam.
It was ironic. A second before, he was jeering at the miscalculation of the enemy, then a second later, it was he who had miscalculated.
They were fighting in the middle of Zerean ruins. In an ancient temple of crumbling rock which couldn't possibly endure the power of their battle.
And instead of carefully controlling his power, he used a high-level spell whose power he seemed to have underestimated greatly.
Kiel didn't even have the time to hiss a profanity before his beam hit the mage, producing a powerful blast. As if the pulse from the beam blew away the last straw keeping it together, the ceiling above and the floor below began to crumble in unison. The walls around them caved in almost simultaneously, showering all three of them with dense rock as they fell down into the basement.
Why is it so powerful?! - Kiel's mind raced as he quickly revoked the spell. When he was trying this spell on Elaru earlier, it didn't seem to be that powerful. She brushed it off as if it was nothing.
As Kiel raised his hands in front of his face, preparing to defend against the avalanche of rock, one question reawakened deep inside him like rekindling a flame.
How did I get into this mess?!
Why was he fighting a life and death battle against an unknown mage in the middle of ancient ruins deep in the forbidden zone?
How did he, Kiel Rroda, a son of a noble family of first class mages, end up in such a situation? His position in the family was not important enough to have people after his head and yet, he was still wealthy enough to lead an easy and comfortable, though boring life.
Yet, his life, his identity, everything turned upside down after a single meeting.
"How did I get into this mess?!" - He had asked himself that same question a countless number of times over the course of the last few weeks. And no matter how many times he had asked himself, the answer stayed the same.
Calamity, thy name is Elaru.
* * *
She didn't have much time. She could feel it clutching at her heart, slowly slithering beneath her skin, spreading deeper and deeper with every breath she took.
The stabbing pain in her chest lasted longer and longer every day. Yet the worst pain wasn't caused by the sickness, but by the knowledge. She was the only one who knew.
Nelaira stared at the cold metal walls with a desire to break them down. As hard as titanium itself, they wouldn't budge. No matter how hard she clawed at them, hammered them or kicked at them, Nelaira couldn't make a single scratch or dent. And to make matters worse, pushing mana into the walls to power a spell was near impossible – the alloy had a high mana resistance.
She imagined placing her palms in front of her and pushing outwards like she was opening double doors. Nelaira could picture the metal bending and twisting; creaking as if crying. It would slide away, creating a hole for her to pass through. Yes, that's how she would have done it. At her prime, even platinum would have shifted in her wake. Nelaira was a Transmutation magic master - this wall would have been history if she could still use her magic.
If only she could still use her magic…
But it was no longer her own. The Ink growing inside her had tainted her mana, it resisted and twirled chaotically. Nelaira could no longer control it.
Nelaira wanted to cry, to sob, but she had never been the type to cry when she met difficulty. Even now, faced with bitter frustration and futility, her fighting spirit burned in her chest. She swore under her breath, her fist clenched so hard her nails drew blood.
The sharp pain made her look down at her palms. The blood was black and it refused to flow.
Her eyes traced the black veins branching under her skin, traveling up her arms. The flesh around them was slowly losing every bit of color, turning snow white. Nelaira averted her gaze to the floor. She was disgusted.
However, the shiny metal floor only reflected her own face back at her. She cringed. Her eyes had lost their glow, her pupils had shrunk so much that they were barely visible. Her face was plagued by dark bags and cracked blue lips. The hair on her head was as lifeless as straw. It had stopped growing and it was slowly decaying into shades of silver.
Nelaira looked back at the walls, her eyes losing their focus. Her mind was getting cloudier every day. The secret inside her head weighed on her, consuming her from inside.
She stared into the distance as if she could see beyond the walls. It was there, somewhere. Right in that direction – Ashar University of Magic.
He was there, doing what he always did, completely unaware that she had been betrayed. She should have been more careful. If only they hadn't found out what she had stumbled upon. If only she had been more skilled in hiding her doubt. Her "accident" could have been avoided.
Alas, now her only wish was to pass it on to him. He needed to know. Everyone needed to know. He would believe her; he would not attribute her words to the ramblings of a sick person. He would make sure her death would not be in vain.
Nelaira closed her eyes, imagining his smile, his mischievous eyes, and undying curiosity. He gave her strength to hold on, to fight. She would cling on to life as long as she could.
The thought of him cleared her head.
These walls couldn't hold her prisoner. All of this was just a farce. They should have just killed her back then. Their own greed would cost them dearly.
She would shatter the lie they encased everyone in. Caged like animals in the false name of "protection". If Nelaira didn't reveal the ugly truth, no one would. They would get away with their sins and continue to manipulate history.
She needed to find a way to reveal it! But how? No one was allowed to see her. She couldn't get out. Her body was weak and her magic was unusable. Nelaira could write him a letter, but it would never reach him. They would censor anything they deemed dangerous. And to them, revealing that the Ink wasn't what everyone thought it to be, revealing the actions of Aegis Arite weren't as kind-hearted as described by the history books... the truth was nothing short of a large axe swinging above their heads.
Think, just think! Nelaira screamed inside her head. You are an intelligent young woman. You can find a way. You can outwit them. They are still underestimating you greatly! They have no idea what you are truly capable of.
Nelaira sighed. That's right! She was more than just a great mage. Even without magic she could wreak havoc! She would not sit still and count days to her untimely demise.
Nelaira sat in silence, contemplating every option, devising a plan until her vision became foggy and her mind slipped back into the darkness.
Next time, when her mind cleared, she would be ready to act.
* * *
Fate binds us. Everything is connected. Seemingly separate threads of life tend to converge into the same point. It is the secrets and mysteries that suck in and intertwine countless lives like a black hole.
For curiosity and hope is what makes us human. And it is also the curiosity and hope that drives the moths into the flame.
Is it a path of no return? Or is it a path from which only the fated ones can return? Or maybe, it isn’t a question of fate at all. Maybe what we call fate is just a result of decisions and abilities.
Either way, to unveil the ball of yarn, one needs to start from the beginning of a single thread.
In the next episode:
It had been a calming, enjoyable ride – Kiel Rroda didn’t know it back then, but this ride would be the last bit of real peace he would feel in a long, long time.
She was still there, staring right at him.
Suddenly he felt a presence - an aura, foreign mana. His eyes widened. It appeared out of nowhere.