Aethernea

Episode 115 – Zor Arite

Previously:

Kiel’s practical exam ends and the entire world around him turns into motes of light.


When Kiel opened his eyes next, he was sitting back inside the quiet black room filled with white egg-shaped chairs.

At first, he just stood there with a blank stare, his mind still trapped within those 30 long minutes that seemed to last for days.

Then he let out a long sigh and marveled at how comfortable he felt in his own skin.

He blinked repeatedly and clenched and unclenched his fists. The pain he had been previously feeling disappeared completely. His muscles that have been left sore by Rhur’s electrocution were back to normal. His leg that had been pierced through by his own bone was no longer in bloody agony.

It felt as if he was suddenly lying in a soft, cotton bed as opposed to the hard, cold marble floor. The feeling was surreal and as unsettling as it was comfortable.

“Is everything in order?” An emotionless yet pleasant to the ear voice reached Kiel’s ears. His head snapped up to see Mageheart who, he could swear, wasn’t there before.

“Yes. Thank you.” Kiel smiled politely to the white haired female. “It’s just taking me a bit to get used to being back in my original body.”

“Your practical exam is over. You are free to leave anytime.” Mageheart’s pale face and purple eyes stared down at him calmly. Kiel wasn’t sure whether she was just stating the facts or if it was a polite way to tell him to hurry up and leave.

“Ah…about my score…” Kiel murmured huskily.

“The examiners are discussing it right now. You will be able to see your score the day after tomorrow.” Mageheart explained in an emotionless voice.

“I see…” Kiel mused and finally got up from his chair. His body felt so much lighter than before, he was almost floating as he made his way towards the exit.

He looked back to Mageheart just as he was about to exit, nodded at her and smiled a bright smile. “Until next time, lady Mageheart.”

He was just about to close the door behind him when he heard Mageheart say in a flat yet somehow, almost confused tone. “I am not a lady. I am Mageheart.”

Her words made Kiel almost trip on his way out. What the bloody meep was that supposed to mean?

* * *

As soon as Kiel exited the room, he came face to face with Elaru who had been waiting for him.

Kiel felt as if he hadn’t seen her beautiful face for ages, and his heart almost lurched when she smiled at him brightly: “How did it go?”

Only then did the full brunt of the last 30 minutes hit Kiel and his face fell.

Horrible. He thought but didn’t voice it out loud. He didn’t need to voice it either, his sullen face spoke quite clearly.

Was he defeated? Not quite, but…

He couldn’t be considered victorious either.

This type of “victory” felt worse than a defeat.

Kiel felt as if he was nowhere near prepared for this. He had no gear, no medicine, no specialization. He felt inferior, insecure, inadequate.

“What happened?” Elaru tilted her head curiously.

Kiel was about to say “I don’t want to talk about it.” But a new voice made his jaw stiffen, and his words got stuck in his throat: “Can’t you tell? When you see a face like that you are better off not asking for details.”

Kiel’s head rigidly turned to the side and only then did he notice that Elaru was not alone.

Next to her stood an argel with warm chocolate colored eyes and light brown hair – Arion Urwin, He must have run into Elaru when he was going down to take his own exam.

Arion looked reproachfully at Elaru as if disappointed by her lack of emotional intelligence, and then he leaned closer to her nonchalantly and whispered under his breath: “I reckon he must feel unsatisfied about his performance. No doubt he got some kind of a tricky opponent like his brother did last year.”

By the way how Arion tried to speak without moving his lips, Kiel assumed that he was not supposed to hear that. However, he had sorely underestimated Kiel’s hearing.

“You’re right. My opponents were indeed tricky.” Kiel smiled brightly, forced to remain polite even though all he wanted to do was just glare and tell Arion to get lost.

He had just gone through a mentally exhausting battle, he had no patience to deal with an overly noisy person like Arion Urwin. He expected some rest time, yet what was waiting for him was not anywhere near the peace and quiet he wanted.

And as expected, even though Arion had just advised Elaru not to ask about it, he couldn’t restrain his instinctual Urwin response: “How so? Who did you get?”

Kiel didn’t respond right away, torn between whether he should tell the truth or avoid answering. In the end, he decided that he might as well answer truthfully.

“Zor Arite.” Kiel spoke slowly, looking at Elaru from the corner of his eyes, gauging her reaction.

He thought he saw her momentarily freeze but her expression soon turned half-shocked half-empathetic. Arion, on the other hand, sucked in a breath and exclaimed. “Bloody meep! That is some horrific luck!”

Tell me about it. Kiel suppressed an eye roll and instead motioned for them to move up the stairs, instead of talking in the corridor. The three of them slowly made their way upwards.

“Zor Arite was a genius, you know? One of the best men Purge ever had! He explored more uncharted areas of the forbidden zone in his 22 years of life than everyone else had in the last century.” Arion continued to chatter. “Not only was he an amazing Purger, but he was also a genius warlock and a sealer. Such a pity that he died.”

“Indeed.” Kiel agreed, and this time, when he glanced at Arion, his irritation towards him lessened by quite a bit. This chatterbox might be annoying, but he was just a person he needed right now.

For he needed information on Zor Arite.

Kiel let out a sad sigh, looking as if he lamented the fact that the fates were so cruel to take away such a young and outstanding individual as Zor Arite. Then he added nonchalantly: “It really makes me wonder how such a person could have died…”

Arion’s chocolate eyes beamed in pleasure that he knew the answer. “Apparently, on one of his expeditions, his battalion ran into an extremely dangerous Tainted unlike any other seen to date. It was so vicious, so powerful, that none of the Purge stood a chance against it. Zor Arite took it upon himself to delay the monster, giving his men time to evacuate the premises.”

Arion sighed sadly. “They say it was an earth-shattering battle. Zor did his best to last until his men retreated, but he… couldn’t do the same. He had a Beacon, of course, could have teleported to the city, but he chose to die before putting innocents in danger. The monstrosity had bitten into his shoulder, you see, if he had teleported, he would be bringing it back to the city with him.”

Arion paused to catch his breath. “Zor managed to finish off the monstrosity eventually, after a strenuous battle, but at that point, he had no strength left to activate a Beacon. It was tragic, really, he ended up bleeding to death before the Purge managed to rescue him.”

Kiel feigned paying close attention to Arion, but instead, his attention was on Elaru. Her face was an emotionless mask, and her aura didn’t reveal any of her thoughts either. She seemed to be familiar with the story for she showed no surprise.

However, she didn’t show much other emotion either. One would expect her to have some kind of reaction, perhaps pity, anger, or sadness? But there was nothing. It was as if she was doing her best not to show a reaction.

“At least they recovered his body. It would be such an injustice for such a great man to rot inside a monster’s stomach.” Kiel mused, thinking how with all the plots and treachery of the nobles, he would never believe a person dead unless he saw their body.

“Yeah, thankfully they recovered it. There was a big funeral and everything. The entire Purge assembled. There were lanterns and pyres, long speeches, everyone was crying. The ceremony lasted for two days and two nights. They scattered his ashes into the wind to forever watch over Halnea. After the funeral, the Purge even erected a monument in his memory in front of their headquarters.” Arion talked excitedly as if he had been present, his face beaming, which was quite ironic, considering that he was talking about a funeral.

“My mom told me all about it.” Arion added under his breath. “She says it was the biggest event of the decade. Everyone attended. You know, it is rare for a member of Arite family to die young. If all nobles didn’t make an appearance, it would be considered rude.”

Kiel sighed again with feigned sadness and pity. “How did the Arite family take it? Losing the future head of the argel branch must have hit them hard.”

It was almost eerie how Elaru didn’t join the conversation at all. Kiel had never seen her so silent. Or so…solemn?

Arion didn’t seem to notice the lack of Elaru’s almost omnipresent smile, nor her peculiar behavior. “How could they take it? They did their best to recover from it. But it didn’t go so well. You see, Rine Arite was very close to Zor. She was simply devastated when he died!”

Kiel’s heart jumped at the mention of Rine’s name. That was the person Zor had asked him about! “What happened?” Kiel almost failed to restrain the urgency from seeping into his voice.

“Well, she was supposed to succeed her father, Meilin, as the head of the elibu branch of the Arite family, but Zor’s death hit her hard, and she hasn’t been the same ever since. Has been cooped up within the Arite mainhouse henceforth.”

When Kiel failed to glean anything from Elaru’s solemn face, his eyes dropped downwards, noticing that her fists were clenched so tightly that her tanned knuckles turned white.

So, she was agitated! Now if only he could figure out why…

Arion, completely oblivious to the tension, shook his head sadly and continued. “Well, Rine recovered eventually. Married her older brother, Councilman Edaus Arite, and has had two kids with him. Although she still doesn’t leave the mainhouse, she often appears on those fancy dress parties Arites throw every year.”

Usually, a mention of a blood brother and a sister marrying would be a hot topic causing much gossip. However, the situation was completely different when it came to the Arite family.

When it came to the Arite family, a shocking topic would be if one of them married an outsider.

It was because, out of all families, Arites were the most bent on bloodline purity. They wanted to avoid diluting their divine bloodline inherited from their god ancestors. They laid the most importance in keeping their impeccable genes that granted them abilities above everyone else.

This was exactly the reason why their unique hair and eye colors never spread outside of the Arite family. And it was also why all Arites had similar desirable qualities such as their astonishingly beautiful appearance, high intelligence, and high magic ability.

Arites never married into other families, however, extremely rarely, they would allow their members to marry an outsider into the Arite family. Only those which had outstanding genes that would improve their already flawless gene pool, such as geniuses of incredible inherent talent or wielders of an Aethernea, would be allowed into the family.

Arites selectively bred to create the most perfect offspring possible.

It was a harsh practice that left no freedom for the Arite members to choose who to marry or have children with. Yet, it was undoubtedly very effective – a prime reason why Arites stood above everyone else to this very day. It also created a strange cohesion inside the Arite family, making them the most united noble family which never had internal power struggles.


Coming up in the next episode:

Arion blinked confusedly. “Your guesses are too darn accurate!”

“Where did you get such a powerful artifact?” Kiel asked nonchalantly as if he was just making small talk.

“Fascinating.” Kiel almost purred in his husky voice. “You know, something very curious happened earlier in the exam.”

Elaru’s large eyes looked at Kiel so emotionlessly it was eerie. “Is… that… right?”

Kiel’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Aren’t you worried the Arite family will see you using one of their artifacts?”

Yes, that was it. He was just being cautious. Kiel was quick to conclude that his sudden interest in Elaru’s matters surely didn’t imply that he had interest in her. Cause that certainly wasn’t the case.



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