Episode 116 – Seed of Aegis
Kiel’s practical exam ends and the entire world around him turns into motes of light. Mageheart tells him that he will see his score two days from now. When he exits the room, he finds Elaru and Arion waiting for him. Kiel subtly extracts information from Arion about Zor Arite, finding out that he died a heroic death 18 years ago which had a great impact on the Arite family, especially Rine Arite who was close to Zor.
* * *
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.
There was no discrimination based on ability because every Arite was extremely capable and thus valued by the family. There was no need for Arites to struggle for power to secure the future of their offspring, because, in the Arite family, personal ability decided everything.
They also imposed many strict magical contracts onto their members to ensure the utmost loyalty of their members as well as ensuring that the Arite blood stays within the Arite family.
“Arites lost two successors just like that? Tragic.” Kiel’s forehead creased with a troubled frown. And this time, he didn’t need to feign distress. Hearing that Rine Arite had not been the same since Zor died disturbed Kiel, because it was highly likely that Rine was the soulmate of Zor. What if the severing of an Aetherneal bond wasn’t harmless after all and Zor’s death had a hard impact on Rine on more than just an emotional level?
“Horrible, right? They never had something like that happen before, ever. Mentioning that event is a sure way to kill the mood of any party with Arites present.” As the three of them reached the exit of the Replica Dungeon, Arion looked left and right, and conspiratorially whispered.
Abruptly, Elaru spoke up, for the first time during their conversation: “Arion, you should hurry back down. Your exam will be starting soon.”
Both Kiel and Arion looked back at Elaru startled. It was as if, today, Elaru and Kiel had completely switched roles. Kiel was the one happily conversing with Arion while Elaru was the one who wanted to shoo him away.
Even Arion suddenly felt like this situation was extremely bizarre. He didn’t quite want to leave just yet, especially because he finally felt as if Kiel was warming up to him, but there was no denying that Elaru was right. His practical exam would be starting soon.
While Arion hesitated for a moment, Elaru’s previously solemn face erupted in a wide grin, and she patted him on his back. “Good luck and Godspeed!”
“How did you know I am participating in a race?!” Arion gaped, clearly misunderstanding Elaru’s “godspeed” statement.
Elaru was startled but quickly recovered. “A lucky guess.”
“Huh?” Arion blinked confusedly. “Your guesses are too darn accurate!”
He waved at the two of them friendly. “Well, then, I’m off. See you guys later.”
Both Kiel and Elaru plastered on a slight smile and waved him off.
As soon as Arion’s figure left their line of sight, both of their smiles were wiped off without a trace.
“Why the sudden interest in Zor Arite?” Elaru asked Kiel telepathically as they made their way towards the tables in the courtyard.
Even though Kiel was trying to be subtle, his efforts might be able to fool Arion, but not Elaru who knew that he rarely showed interest in others.
Instead of answering her, Kiel held up his hand towards her with the Seed of Aegis in his palm. “Thanks. This egg of yours was very useful.”
Elaru looked at him suspiciously, unsure if there was a hidden meaning in his words, but eventually took the egg back. “Glad to hear it.”
“Where did you get such a powerful artifact?” Kiel asked nonchalantly as if he was just making small talk.
“Hmmm? Papa gave it to me.” Elaru murmured quietly.
“Is there a way to activate it or deactivate it remotely? It would be great if one could use it to guard their things while they were gone.” Kiel commented, looking up at the clear sky.
“Of course, there is. Didn’t I use it to guard our stuff while we were in Hot Pot?” Elaru who was usually full of smiles was anything but smiling. It didn’t take a genius to figure out where this conversation was going.
“Fascinating.” Kiel almost purred in his husky voice. “You know, something very curious happened earlier in the exam.”
“When I ran into Zor Arite… he just pointed his finger towards this egg of yours… and just like that… it deactivated.”
Elaru’s large teal eyes looked at Kiel so emotionlessly it was eerie. “Is… that… right?”
“Yes. Very curious. It was as though he… knew how to operate it.” Kiel smirked, enjoying the feeling of finally getting under Elaru’s skin.
Elaru still showed no change of expression. Even her voice was flat. “Curious indeed…”
“He seemed very surprised to find me in possession of…what did he call it?” Kiel pretended to think. “Ah yes! The Seed of Aegis.”
Elaru’s face finally moved. She sighed softly and looked Kiel straight into his eyes. “Sheesh. You could have just asked about it. No need to beat around the bush.”
“But would you have answered if I just asked?”
Elaru ignored his question. “The reason why Zor Arite knew how to use it was because… well… it’s because he was the one who created it 22 years ago. And the reason why it’s named the Seed of Aegis is because Shield of Aegis inspired Zor Arite to create it. This egg is basically a simplified version of the Shield of Aegis. And when I say simplified, I mean, a version that can be cast using arcane magic.”
Kiel’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Aren’t you worried the Arite family will see you using one of their artifacts?”
Elaru frowned, and her mouth twitched into a pout. “It’s not one of their artifacts. It was made by Zor Arite. It’s one of his artifacts. If he chose to give it to someone, it’s his business. Papa didn’t steal the artifact. If he had, he wouldn’t know how to use it.”
Seeing that Kiel’s suspicious look didn’t lessen in the slightest, Elaru added. “Besides, I doubt there are many Arites who even know about its existence. His soulmate might be the only one who knows about it.”
“Rine Arite?” Kiel inquired.
“Yes.” Elaru confirmed.
“How did your father get his hands on such a precious artifact? Was Zor Arite on close terms with your dad?”
“If you want to hear details about it, you’re going to have to ask papa.” Elaru shrugged.
“Well he isn’t here for me to ask, is he?” Kiel snorted derisively.
“I’m sure you’ll meet him eventually. After all, you’re my soulmate.” Elaru’s unusually solemn face finally returned to her usual radiant smile.
And when that smile appeared, Kiel’s doom and gloom inexplicably evaporated, leaving only curiosity behind: “But you do know the story behind it, don’t you?”
Elaru’s eyes twinkled mischievously as she shrugged, her lush lips slightly curved at the side.
Kiel sighed in half-agitation and half-disappointment. He knew she wouldn’t tell him. And the worst thing about it is that he didn’t even have the right to be mad. She had no obligation to share her personal life story with him. And in fact, if she pried into his, he’d be the first to get furious about it.
But it didn’t stop him from feeling curious. He wasn’t even sure why he felt so interested in it. He never felt so interested in someone else’s private matters before.
Ah, but her private matters might involve you. A voice whispered in his head. It is your right to investigate anything that might involve you in some way.
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 an interest in her. Because that certainly wasn’t the case.
Not at all.
“What happened in your exam? Did Zor create trouble for you?” Elaru’s musical voice interrupted Kiel’s thoughts. She was back to her usually cheery self.
“Not really. He was quite pleasant… compared to the other Replicas I had to deal with.” Kiel’s eyes flashed with displeasure at the memory. “Which reminds me… there is one point that bothers me that I wanted to discuss with you.”
Kiel suddenly brought his hand to his eye level and cast a Temperature spell on it. “At one point, one of the Replicas caused an explosion that should have burned me to a crisp…”
Elaru’s eyes that were looking at him diverted to look at his hand instead.
Kiel kept increasing the temperature of his hand, testing if his conjecture was right, and indeed, the air around his hands started to move around agitatedly, creating visible heat distortion. However, even though the temperature was far above what mortal skin could handle, his hand was still not showing any signs of being burnt.
“So, I was right.” Kiel said more to himself. “My body has a higher resistance to heat than normal.” Then he looked at Elaru inquiringly. “Does this have anything to do with that pill you gave me?”
Elaru’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Oh! You might be right! It has got a feather of a firebird as its main ingredient. It’s highly possible that it has an additional effect of increasing fire resistance.”
Without further ado, Elaru followed Kiel’s suit and increased the temperature of her own hand. “It indeed increased my fire resistance. Good catch.”
Elaru seemed sincerely surprised by the revelation which made all other questions Kiel intended to ask die in his throat. She didn’t know any more about this matter than he did.
Kiel sighed, turned his head away from Elaru, and started walking towards the spot in the park where they usually rested between exams.
Instead of his mood improving by the revelation, his aura turned even sourer. The blasted redhead wasn’t even there, and she still helped him win over 3 out of 4 of his opponents!
It was because of the Firebird Flame pill she had given him that he managed to survive and eventually defeat Deora. It was the D.I. report that she gave him with that “Firecracker” tip that helped him defeat Rhur. It was her egg that made him survive that last explosion. And most likely, it was that same egg coupled with her name that made Zor behave so strangely.
No. Don’t think like that. He told himself.
It was his own body and willpower that helped him endure it all.
His own wit and skill that managed to dispose of all his enemies.
It was his own ability that helped him cast that earth shield in the nick of time, saving his life, a feat he still wasn’t sure how he managed to pull off.
Besides, he was simply incredibly unlucky in this exam.
First, he had gotten Deora, who wielded flames that Kiel had trouble dealing with because of a childhood trauma. And even if one ignored that, Deora wasn’t a pushover in the slightest. His battle capability was surely close to 23 points, he must have lost points in his exam because of his rash behavior and lack of strategy, bringing him closer to 20, which would explain why he was chosen as one of his opponents.
And then there was Rhur, whose battle capability was not a point short of 25, but who due to bad luck, got a lower score. And of course, the cherry on top was Zor, who was as close to invincibility one could get.
What kind of shitty luck was this? How unlucky could he be to get three opponents whose battle capability was close to 25? Who said the Muni exams were fair??
It isn’t that his battle ability didn’t deserve 25 points, it’s just that his opponents were all close or above 25 points, making him appear weaker than he actually was.
While Kiel was torn between feeling powerless and unlucky, Elaru walked behind him, her eyebrows furrowed. She gazed at her hand that was turning slightly pink and then back at Kiel, her frown deepening.
It was true that Firebird Flame pill helped increase fire resistance…but… she had eaten two of them, while Kiel had eaten only one.
So, why is it, that right now, her hand was almost burning, while its temperature was nowhere near the temperature Kiel’s hand had just endured?
She dispelled the temperature spell, her eyes sliding up and down Kiel’s body, deep in thought.
Coming up in the next episode:
“Are you worried I would commit suicide?”
The muscles of her face slightly twitched before she let out an incredulous, hoarse reply. “I am not gay.”
“Welcome back, Elaria.”
The female looked at Elaru up and down and then replied blandly. “You are still alive. I’d say your luck is pretty good.”