Episode 117 – Elaru’s Practical Exam
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. Elaru admits that her artifact is called the Seed of Aegis and that its original creator was Zor Arite, however, she refuses to reveal how her father got his hands on the artifact.
◈ The Purge headquarters, Ashar ◈
Nelaira Helyot stared at the items placed in front of her with a blank expression. Her gray hair fell around her head messily giving her a frightening appearance even when she was trying to look amiable.
Although, she certainly wasn’t trying to look amiable right now.
“What is this?” She picked up a pink crayon and stared at Nalen Talath with a baffled expression.
In response to her shock, he smiled a smile that made Nelaira’s hair stand on end and responded in a sickeningly sweet voice. “It’s a crayon.”
You don’t say! Nelaira gawked at him strangely for several seconds, but in the end, she managed to swallow down all the witty remarks and settled for: “Why did you bring me…crayons?”
“Because you asked for a tool with which you can draw and write, of course.” Nalen Talath responded in a tone that suggested that the answer was obvious.
“I asked for a pen or a pencil. Bloody meep, even quills would do! Why in the name of the gods did you bring me crayons?” Nelaira’s voice broke midway.
“Pens, pencils, and quills all have sharp tips and can be dangerous if used (in)correctly. The damage you can do with crayons, however, is quite limited.” Nalen explained patiently as if he was explaining that one plus one equaled two.
Nelaira rolled her eyes exasperatedly. “What could I do? Poke a hole through layers of solid metal?”
“Better be safe than sorry.” Nalen Talath shrugged, which looked odd, considering that he still had his hands clasped behind his back.
“Are you worried I would commit suicide?” Nelaira asked in a low voice, avoiding looking at the slits that were Nalen’s eyes. He, however, just wordlessly smiled.
“I assure you, if I really wanted to commit suicide, I could still do it, even with crayons.” Nelaira spoke grudgingly, her forehead creased in a frown.
“Do you want me to take away the crayons too?” Nalen still continued to smile amiably, his tone seemingly containing no sign of a threat.
However, Nelaira knew better. As a Purger, she had a keen sense of danger, and no matter how close to her deathbed she was, her mind was still clear enough to pick up on it.
Her face darkened, and she changed the topic, for the time being, pointing to the thing next to the box of crayons. “What is that?”
“It’s a romance novel you asked for.” Nalen resumed in the same tone as before, as if he was talking to a child who had trouble understanding what he thought to be obvious.
Nelaira looked at the cover, her lips pressed tightly together. Is he testing me by bringing me such novels? If I didn’t complain…would that be suspicious?
She fidgeted slightly, before musing: “This isn’t romance, it is erotica…”
Nalen’s lips curled into a smirk. “My mistake. I don’t know my way around romance fiction. If you don’t want it, I’ll just take it away.”
Nelaira flipped a few pages and frowned. “…and it is about a lesbian couple…”
Gods only know where he managed to find such a book. Lesbian fiction is very scarce.
“Is there a problem?” Nalen continued to stare at her smilingly, seeming not seeing any issues.
The muscles of Nelaira’s face slightly twitched before she let out an incredulous, hoarse reply. “I am not gay.”
“Thank you for sharing.”
Nelaira glared at him. “My point is, I would appreciate it if you brought me what I asked for next time…”
“No promises.” Nalen Talah turned on his heels and leisurely made his way out of Nelaira’s cell, not bothering to say any goodbyes.
Nelaira continued to glare at his back until the doors of her room slammed shut, and the sound of Nalen’s footsteps disappeared down the corridor.
Even after she was left alone in her cell, she still didn’t allow herself to smile in self-satisfaction, afraid that a single smile would ruin everything she had worked hard to achieve.
* * *
After Kiel had returned from his practical exam, several hours passed before it was time for Elaru to take hers.
In the meantime, Elaru had mentioned what practical exam she had chosen.
Unlike Kiel, who had applied for the Battle Royale, Elaru had applied for “Apprehend and rescue” exam. According to her, she could have applied for several different exams and managed to get full points in each, however, the reason why she applied for this one, in particular, was because she wanted to showcase the range and keenness of her mana sense.
Or rather, she wanted to use her Aethernea of Sight to create an impression that she had a very keen mana sense. This way, in the future, when she saw things that normal people wouldn’t be able to, she could use her “keen mana sense” as an explanation for it.
By outright claiming to have a keen mana sense instead of trying to hide it, she would be less suspicious. People would take this reasonable explanation as truth and wouldn’t bother prying deeper into it. She was basically hiding in plain sight.
Thus, when the time of her exam arrived, she made her way towards 6th floor.
Kiel politely wished her good luck but didn’t send her off.
* * *
The room on the 6th floor of Replica Dungeon looked exactly the same as the room on the 4th floor – it was entirely black with white egg-shaped chairs. The only difference between them was the large white number engraved on the door.
When Elaru opened the door with the number six, what waited for her on the other side was an almost entirely white figure with the most flawless face she had ever seen.
What followed the flawless face was just as flawless voice: “Welcome back, Elaria.”
As she heard the softly spoken sentence, Elaru’s emotionless face was broken by an involuntary twitch of her mouth.
She had not expected such a strange greeting. After all, this was her first time using the Replica Dungeon, and she had never seen, let alone talked to the white haired female before.
But even so, when she intended to argue she realized she had no grounds on which to argue. She couldn’t say that she hadn’t been here before, nor could she claim that the white figure before her was a stranger.
After a brief hesitation, Elaru settled for saying: “Don’t call me that.”
The white-haired female paused, staring at Elaru blankly, before asking: “Is that not your name?”
Elaru opened her mouth to respond but closed it again. Then she opened her mouth once more, only to close it again.
On her third attempt, what came out of her throat was: “I have many names…”
Her voice uncharacteristically apathetic, she continued. “But currently, I am Elaru Wayvin. Refer to me as such.”
The female fixed her emotionless purple eyes on Elaru. Most people would get lost in those purple eyes that resembled the night sky with their golden, pink and blue lights, yet, Elaru paid no attention to them at all.
She didn’t even wait for the female to offer her a seat and explain the proceedings. Instead, she went straight to the nearest empty chair and sat down.
“Alright, Elaru Wayvin.” The female confirmed in a voice even more apathetic than Elaru’s, as if it was a contest of who could make their voice sound more dead. “Which two artifacts do you wish to carry into the exam?”
Elaru, however, ignored her question and asked her own: “Is this safe? I’m not going to die from this, am I?”
The white-haired woman continued to stare at her emotionlessly. “No one has ever died from the operation of the Replica Dungeon.”
Elaru looked up unconvinced, locking eyes with the female. “Oh? What about the incident from 18 years ago?”
“That fatality was not due to the operation of the Replica Dungeon.”
“Yeah, it was just bad luck.” Elaru sneered, but the female didn’t seem to catch on to her sarcasm.
“I suppose it could be attributed to bad luck.” The white-haired beauty agreed straightforwardly.
“Right, right. I have no desire to lose my fragile little life due to “bad luck”. And considering how unlucky I am…” Elaru’s musical voice echoed in the black room with fake cheerfulness.
The female looked at Elaru up and down and then replied blandly. “You are still alive. I’d say your luck is pretty good.”
Elaru’s soft smile turned into a gape. “Is this your attempt at a joke?”
“No. I don’t have a sense of humor.” The female continued to respond in a plain yet completely serious tone.
Elaru placed her hand over her face and exhaled tiredly. This conversation is completely pointless…
“Mageheart, will there be a problem with the replication process?”
“No. The process will proceed as usual.”
“Will you be able to sustain my body through the absence of my mind and soul?”
“Yes. I am aware your current vessel requires high maintenance. Be at ease. I will supply it with enough mana to sustain it.”
“Alright. Then start the exam.”
“Which two artifacts do you want to keep?” The female repeated.
“My necklace only.” Elaru finally replied, holding her crystal pendant between her thumb and index finger.
* * *
When the world once again appeared within Elaru’s eyes, she was standing in front of a tall sea of trees. She blinked her long thick eyelashes several times before her eyes focused on the argel man standing right in front of her.
The man looked to be in his late fifties or sixties, making it difficult to tell whether his short gray hair was the result of his original color graying or if his hair color was originally gray.
He was dressed in the Peacekeeper white and gold uniform that, judging by its awe-inspiring design, marked him to be of a high rank.
The man’s light gray eyes looked down strictly at Elaru. “Good. You are finally here, cadet. We have no time to lose.”
If the man had spoken to someone else, they would have surely looked behind themselves expecting to see the person the gray-eyed man was talking to. However, Elaru, whose Aethernea of Sight gave her a clear overview of her surroundings, realized immediately that the man was talking to her.
It took only a moment for Elaru to comprehend exactly what was going on.
The practical exam she had chosen was tailored for future Peacekeepers. So it wasn’t surprising that the person in front of her treated her as if she was a Peacekeeper under his command. He was probably here to give her the details of the exam.
Elaru decided to play along and did a salute of respect that consisted of placing a clenched right fist on top of the chest, where the heart ought to be. It was a customary way for the Peacekeepers and the Purge to greet their superiors.
The man nodded at her, pleased with her actions, and continued: “Last night, a band of bandits broke in and robbed our victim. They took 500 gold coins as well as a… hostage.”
The man’s face momentarily contorted into a strange expression as he spoke the word “hostage”.
But a moment later he resumed, in his usual strict and down to earth voice: “Our investigation shows that the perpetrators are hiding within this valley. We have narrowed down their possible hiding spot to a relatively small area. Your mission is to find their exact whereabouts and rescue the hostage.
Your utmost priority is to secure your own life as well as the lives of your partner and the hostage.”
Partner? Elaru’s eyebrow shot upwards, but she didn’t interrupt the man’s speech. A Peacekeeper would be harshly scolded if they were rude to their superior.
“If you can manage to apprehend the perpetrators without causing them any serious injury, you should do so. However, if you feel it is beyond your capabilities, you are to shoot a signal flare, and we shall immediately send back up.”
I’ve lately been thinking a lot about what I initially wanted from Aethernea and how it turned out. I’ve been compiling a list of things that need working on so that this first draft of Aethernea can be edited to perfection before it is released as a published book. There will be many small scale changes and there might be some large scale ones as well.The most often complaints I’ve been getting from readers are that the story is progressing at snail’s pace, that there is not much romance in it, and that they dislike Kiel’s and Elaru’s personalities. There are also complaints about how Elaru is not trusting Kiel with her secrets and how Kiel seems like a sidekick.
I would really appreciate it if you guys could think about what you would like to change in Aethernea to make it better and tell me about it. What bothered you about it? What did you miss in the last 100+ chapters? Would you prefer the romance to be progressing faster? Does the slow story pace bother you? What aspects of the characters bother you? Etc.
And of course, which parts of Aethernea do you think are great just the way they are and shouldn’t be touched?
Please let me know your thoughts on the matter so that I can make Aethernea better for everyone.
(You can leave me a comment below this chapter, or you can go to the Contact page and write me a private message.)
Coming up in the next episode:
Why does this exam force me to have a mission partner? What is her role in this exam? Will she be helpful or a liability?
It took Elaru considerable effort to prevent a fit of giggles threatening to erupt from her throat.
Orie bowed politely, her soft pink lips spread in a sincere smile. “Hi, just call me Orie. I’m glad to be of service.”
“Correct.” Elaru smirked. “But, who says we can’t move on ‘flat ground’?”