The Beginning After The End - Chapter 295
A piercing pain that spread throughout my body wrenched me out of my sleep . I couldn’t even muster a groan as my eyes pried open .
It was only as I stared at the scorched remains of the long, squat hallway that memories of what had happened flashed before me: Riah being possessed by the Vritra-blooded ascender, Ezra’s death, Kalon falling into the void, my use of Destruction to kill the ascender, and the violet flames spreading onto Haedrig .
Haedrig! I tensed as I thought of the green-haired ascender, causing the organ-rending pain to flare in me once more .
‘The first thing you do when you wake up is worry about some random ascender you met a few days ago and not your beloved companion?’ a familiar voice said in my mind, albeit a bit higher in tone than normal . ‘I see how it is . ’
Regis! What happened?
‘I’ll tell you what happened!’ Regis snapped, his almost child-like voice laced with frustration .
A black shadow emerged from my sternum to reveal my shadowy companion…kind of .
“Look at me!” Regis barked, floating a few feet above me . The once formidable shadowy wolf, who had been large enough for a grown man to easily ride, was now, for lack of a better word, a puppy . He still had his wolven features, from a shadowy tail to four black paws and two horns on his head, but he was now only about the size of my head .
“I see you…lost some weight,” I rasped, wincing in pain .
“Hur hur,” Regis mocked, glaring at me . “I would’ve slapped you already if I had the upper body strength to do so . ”
“Did this”—I waved my hand in his direction, indicating his diminutive form—“happen because we had to exhaust all of our aether?” I asked .
My pup of a companion rolled his large eyes . “No . I became this way in order to live out my dreams as someone’s cuddle buddy . ”
“I saw you get flung through one of the mirrors,” I said, ignoring his sarcasm . “What happened after that?”
Regis thought for a moment, scratching his chin with a small paw . “I don’t remember exactly . I just kept falling through the void until I blacked out, then I was back inside your body with a splitting headache . ”
I let out a breath of relief, glad to have one less thing to worry about in the future while fighting alongside my shadowy companion .
Anxious to get moving, I tried pushing myself off the ground . With barely a sliver of aether remaining in my core and pain radiating throughout every inch of my body, I couldn’t even sit up, let alone stand on my feet .
With no strength and a headache severe enough to keep me from meditating, I laid back and let my thoughts wander . Memories and emotions that I had been bottling up and storing deep inside began to surface—memories and emotions of my friends and family back at Dicathen .
I had been trying so hard to keep myself busy, not even giving myself time to think of the painful memories of the life I had left behind . Watching the Granbehl family’s tragedy play out must have broken the dam I’d been unconsciously building to hold back these emotions . I was afraid there was a genuine possibility that the hopeless odds I faced if I ever wanted to see my family and friends again would overwhelm me entirely if I dwelled on them too often .
But what was even scarier was the fact that I felt myself slowly forgetting their faces and voices . Recognizing them wasn’t the problem, but being able to picture them in my mind…that was getting harder .
With my body slowly regenerating its aether reserves and the pain from backlash beginning to dull, I pushed away the faces of Ellie and my mother, frozen in my mind with expressions of grief and desperation .
Slowly getting up to my feet, I took out the dead relic I had stashed in my pocket, confirming with my own eyes that the once black stone was now a cloudy white crystal . Eager to see what its actual purpose was, I infused it with the meager remains of aether I had left .
Nothing happened .
‘Did you break it?’ Regis asked .
I don’t think so? I tucked the opaque crystal back in my pocket . We’ll have to explore this more later, when I don’t feel mostly dead .
Shifting my gaze, I noticed that a piece of cloth had been rolled up into a makeshift pillow for me . Needless emotions of attachment to these Alacryans that I had just met began to emerge, gripping my insides . Shaking my head, I asked the question I had been afraid to ask since waking up .
“Go check for yourself . They’re over there,” Regis grunted, pointing to his left with a pudgy paw . “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to hide out in your body until I can absorb some aether on my own again . Don’t call for me unless you absolutely need to . ”
I raised a brow . “Would you even be useful in the state you’re in right now?”
“Oh shut up,” he snapped before disappearing back into my body .
Letting out a sigh, I looked around at the scorched remains of the mirror room . Just like the future I had seen within the keystone, the hall was painted in black and red with the fountain shattered and water spilled all around it . Many of the mirrors were broken, revealing the endless void that Kalon had fallen into .
I glanced around, but the cuboid relic was nowhere to be seen .
‘It crumbled to dust after you snapped out of your trance,’ Regis said .
Damn it! I had hoped perhaps there would be another opportunity for me to delve back into the keystone, another chance to build on the knowledge I’d gained . If that stupid kid wouldn’t have released the Vritra-blooded ascender—
I recoiled from the thought . That “stupid kid” had paid for his mistake with his life . Being mad at him now didn’t serve any purpose, and there was no taking back what had been done .
The keystone had shown me a future where I could literally turn back to the time on death itself . I probed my mind for the god rune, and while I could feel it there, I couldn’t tell what it did .
Regardless, I had learned everything I was capable of understanding from the keystone . That’s why it pushed me out, I was sure . I would just have to try it out to see what it could do…
Despite the chaotic state of the room after our battle, it didn’t take long to find the others .
And like I had expected, the only two left were Haedrig and Ada . Haedrig was kneeling by the gruesome remains of Ezra’s deteriorated body . The sole remaining Granbehl sibling was lying on the ground near her mirror, which was thankfully still intact . The phantom was unbound, but she appeared to be unconscious .
The Ada in the mirror, the real Ada, was also lying on the ground, her entire body shaking with sobs .
She must have seen everything that happened, I realized with a jolt of horror . I thought of the battle at the Wall—how I had searched the battlefield in a panic, looking for my father, and how I had found him too late…
I reached out and touched the mirror, and suddenly I was able to hear her choked, manic sobs . “I’m sorry, Ada . ”
Let’s hope this works, I thought, but I hesitated before activating the new god rune . It felt so…final to activate it, to experience for real the result of my work in the keystone . Once I used it, I’d know exactly what it could do—and what it couldn’t .
Regardless, this needs to be done . I steeled myself, then directed aether into the god rune .
The familiar warmth radiated from my lower back along with a flood of knowledge into the specific edict of aevum gained through the keystone . Much like my flames of Destruction and God Step, the edict molded into what I was able to grasp, manifesting itself into a form that made sense to me .
Motes of purple began spreading from my hand, swirling around like a miniature galaxy . Ada looked up, confusion and surprise overtaking her desolation for just a moment, and she began to fade away, turning to pinkish mist that flowed out of the mirror and back into her body .
A thick blackish-purple smoke was expelled from her pores and sucked back into the mirror . The phantom manifested back in its prison, a look of pure hatred on its twisted copy of Ada’s face .
At my feet, Ada’s body twitched and her eyes snapped open . She scuttled backwards, away from the mirror, her eyes wide with fear . Haedrig leaned down and put his arms around her shoulders, causing her to scream .
“Shush now, Ada, it’s me, it’s only me . Shush now . ”
Drawing the bone-white dagger that had once belonged to Caera’s brother, I drove it handle first into the Ada mirror, shattering it and destroying the phantom forever .
When I turned back around, Ada had her head buried in Haedrig’s chest, her small frame quivering as she let out a wail so sorrowful that I just couldn’t bring myself to go closer .
These were Alacryans, the same people that had devastated Dicathen, who were responsible for the deaths of so many people that I knew and loved . I should be relishing in their misfortunes and misery .
So why? Why did my chest feel like it was being wrung like a soaked towel?
But then, it wasn’t just about them . The disappointment and regret I felt—the sense of loss at knowing what I’d failed to learn—gnawed at my insides, and I couldn’t help but wish I hadn’t seen the potential futures .
Although I’d unlocked a new god rune, it was clear now that I’d only managed to grasp a part of the intended whole . And with the keystone gone, and my affinity with aevum as weak as it was, I may never have the chance to learn it again .
“Aroa’s Requiem,” I whispered . The flood of knowledge I’d experienced had included this name-like signature imprinted in the spell itself . It was poetic and beautiful, but to me, it would only serve as a reminder of what the spell could’ve been .
A spell that could’ve saved Kalon, Ezra, and Riah—a spell that could’ve even brought my father back .
At least I saved Haedrig and Ada, I thought half-heartedly, trying and failing to see the silver lining in the future I’d ended up in . And I can release these trapped ascenders and keep going, keep trying .
I peeled my gaze away from the others, turning my attention to the countless intact mirrors still containing ascenders, most of whom were studying me with expressions of respect…and some even fear .
Leaving Haedrig to tend to Ada, I began searching for a specific mirror near the fountain . It didn’t take long to find the ascender who I had promised to free, and while it was riddled with chips and cracks, his mirror prison had remained intact .
“I’m a man of my word,” I said with my hand pressed against the cool glass . The ascender’s eyes widened in shock as the motes of aether swirled around my hand and began to mend the many cracks that marred the surface of the mirror . “Rest well,” I whispered as he faded away .
‘Thank you . ’
As the ascender completely vanished, I let out a deep breath . Stepping away from the mirror, I looked down at my palm . The few traces of the aetheric motes that continued to slowly orbit around my hand slowly dissipated, leaving me with a hollow feeling .
Unlike God Step or Destruction, this rune didn’t expend much of my aether reserves . Even with the limited amount of aether in my core, I was confident I could free all the remaining ascenders .
Still, despite this new ability that I had unlocked, I was left with a bitter aftertaste .
The keystone could’ve unlocked a deeper and more powerful insight into aevum, but because of my lack of comprehension, I was left with only a piece of the whole .
The least part of the whole…
Now that I fully understood the rune, I knew this ability could only affect inorganic objects like the mirrors .
‘On the bright side, with this ability you’ll be able to revert dead relics into actual, usable relics,’ Regis chimed .
I curled my fingers into a tight fist . You’re right .
Despite its limitations, the ability to revert time was something even Kezess Indrath couldn’t do, and while I wouldn’t be able to use it in battle—or to bring back those I had lost—that didn’t mean I couldn’t make full use of its utility . I just wished that I still had Dawn’s Ballad here with me now, so that I could revert the asura-forged sword to its pristine state .
I pulled out the once dead relic from my pocket to examine it again . The edges of the clear crystal were now glowing dully . Now that I had more of my strength back, I pushed more aether into the stone, but still nothing happened . It seemed like, rather than being activated by aether, the relic had some sort of recharge period before it could be used again . At least that’s what I hoped .
Making my way through the remaining mirrors, I continued exerting my newly acquired god rune to free the souls of the ascenders trapped within until the last one faded away, a disbelieving smile on her tired face .
The cold, white hall dimmed slightly and shifted to a warmer tone . In the distance, a translucent portal manifested within one of the empty mirrors, just like the image I had seen in one face of the dodecahedron .
It was only then that I realized that both Haedrig and Ada had been watching me .
“How—how are you feeling?” I asked hesitantly, looking at Ada .
The poor girl was barely able to muster a nod before she looked away, her swollen red eyes full of resentment .
I swallowed heavily before walking over to the two of them . Reaching into my pocket, I pulled out the simulet that Kalon had given me . “Here, you should take this . ”
Ada whipped her head back to face me, eyes alight with panic . “Y-you’re leaving us here?”
I shook my head . “You all ended up in this mess because I was with you . If you two go through the portal on your own, it should lead you to a sanctuary . ”
“You have no way to know that,” Ada said, her tear-lined face crumpling into a scowl .
“I don’t, but I do know that if you go with me to the next zone, it’ll be even more challenging than this one . ”
After a moment of hesitation, she reached for the simulet in my hand, but Haedrig intervened .
“I have no intention of going back up to the surface,” the green-haired ascender said gravely .
“You can’t be serious . ” I let out a scoff . “You almost died and you want to delve even deeper?”
“I almost died by you,” Haedrig corrected . “As I’ve already said, the Relictombs react differently to unique individuals . I expected something like this to happen . ”
“You expected this to happen?” Ada asked incredulously . “And you still brought us along? My brothers and best friend died!”
For once, Haedrig’s cool demeanor was nowhere to be seen, replaced by an expression of guilt . “I thought your eldest brother would be strong enough to—”
“Oh, so it’s Kalon’s fault that they all died?” Ada yelled, her hands clenched into quivering fists .
Haedrig winced . “That’s not what I—”
Ada withdrew her simulet from a hidden pocket and threw it at the green-haired ascender before stomping off toward the portal .
Haedrig followed, trying to go after her, but I caught him by the wrist and held him back .
Just before Ada stepped through the portal, she looked back at us over her shoulder, fresh tears lining her cheeks and her vivid green eyes sharper than daggers . “If the Relictombs don’t eat you two alive, Blood Granbehl will . ”
As the last of Ada’s blonde hair disappeared through the portal, I let go of Haedrig’s wrist .
“Was that wise, just letting her go like that?” Haedrig asked, clearly concerned . “Her blood is quite imposing, especially to an unnamed blood . ”
“Should I have killed her?” I inquired, raising a brow .
“Not kill…but at least we could have tried to talk it out . ”
“Her best friend and both her brothers were all butchered in front of her . I don’t think anything we could’ve said would have convinced her . Besides, it’s suspicious either way since our names are recorded . ”
“True,” Haedrig said after a pause . “Are you not worried?”
“I’m more worried about what the next zone will be, and you should be too,” I said as I tossed him my simulet . “Go back . ”
Haedrig shook his head, pushing the simulet back to me . “I want to go with you . ”
I shook my head, unable to believe his obstinacy . “Are you that eager to die, or are you expecting some sort of treasure vault at the end of this?”
“It shouldn’t matter to you what I want . Even you have to admit that I can be useful,” he said .
“And if there’s nothing you can eat or drink in the next zone?” I pushed .
Haedrig revealed a playful smile . “Are you worrying about me?”
I let out a deep breath before stuffing the simulet back in my pocket . “Do as you wish . Just don’t expect me to protect you . ”
“I never dreamed of it,” he said, leading the way to the portal .
With my aether reserves about a quarter replenished and the warm lights flickering as if to warn us to leave quickly, I followed after the mysterious green-haired ascender .
With the decision made, there was no reason to linger in the mirror room . We stepped through the translucent portal, together, Haedrig holding onto to the back of my teal cloak just a step behind me .
To keep me from trying to ditch him at the last second, I suppose, I thought . He really doesn’t want to be left behind, but why?
The thought was blown out of my mind as, immediately upon stepping through the portal, I was blasted by a gust of icy wind so sharp that I could barely keep my eyes open .
Unfazed by the drastic change in scenery, and with nothing in sight except a panorama of gray, I pulled out the crystalline relic again . While I didn’t know its full capabilities, I was sure it had some sort of navigational function .
Except this time, when I took out the crystalline relic, its glassy edges were once again fully opaque . Feeling instinctively that there was something off about this place, I turned back to Haedrig…
…only, instead of the shaggy, green-haired ascender, a familiar navy-haired girl with two piercing red eyes looked back at me .
I stumbled away from her, completely caught off guard, and she stared at me uncertainly .