The Beginning After The End - Chapter 90 - A Cursed Blessing
Supposedly, Grandma Rinia’s cottage wasn’t too much farther from where we were. After our brief greetings and a firm hug from the aged elf that I had come to appreciate, we made our way to her dwelling place.
“You’ve grown into quite the handsome young lad, Arthur. If I was just a hundred years younger, I might’ve snatched you up for myself,” Rinia teased.
It was disturbing to say the least to hear this from a woman who was several decades older than me, but since it came from her, I just grinned back.
“Well, I’d have to see how you looked when you were a hundred years younger.”
“Hmph! Ask Virion how stunning I was! Men would swarm over me as soon as I was in their sights!” Rinia placed one hand on her hip and used her other to flip her braided hair.
“It’s true, Arthur. My mother would tell me how all of the girls her age would be jealous of Aunt Rinia,” Tess’ mother giggled.
“Bah! She was above average at best!” Virion waved off.
“Well, of course there was only one girl to have ever caught Virion’s eye…” Rinia’s voice trailed off and by the look on her face, she seemed to have regretted bringing it up.
I looked around, completely lost. The gloomy forest we were treading through seemed all the more dismal by the sudden change in the air. I glanced at Tess and she seemed uncomfortable, but more so confused than depressed like everyone else.
“…I’m sorry, Virion. I was a bit insensitive.” Rinia placed a hand on Virion’s sunken shoulder.
“It’s… It’s fine. I should be the one who’s sorry. I know how you felt as well,” he dismissed.
We continued on with only the crunching of fallen leaves and the snapping of twigs filling the silence. My gaze was focused on Sylvie, who was having a blast looking for lifeforms underneath the moss-covered rocks and logs.
As her tail wagged furiously in excitement, I couldn’t help but let out a small smile in content, despite the sullen atmosphere.
Sneaking a quick peek at Gramps, my mind started itching with questions that I knew I shouldn’t ask. Rinia, who apparently saw this, gently placed her hand on my shoulder and gave me a strained smile.
As we stepped into a small clearing, the roaring sound of running water filled our ears. It was as if the trees surrounding this area had acted as a barrier, blocking off all the sound. In view, we could now see a wide waterfall cascading down a marble white cliff into a small pool of water about six meters in diameter.
“Wow, I didn’t know a place like this existed,” Tess gaped in awe.
“Father, wasn’t this the place you used to take me to when I was a child?” Alduin asked while he looked around.
“I see you still remember. Yes, you used to love coming to this place.” Virion let out a small smile as he reminisced.
“It’s beautiful…” Merial breathed.
It was beautiful, indeed.
There wasn’t much sunlight that was able to reach this small clearing, making the area seem more surreal. The thin rays of light that were able to peek through the thick tree tops created spotlights that made the moss, grass, and all of the plant life glimmer. The waterfall streamed down the white cliff without any intrusion, making it a clear curtain of water.
“We’re here.” Rinia stated as she stepped up.
Wordlessly, we all followed her as I half-expected her to conjure a cottage from the ground.
It wasn’t as fancy as that, though. Instead Rinia let out a few inaudible chants with her hands raised, lifting roots from underneath the pond into a makeshift bridge leading into the waterfall.
Carefully stepping onto the grimy roots, Rinia took the lead with us following close behind. With a wave of her arm, she swept the waterfall to the side. However, before doing anything else, she looked around, as if to make sure no one was spying on us.
After letting out a sharp breath, Rinia placed her hand on the cliff behind the waterfall,which now started to glow with unrecognizable runes.
Just like that, the white marble cliff opened up like a sliding door to reveal a passage deeper inside.
“Don’t conjure up any light. We’ll make our way through the dark,” instructed Rinia, as if directly referring to me.
I lost track of how many turns we made, relying only on Rinia’s voice as our guide.
Finally we could see a flickering light at the end of the umpteenth leg of the tunnel.
“Welcome to my little cottage.”
With the sparse amount of light, I could barely make out the faint smile Rinia had.
By this time, I had no idea where we were, but the homey little hut that couldn’t be any bigger than a single room in the Eralith Family’s castle was welcoming to my eyes.
“Whew.” Tessia squatted down as she was able to finally release her tension.
“This…this is quite the place, Aunt Rinia.” Alduin slid his hand against the wall of the cave the hut was in.
“Where are we?” I couldn’t help but ask as I inspected our surroundings as well.
“Somewhere in the elf kingdom,” was all she said as she made her way into her hut.
Lighted by a few dim shining orbs in the corners of the cave, the place Rinia called home reminded me of some sort of dungeon used to hold the worst criminals, not a place where a close friend of the royal family would reside.
“I’m sure you have your reasons, Aunt Rinia, but was it really necessary to shut yourself in a place like this?” Merial frowned as her eyes focused on the hut Rinia just went inside.
“Just an old lady being overly cautious. Don’t mind me! It’s actually quite cozy once you get used to it.” Rinia’s head popped out of the hut’s sheet door.
“Can I see inside too?” Tess had Sylvie wrapped in her arms as she curiously eyed the interior of the hut.
“Of course! Everyone, come inside.” Rinia waved us in.
We all looked at each other in doubt, but Virion just herded us all in while saying, “Come now, the place isn’t going to eat you up. It’s quite roomy inside, despite its appearance. Let’s get something to drink! I’m quite famished.”
Once we settled down into the minimally designed disaster shelter that was Rinia’s new home, I sunk into the couch. Leaning my head on my hand, I must’ve nodded off because when I woke up, everyone was also asleep.
Rubbing my eyes, I got up to see that Rinia was the only one still awake, sipping on something that smelled like an herb tonic.
“They won’t be awake for a while, Arthur. Let’s have a talk,” Rinia said simply without even looking at me. She gestured for me to sit in the chair across from her as she continued sipping on her tea.
“Well, from how you probably drugged everyone but me, I’m guessing this is something that only I can know?” My eyes narrowed, but I trusted Rinia. Besides, if she wanted to kill us, I was sure that with her powers of foresight, she already could’ve done so.
Wordlessly, I sat down and leaned back, waiting for the aged elf to speak.
“Despite the unforeseen circumstances, you’re quite composed, Arthur.” Rinia’s tone seemed to say she expected this.
“I’m sure if you wanted the worse to happen, it would’ve happened already,” I shrugged.
“A logical assumption,” nodded Rinia. “Now, where do I begin?” she sighed. “Well, let’s begin with a small lesson on my powers as a Diviner.”
My ears perked up at this. Learning about a rare deviant form of magic didn’t come often, as textbooks only held a limited amount of information about them.
Noticing the interest on my face, Rinia continued. “As you may know, unlike regular mages who draw forth power from the mana particles in the atmosphere, deviants have to find their own source of power to fuel their magic.”
I nodded in agreement.
“For example, your mother, an Emitter, has the ability to heal herself and others in a way elemental recovery spells can’t compare to.”
I nodded to this as well. There were various recovery spells that could be learned by water, wind, and plant attribute mages. Unfortunately, fire and earth didn’t have any innate healing attributes, so it was impossible to create a recovery spell out of them. All in all, though, the recovery spells were still weak and couldn’t compare to the healing that Emitters were capable of.
“Emitters have mana cores that naturally accumulate a special type of mana that is used to power their spells. Throughout my life, I’ve met quite a few deviants, each with unique properties in their magic. They all have one thing in common though, different from an elemental deviant such as yourself. Each of the deviants have their own pool of mana that they use to power their deviant magic.” She looked a little absent-minded as she said this.
“It must be an inconvenience for them since they can’t draw in mana from the atmosphere,” I added.
“It sure is. After interviewing many deviants, they would all tell me how difficult it was to learn even basic elemental spells since they did not have mana cores that could harness the mana particles in the atmosphere. However, with their deviant powers, it made up for this handicap.”
There was a moment of silence where I could only hear the soft snoring of Sylvie in Tess’ arms before Rinia spoke again.
“As for Diviners, it’s quite different. First of all, our powers can awaken at any point in our lives, which is quite different from conventional mages and other deviants. Our powers mostly come in erratic bursts where, quite often, blurred images and clips of the future simply flash through my mind. Sometimes they’d be useful, but most of the time, they were too vague and minute to make anything out of. These little flashes of the future don’t expend any mana at all, actually.”
I stayed silent, an eerie feeling creeping up on me.
“If you were to sense my mana core, I actually have quite a normal mana core, capable of harnessing and refining the mana particles in the atmosphere, which is why I’m quite adept at water attribute magic myself,” Rinia exclaimed mockingly. “Doesn’t seem like a very useful power if I can’t control it, now does it?” she continued.
“Then what about the the spell that you used to allow me to locate my parents and even speak to them when I was little?” I questioned.
“Ah, that’s a nifty little spell I made that involves my unique powers as a Diviner, but not really. You see, Arthur, true divination is reading the future—knowing when and where something is going to happen.”
I was getting lost. “Then if that is your true power as a Diviner and you said your mana core doesn’t power that magic, how do you—”
“With my own lifespan,” she cursed.
“We Diviners shorten our own lifespans each time we choose to consciously look into the future. That is the true power of a Diviner. Everything else are just useful little spells that can’t be considered anything more than hat tricks.”
I sat there, wide-eyed, not knowing how to respond.
“What we talked about earlier, Virion’s only love and wife, was another rare Diviner that was much more powerful than I was. Her unconscious divinations and prophecies would be much longer, much more detailed than mine, and much more frequent at that.” Rinia’s reminiscent smile faded as she continued speaking.
“Coupled with her physical beauty and graceful temperament, she was the envy of every female elf of our generation. She was the pride of our kingdom and an idol to the citizens.
“Things were looking perfect as she fell in love with Virion and the two got married in a beautiful ceremony. However, Fate wasn’t as kind to her as everyone thought.”
I couldn’t help but grimace at the tone of this tragedy-in-happening.
“At this time, the war between the Kingdom of Sapin and Elenoir had begun to die down, with the talk of a treaty in the air. However, the King of Sapin at the time made a last ditch effort to do as much damage to our kingdom as possible before the signing of the treaty. He carried out a plan to extinguish the future heir to the throne.”
“Yes, Virion was the sole target of an assassination mission carried out by the King himself,” Rinia spoke in almost a whisper.
“Mockingly, his wife was repeatedly tormented by visions of Virion’s death. Her unconscious prophecies told her little of how Virion would die and every time she did something to try and change the future, the outcome only led to a different cause of death. Virion knew the toll of his wife using her powers, but she did so anyway behind his back, out of desperation to keep him from his inevitable death.”
“Every time I use my powers to look into the future, I can feel the days, weeks, sometimes even months being drained out of my body. I could only imagine how terrible it must’ve been for her to repeatedly use this cursed power for the one she loved.”
I didn’t know what to say, and even if I did, it would have been insensitive to say, coming from someone who didn’t know what it felt like.
Rinia’s eyes glistened from the tears that she had been holding back.
“In the end, she was able to keep Virion alive long enough for the peace treaty to be signed, but having burned up so much of her lifespan to protect the man she loved, she died a few months after in his arms with her youthful, beautiful appearance replaced with an aged, sickly elder.”
“Do you know who that Diviner was, Arthur?” She looked up with a stream of tears rolling down her right cheek.
“She was my sister.”