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"No problem, no problem. Like I said, we are going to the same place - Ashar University of Magic, so being close enough isn't an issue! And surely by the time we both graduate, our bond would have improved enough already!" Elaru grinned. "Just like I said, no disadvantage at all!"
An indeterminate amount of time pa.s.sed in which neither of them moved or spoke. The scene could have looked like a painting if it weren't for the gra.s.s waving in the breeze.
Kiel was fighting a battle within himself to calm down and not kill Elaru on the spot. His attempts finally seemed to have borne fruit when he noticed an additional problem:
He was going to have to put up with her for three years?!
Calm down, calm down. Kiel repeated to himself. There is no guarantee that what she is saying is the truth. Maybe, they don't really need to be close at all. That sort of thing is easy to test. She did say that she doesn't know much about the bond. Maybe some of the things she knows are actually misconceptions? And even if it were the truth, if she did indeed join the university with him, he wouldn't necessarily need to hang around her, they would be close enough even if they avoided each other. Right?
"And what if one of us doesn't pa.s.s the entrance exam? What will we do after we graduate?!" Kiel's voice was slightly trembling.
"There's no way either of us would fail the exam. And as for what to do after we graduate, we have three years to solve the problem of physical limitations. That's plenty of time!"
Kiel was still silently fuming. Repeating ‘calm down’ inside his head had little effect. She tricked him!
"You… you… " His words dripped with venom, the temperature around him continuing to plummet down, becoming icier than even his glare. Kiel struggled to find an appropriate word for her. It's not that he couldn't think of any, on the contrary, he thought of too many words – monster, demon, liar… countless insults easily rolled around his head.
Elaru pouted. "Sorry?"
"Do you think apologizing half-heartedly is going to make it all better?" Kiel hissed through his gritted teeth.
"What will make it better then? Would you feel better if you hurt me? Do you want me to take responsibility for it?"
"In fact, yes. Excellent idea!" Kiel's face contorted into an undisguised false smile.
Elaru's grinning face experienced a sudden change, her expression turned serious, even a bit cold. It surprised Kiel that she had a real poker face, it looked so similar to his own. He suddenly felt like he was looking into a mirror. It gave him an uncomfortable feeling.
"Alright. Then, I should start taking responsibility by telling you the full truth, right?" She didn't wait for him to answer.
"I admit that I omitted and… manipulated certain things. And I'll even explain how it works." She pointed her index finger upwards as if saying 'listen carefully'.
"The best way to trick someone is to cause them to trick themselves. Our minds constantly summarize the information we receive and extrapolate information to fill up the holes with context. So when I say 'I am called Elaru', you process it as 'Her name is Elaru' even though that is not what I said. I could have meant that some people call me Elaru, but my name might have been something else. Well, this is just an example, my name really is Elaru.
This trick works best if the person you are trying to fool knows that it is undoubtedly the truth; such as, by you having signed an oath of truth. In such a situation, they won't put as much thought into what you are saying as they would have put otherwise. Because they know the oath prevents lying, they will believe you and not question deeply what you say. So if you want to trick them or manipulate them using the truth, you would do it by hiding information and by forming your statements in a way that the person you are trying to deceive reaches the wrong conclusion by themselves. If they reach a lie on their own, they will treat it as if it was the absolute truth. And after all is said and done, you can always get out of it by telling them it was all a big misunderstanding.
You should make full use of this method in the future if questioned about Aetherneal Bond or anything related to it."
Kiel could feel sweat rolling down the side of his face. This female was much more cunning than he had initially thought.
She locked her eyes with his and said good-naturedly, with a straight face: "Don't be mad. All of this is just a misunderstanding."
The frozen calm of Kiel's face was broken by the sudden widening of his eyes. He stared at her in disbelief. "As if that would actually work?! Do you take me for an idiot?!" His words came out higher and louder than he intended.
Maybe he would have believed it was a misunderstanding if she didn't explain her strategy a second ago. But since she did, her blatant implementation of the said strategy made all Kiel's attempts of stifling his anger instantly fail. The fury, like bubbling lava, melted through his mask and erupted forwards. The drops of his mana, flowing around the clearing, instantly became agitated and started whirling around chaotically, creating a tempest.
Elaru looked straight into his livid eyes. Neither his fury nor the tempest of mana seemed to bother her. Her face didn't convey a clear message. Was she taunting him, or perhaps gloating about her own superiority? Was she warning him to not underestimate her? To not look down on her because of who she seems to be?
"Of course not. I wouldn't have wanted to become bound to an idiot. I've known about the Aetherneal Bond for years. I have always wanted to do it, but I've never found someone who I'd want to do it with." She dismissed his anger.
Her mind was strong, but not like a steel wall - shielding itself from the tempest and keeping it out. No, her mind was like air - just letting the tempest pa.s.s through. She could feel the emotional turmoil in its entirety, but it could not affect her.
"Since it is not something that can be undone, naturally you would want to choose a right mate to do it with. Especially if you actually become stuck to them!" Kiel reasoned, pushing the words forcefully between his teeth.
Elaru nodded. "I wanted to do it so bad, but I had no one to do it with. But then… suddenly… you appeared, presented to me on a silver platter." She paused briefly. "No, you didn't appear. Our meeting had nothing to do with luck. It is more like we met by divine guidance… " She puckered her lips, thinking hard about something.
"Cut the c.r.a.p! I already told you that I don't believe in fate." Kiel was long past caring of who he was and who he tried to be. The profanities that he usually never voiced rolled off of his tongue easily.
Elaru ignored him, her eyes glazed, as she wasn't even talking to him but herself. "I watched you for a week trying to determine why we met. I still have no idea."
Kiel looked at her disbelievingly and said slowly, dragging out each word as if he was talking to an idiot. "We met because we were coincidentally in the same place at the same time. That's what happens when two people are in the same place at the same time - they meet."
Elaru continued as if she didn't hear him. "But I am out of time, I can't just idle around and watch you, hoping that I would suddenly get enlightened about it. So since I can't stay here with you, I just have to take you with me."
Her eyes cleared, and she looked at him again. "But how could I take you with me into the Ashar University of Magic? The only way is if you enrolled as well."
What did she think he was? An interesting specimen she wanted to study? What's up with this strange turn of events? What divine guidance?! Why is she so desperate to believe in fate? Kiel felt a headache coming. The more she talked, the less he understood.
"And how could I make you capable enough to enroll?" Elaru smiled. "Aetherneal bond. That's when it hit me. Maybe that's what I was supposed to do all along!" Her eyes glittered. "So I took a chance. Both of us had little to lose. I noticed that you were taking it too lightly. I could have told you this from the start. But if I did, you wouldn't have done it with me. So, of course, I chose not to." She admitted, giving him a look as if it was his fault for getting tricked.
"Of course, I would have said no! Who in their right mind would have said yes?!" Kiel felt the need to defend his point of view. "What happened to honesty, integrity and freedom of choice?! Do you not feel a shred of guilt?!" Kiel was about ready to explode. Regardless of her answer, it wouldn't change how he felt. So why did he even ask?
Elaru stared right through his eyes to his soul. Her gaze wasn't mocking, it was solemn. But he still felt as if she was telling him "Don't you feel ashamed speaking about honesty and integrity with how you deceive the entire world every day?"
He clenched his fists tightly, his knuckles turning white. He had no right to speak of such things.
"What is the purpose of guilt? I live my life without regrets. Sure, it would have been ideal if I didn't need to trick you. But why would I let feelings cloud my judgment? I made the logical, the optimal decision. And since it brought me the wanted outcome, I don't regret it."
Kiel understood what she meant. In her position, he would have done the same. Logic over emotion. Why risk failing your goal for something as irrelevant as feelings?
But even though rationally her actions made sense, even though he would have done the same, when he was in the receiving end, it wasn't as easy to accept, forgive or dismiss.
He wasn't even sure if the hate rocking his body came because of what she had done, or what he was doing every day. Did he hate her, or did he hate himself?
The self-reflecting thoughts did nothing to stifle his fury, on the contrary, it was as though the magnitude of his rage had surpa.s.sed that which he could express. His face lost every trace of expression, replaced with bone-chilling apathy. The more furious he became, the calmer he seemed.
"I have nothing to do with you and your 'fate'. We are completely separate! And it should stay that way. Don't talk to me, don't even stand near me. Since you like watching me from the distance so much, I suggest you do that." Kiel spoke his final words and turned around to leave. It would be better if he left, before he did something stupid. Like murdering her.
"Ouch!" Elaru said in mock hurt her hand over her heart. He could tell that she was rolling her eyes even though he couldn't see it. "My 'fate' is now your 'fate', mate." She emphasized the word mate, she was clearly referring to the fact that they were now soulbound.
He could even hear her trying to stifle a giggle. She found it amusing that her statement rhymed.
How b.l.o.o.d.y insensitive!!
Kiel continued stalking off. The plants seemed to turn away from him, as if they were trying to stay out of his path. If plants had legs, they would have run away like every other creature previously dwelling near the clearing.
Elaru watched him walk off for a bit before she started following him. She attempted a different approach. "Oi oi! Don't be so mad. So what if we are temporarily stuck together? So what if I had questionable motives for choosing you as my mate? The situation is now different. Since we are now stuck for life, we are practically family!"
"Fantastic." Kiel said sarcastically. "That explains why I can't stand you. Take a page out of my father's book and take good care of me by staying as far away as you can."
"Ah, right. You don't get along with your relatives." Elaru mumbled. "Family is a wrong comparison. I don't get along with my relatives either. In fact, most of them don't even know we are related. That was a totally wrong comparison! It's more like… like… " She tried her best to find the right words.
She snapped her fingers. "Ah! It's like marriage."
Kiel almost fell when he heard it, but he quickly regained his balance. "For the love of Origin, please don't compare it to marriage!" He hissed.
Elaru frowned. "You're right, marriage can be dissolved while we are stuck for life… "
Kiel almost facepalmed himself again. "No… that isn't the point… "
Elaru nodded obliviously. "Right, the point is that now you are one of the most important people in my life. And I take good care of people important to me. So how about we let the bygones be bygones and restart this relationship?"
"There... Is... No... Relationship..." Kiel growled out, wishing he could strangle her.
"Then let's start one."
"No. Let's not."
Surprisingly, Elaru stopped following him. She sighed in exasperation and looked up to the sun.
Unfortunately, Kiel didn't get the time to bask in the small victory, because, Elaru being Elaru, decided upon this exact moment to add oil to the dying fire:
"Are you going to continue sulking or are we going to Ashar? You know, the deadline for applying for university exams is today."
The city of Ashar was a two days flight from Beyd. There was no Gate in Beyd that could be used to teleport over large distances. Only major cities had Gates and Beyd was just a small country town. There was no way they could make it in time!
"I've already applied for the exams, but I guess you haven't yet, huh?"
Kiel froze in his steps. "Are you telling the truth?"
"Of course. I can no longer lie to you. Our minds are connected now, you'd be able to tell if I was lying."
"Lie to me." Kiel blurted out.
She grinned. "My favorite color is pink."
Kiel's eyes widened in shock. He could clearly tell that it was a lie! Not because of how she said it, or even what she said. He felt deep within him with 100% clarity that that was a lie. He had never been sure of something with that much certainty before. It was staggering.
"I am actually an intelligence agent."
Lie. So clear. It was so clear! So she really can't lie to him?
So previously… when his 'lie sense' wasn't tingling…
Kiel's hands shook, the dying fire exploded into an inferno in a blink of an eye.
Elaru didn't seem to notice because she continued: "Do you want to stop by your mansion to pack before we go to Ashar?"
Kiel turned around and spat out: "Are you deliberately trying to p.i.s.s me off?! Is this your twisted sense of humor?! Are you enjoying this?!"
Elaru was startled by the sudden reappearance of his fury. She had thought that he had managed to calm down a bit. She tilted her head in confusion. "What? No. What?"
"Beyd doesn't have a Gate!! We can't get there in time anyway!" Kiel jeered menacingly.
The realization flickered on her face before it was replaced by a beautiful smile. "Who said we need a Gate?"
Before Kiel could retort with a snide remark, she reached into her backpack and pulled out a hexagonal purple crystal the size of a baton stick.
An Eternal Beacon.
Beacons were artifacts that could be used to create a dimensional rift to teleport the user to their sister Gate, regardless of where the user was in the world.
Beacons were made out of the Gate itself, so they were a limited and expensive method of transportation. Periodically, the a.s.sociation of Magic would sc.r.a.pe some dust from the Gate and use it to create small Beacons in a form of a white or transparent gla.s.s-like crystal which would melt and crumble after a single use.
However, the Beacon that Elaru was holding was a deep purple color. Kiel recognized it immediately as an Eternal Beacon. So rare and expensive that there were less than a thousand of them in existence.
Unlike a regular Beacon, an Eternal Beacon could be used for an unlimited number of times.
Where did she get such a rare and expensive artifact?!
She recognized the disbelief on Kiel's face. "Who do you take me for? Geez! Ashar is known as a city of quests! Quest Lodge headquarters are in Ashar! Why do you look so surprised? What kind of quest seeker would I be without one of these?" She smiled a brilliant smile.
"A normal one." Kiel responded bluntly.
"I don't do normal." Elaru smirked.
And just like that, Kiel was struggling to stay mad at her.
His rekindled anger deflated like hot air escaping from a balloon. His face didn't experience much change in expression, but now it felt much less cold. His aura stabilized.
He tried so hard to hate her, but she was so hard to hate. He felt like he was trying to stay mad at a naughty child. Even though she was cunning, devious, and selfish, there was an inexplicable charm to it.
The charm didn't originate from her beauty, in that Kiel was sure. He had seen many beautiful women before, and none of them had left him with such a deep impression. Was it the charisma oozing out of her mana? Was it the perfect combination of her many traits that coalesced into 'charm'?
Or... Kiel's eyes widened, thinking of another possibility.
"Does the bond influence emotions?"