Chapter 13: Pond of You

“Please teach me magic!”

 

I feel a sense of nostalgia from his words. It reminds me of the first time he asked for my tutelage, albeit by imitating the children’s speech. And now he wants to learn magic, after the most abrupt change in class I have ever known.

A class is the shape of the being’s soul, which is determined by the combined will of the individual and the World Stream. Not everybody has a class, not even me. To change class, one must gradually sculpt the desired shape of their soul.

Yet despite this, Enbos has just fashioned his class as if it was soft clay! Either the World Stream favours him, or his spirit has overruled its constraints. Both explanations are simply absurd.

I take a hard, long look at the absurd man before me. Maybe it’s not so impossible after all?

Ah, he’s still waiting for my reply, just like that very night. The answer should be obvious, and I say so to his wooden face. I have no qualms about teaching him, and yet I feel a sudden pang of guilt after I agree. I wonder why?

While he is lost in excitement, I am lost in thought. He notices my quiet demeanour and begins to show concern. When I notice this, I realise my sin.

If I teach him magic, he will continue to visit. In truth, I want him to rely on me, I want to feel… needed. But why am I so particularly enthralled to keep Tyler by my side?

It’s because he is more than willing to stay. The reason he learnt Arenish was to explore the world, but now he’s learning magic so he won’t leave. Garea has far more to offer than I, yet I’m the one binding him to these woods. This is why he finds so much joy from hunting. I can scarcely imagine his suffering before we met, wandering alone and without rest.

But now, things are different, and he knows it too. I can tell from yesterday’s talk he still has the desire to explore. Thus, I continue to remain silent about his form, to separate our lives and clear the way for his departure.

An urgent voice cuts through all my thoughts.

 

“Um, Helena? I suggest we flee. The Blue Bear is starting to stir!”

“Oh, you’re right. By the way, we need to wash your fishy character, lest the bear finds its way back to my cabin.”

 

We hastily retreat from its domain, and start preparing camp by a stream. The cold bites at my fingers, and I’m already nauseous from a few spells and our short flight.

I remember Tyler’s grand statement from last night. It’s not possible. My body is too weak, and it’s not getting better.

I look at Enbos’ tireless form. He learns quickly, so perhaps there is enough time…

 


 

I have just returned from spearing fish and used the new and improved <Soul Eater> to recover my HP and MP. As an experiment, I store one of their souls in my <Soul Core> then release and reabsorb it. No additional energy is obtained. I try storing the soul without devouring it, but its life force is involuntarily taken. It appears <Soul Eater> is a necessary complement to <Soul Core>.

Helena has yet to start a fire, but I do see a small pile of sticks at her feet. I wonder if she is too tired to cast magic? As I am about to offer assistance, Helena suddenly clears her throat.

 

“Enbos, I think now is a good time to practise magic.”

“Eh? Right now?”

“Yes. Normally I would teach you the basics, but judging by the movement of mana in your body, you should be able to handle the lowest tier of spells.”

 

I’m starting to get cold feet, and it’s not the weather. I’ve only been a Skeletal Mage for less than an afternoon! I haven’t accumulated the required experience. This is one serious flaw with my class change mechanic.

 

“Do not worry. You’ll be learning the spell <Conjure Flame> today.”

“B-but my affinities do not include fire. Shouldn’t we try a spell I’m suited to?”

“Perhaps, but to cast magic means to give form to your mana. If it’s something as familiar as fire, you should be able to imagine the result.”

 

I see. So magic is manifested by the comprehension of its effects. In a pre-electricity world, the sight of a candle light is common enough to understand. In that case, this should be easy to learn.

I crouch by the camp and follow Helena’s instructions. First, I’m told to feel the mana flowing within me. I have trouble recognising the sensation, so I’m unsure if the feeling in my bones is real.

Next, she tells me to picture the heat and light I desire. It has been a long time, but the fact I miss such warmth only makes the memory more vivid.

Finally, I must project the mana dyed in my thoughts towards the target.

 

“<Conjure Flame>.”

 

I hover my hand above the fuel. I feel a mysterious force leave my body, and flow out towards… somewhere.

 

“Um, Helena? I think it fail-”

 

Without warning, an invisible force explodes from my outstretched palm. My arm, along with my entire body, is blown back by the shockwave. I roll down a slope before landing in the stream.

 

“Are you alright Enbos!?”

“I’m alright. A little drenched, but alright.”

“I’m sorry. I guess it’s too soon for practice. When we get back, I’ll teach you the basics properly, okay?”

“Okay.”

“I’ll light the campfire, so come dry yourself.”

“… Not just yet. There’s something I have to do. I’ll be with you soon.”

 

The explosion had dislocated my right arm. It’s now gently drifting down the stream. The moment Helena shows her back, I frantically wade through the shallows.

 


 

I managed to retrieve my arm by remotely grabbing a branch. Why do I feel like this won’t be the last time? When I return and tell Helena, “I was looking for something,” she breaks out in laughter. I guess she imagined me chasing the “item” downstream. Hmm? My travelling pouch wasn’t on me, so what did she think I was looking for?

Speaking of my travelling pouch, I placed our luggage at the same spot, but she seems to have taken hers and is now sitting away from my bag. Does it smell funny? I can’t quite tell, as my sense of smell is markedly inferior to my last life.

Twilight is almost here. Despite today’s misfortunate and scrape with death, Helena appears to be in a good mood.

 

“Enbos, thank you for today.”

“… I was about to apologise. I led you this far into the woods and endangered our lives. We haven’t even properly hunted.”

“True, and yet I haven’t enjoyed trekking this much… for a long time.”

 

Helena grows silent, staring vacantly into the campfire whilst hugging her knees. Her eyes appear lifeless, as she reminisces a lonelier time.

Did I… just spoil her mood? Am I trying to make today miserable!? It’s a bit late, but I think this trip means a lot to her. I should have been trying to make it pleasant rather than push her away.

 

“… Ah! Helena, please come with me for a bit. I have something to show you.”

 

It’s not too late; the day still hasn’t ended. I take her hand and we follow the river downstream. She appears taken back by my sudden request.

After a brief walk, we happen upon a small pond off to the side of the river. The surface has frozen over with ice, but it is still thin enough to witness the spectacle below. Helena’s eyes widen in wonder.

At the bottom of this humble pond is a garden of radiant flowers, with golden fish nestling between its petals. It illuminates the frozen space in ethereal shades of blue and violet. Its inhabitants gracefully swim within this small haven. I’m not sure how its ecology works, but as expected of a fantasy world.

Helena turns to me with a fascinated expression.

 

“It’s beautiful, Tyler! I-I’ve never seen this in all my years living in the woods. Granted that I’ve never delved this far in winter.”

“I’m glad you like it, Helena.”

“Did you plan this entire expedition to show me these flowers? I don’t know what to say…”

 

Actually, I found it by chance while returning with my lost arm. It’s not noticeable during the day, but I spotted its light under the canopy’s shadow. I best not mention this, lest I ruin the moment.

 

“Wh-who knows? But I’m willing to keep doing these things if you feel down.”

“Huh? What are you saying Tyler? I’m… fine.”

“… Helena, I can’t pretend to know what you’ve been through, or may still be enduring. But if you ever want to share your pain, share it with me. Even if it’s the smallest fraction, I’ll take it, erase it, then keep on until there’s nothing left for either of us to carry. Just more time to spend together, like this.”

 

Helena is staring at me with a more amazed face than before. Everything I’ve said is true, but aren’t I being too dramatic? What the hell do I say now…?

We both watch in awkward silence as the fish gracefully swim between the flowers. It truly is a wonder as we both naturally relax and forget our earlier discomfort. Suddenly, Helena slightly shivers, and I realise the stars are already out.

 

“We best get back, Helena.”

“Indeed… um, Ty- I mean, Enbos? Do you have <Night Vision> by any chance?”

“Yes.”

“Would you mind… guiding me back through the dark?”

“Of course!” I reply with undisguised joy. How long am I going to keep acting like this!

 

She holds onto my hand, entwining her fingers with my own. She looks down at my walking feet with her hood obscuring her face, blocking the icy breeze. Her pace slows, so we take our time to leisurely return to camp.

Is it really so dark? The full moon is out and we’re going upstream, so it’s hard to lose our way. Maybe I’m just too used to my skill to notice.

After we return and have dinner (“I’ll eat over there”), we both turn in for the night. She has trouble sleeping in this cold weather, as she rests against a tree with a dying campfire by her side. Sadly, I do not have a blanket nor a tent. As I watch her curled up figure, I have an instinctive urge to sit beside her, but my body cannot offer any warmth. It will only steal what little heat she hoards.

I use <Sneak> to quietly gather more sticks to feed the embers. It’s the only thing I can do for her, and it’s only natural for a sleepless guardian like me. After a while, her shivers cease and serenity returns to her sleeping face.

 

“… Helena, let’s go again in spring,” I whisper.

 

The faintest of smiles curl from her lips.


 

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