Chapter 17: The Calling (4/5)

For the entirety of the day, Monster regaled Elric with the radiant history of the objects known as hallows. It knew Elric wasn’t much of a materialistic person, so it had to appeal to his intellectual side and pique his curiosity. 

Curiosity. The greatest impetus for the progression of the human race as well as being the greatest reason for mankind’s own undoing. 

Elric, as far as most humans go, was an especially inquisitive one. Monster knew that. As long as it could tempt Elric with enough knowledge, it’d be able to lead the weak human by the nose for its own purposes.

And it worked, to a degree. Elric was just barely unable to resist the temptation any longer, and who could blame him? Monster was an elder demon with countless experience in deceiving mankind. The sole reason stopping him from asking how to use this hallow was his own safety. Trusting Monster was inherently a bad decision given its demonic nature and their history together. A majority of the unlucky situations Elric found himself in was primarily because of this demon, in fact. Any dumb ideas in the future would most likely harm Elric plenty and Monster hardly. 

Elric continued to weigh the pros and cons of his situation a while longer. He didn’t dare ask a direct question about the hallow, but he also couldn’t help himself from letting his curiosity grow unchecked.

Monster hadn’t any such inclinations to set conditions for Elric, however. All the demon wanted was for Elric to be able to use the hallow. What would possibly stop Elric from freely using the hallow once he figured out how it worked? 

So it taught Elric all about the Heart of Reason, including ways not explained to Elric from the piece of parchment from Kebrilio.

Elric took this wellspring of knowledge like a man quenching his thirst after days without water. Hallows, as he found out, were not all created the same. Born through the fusion of mana and blessed with divine power, many hallows had distinctly convenient conditions of activation; they simply required its user to channel a certain level of mana for its powers to be wielded. Some didn't even require mana to be used. Moreover, unlike spellcasting, activating a hallow didn't require focus. In many ways hallows were far more convenient than spellcasting. And in turn, these simple hallows equated to tools for war, such as the Crimson Teardrop.

Several gods saw fit to forge hallows as rewards for the services of their most faithful. Divine power made these specific hallows activatable only by those of the correct faith. Only magi of considerable mana and mastery could overpower the hallow’s nature and force its usage. 

Elric took a second to ponder the last two sentences. Surely Kebrilio had to belong to the second of the two sentences if the Heart of Reason was a god-created hallow? The man of his burly size couldn’t possibly be a devout follower of the God of Wisdom. 

So was he, Elric realized with dismay. That meant he wouldn’t be able to use the Heart of Reason, then? 

Not quite so, it would turn out.

Monster was willing to teach Elric a way to trick the hallow. A means to alter the mana signature to resemble the signature of a follower of Atroh Tanskadt. Successfully learning how to do so would easily allow Elric to use the Heart of Reason.

Truth be told, Elric found this misrepresentation of faith to the gods to be extremely unpalatable. The mental scale between morality and curiosity within his head teetered hesitantly for a lingering moment before it happened. His conscience could hold out no longer against knowledge and he surrendered.

Following Monster’s instructions, Elric allowed himself to fall into a meditative slumber. He had to borrow the demon’s aid to do so, as he was unable to fall into the same trance so quickly unaided. Monster had a multitude of ways to allow Elric usage of the Heart of Reason, including a way to simply manipulate Elric’s body into activating the hallow, but it settled on letting Elric learn how to activate it by himself. The ability to use the Heart of Reason as one pleased, this was the sole achievement Monster had any pleasure in as the Soul God.

A ripple of mana cascaded away from Elric in wave-like motions. It covered an ever-increasing volume of space, seemingly causing every inorganic material to become transparent. Any living being, regardless of size, could easily be seen with varying intensities of soul.

Never could Elric possibly imagine a view of the world such as this. The tall trees, the verdant grass, the beautiful flowers, the leaping and crawling of the little insects, the chirping of the birds, everything had a soul.

  ※※※

The souls of those sleeping were made even more apparent to Elric. He could sense the fluctuations of their souls and see the flow of mana from it. Of every soul within his range of vision, Elric could sense five sleeping figures with powerful souls. The soul closest to him was Hughesin without a doubt. One soul farther away had a particularly gentle and rhythmic flow of mana, Elric took this soul to be Hughesin’s mother. The two other souls he detected belonged to the two magi that attacked him before—one of which had nearly killed him when he tried to escape that night. 

Elric felt no hatred for the magus, the man had only been reacting accordingly to his particularly hot-headed actions and were thus not at fault for his own situation. The both of them felt sincere in their repentance, Elric knew. Though the lifelong vow to protect him from one of the magi bothered him greatly.

The last soul differed the most. The pulses of mana from this soul were near-minute and practically still, but once seen by Elric, the soul reacted at once. Strong ripples of mana flowed forth from the soul, agitating the space around with its influx and causing Elric to immediately sever the sight. Even by that point, the raw amount of mana being released from the soul was strong enough for Elric to sense it even without the help of the hallow.

The abruptness of the situation had Elric nervous. He didn’t even turn his head yet and the stygian had already dematerialized from the world. What was he going to do?

Press his head to his pillow and feign sleep, of course. 

But the looming feeling of being cornered didn’t lighten up. Mana cascaded everywhere with high-pitched wails too loud for Elric to ignore. Covering his ears didn’t help, and neither did covering himself with a quilt and pillow. There was no muffling this strange sound.

Elric knew deep within his soul that he was being called to. A summons from another soul. His actions just now had accidentally revealed his presence to something else, something that wasn’t going to let him go now.

It bothered him so much that Elric decided to climb back out from bed. Cautiously putting on something to wear, he crept open the door and walked out. Whatever soul he awoke was still beckoning to him. Like an ember in the dark night, the presence of the mana shined far too bright for him to ignore.

Guided by the mana, Elric followed it back to its source. It was the start of a new day, but Elric felt the hallways to be extraordinarily quiet and still. The crystals inlaid in the walls of the estate glistened in the golden sunlight but gave off the same silvery glow as moonlight. Under the light of both day and night, the murals painted on the walls gave an especially mysterious glow.

As Elric advanced through the halls, he thought about what this place would be like at the height of day. Surely the place would be alive and bustling with the echoes of the workers as they worked through the day. But it wasn’t like that presently. Only the tendrils of mana gave off any sign of activity.

He could sense the source now. A giant portrait was suspended at the very top of the entry hall, the person painted within it resembled Elric of Hughesin when he saw it. At a closer look, however, Elric had to admit that the duke and this person were two different people. This man looked weathered by their personal life whereas Hughesin still had the same spirited expression as one would expect from a youth.

Surely this had to be Hughesin’s ancestor to some degree.

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