It was like a dream. And I knew it was a dream. Yet it felt so real. The fact that I didn’t feel any pain gave it away. Yet I could feel my existence as I normally did. I opened my eyes looking at the darkness. It was like the sky, but without any stars.
I pushed myself up, getting seated, finally looking at my hand. It was the same old hand I knew, except it was fine. All the scars that I had from the training were gone. I looked around, examining my surroundings — I knew that place. It was a room full of candles. But unlike last time, all the candles were extinguished.
Or so I thought, until I saw a single light, somewhere far away. I stood up and began to walk towards it. Soon the walk turned into running. I could still barely see around this dark room, but the ground was like dim light, not pure darkness. I had to watch my every step just so I wouldn’t step on any of the extinguished candles. And as I got closer to the only remaining light, it was another candle, but unlike others, it was burning. It was working itself hard — the wax slowly melting away. And compared to all those other candles, this one had a lot less wax left.
I pushed my shaking hand towards the fire, but the moment it went over it, I felt nothing. The fire didn't react to it slightest.
I sighed. “I see,” I murmured.
A loud echo echoed throughout the chamber. It was a familiar voice. Yet I couldn’t put a face and the voice together. “I always found you humans so… intriguing.”
“Who are you?” I asked calmly, falling on my legs and arms and examining the candle more closely. “A-are you the candle?” I whispered, head leaning very close to the candle.
There was a very obvious sound of sighing, but a burst of laughter followed. “We’ve talked once. Underground. And then you took out my seed, promising me to plant somewhere else.”
“Oh.” It clicked. Disappointed, I fell on my ass and released a long sigh. “God of Harvest, wasn’t it? Ahean?” I said it out loud.
“You guessed it,” Ahean responded.
I sighed. “What are you doing in my head? What are you doing here?”
“I’ve always been following you around, inside of you, waiting. It was too early to say anything,” Ahean responded, chuckling. The fact that someone was in my head was slightly creepy. "You're an interesting man, full of lies. Yet, look how far you've come!"
“And now that I’m dead, you decided to send me off?”
There was a moment of silence. A hurtful silence. I had expected that.
“You’re not dead yet. As long this light burns, you’re in a coma, slowly dying.”
“Last light, huh?” I lied down, looking at the dark sky. “So, it's finally over, huh? I assume that the candle is my life essence?”
“It’s your magical essence,” Ahean responded. I was surprised. Then again, it made sense.
“Really? I didn’t think that magical essence is presented as candles.”
“Essence is essence. How every person sees them is a completely different matter. You see it as a candle. Others see it as an ocean. And then there was a guy who saw it as bugs.”
“Yikes. Really?” I murmured.
“However, most people never see their pool in the first place,” Ahean continued.
"How do they feel it then?" I asked out of interest.
"Do you need to focus on anything when you speak? Most are so used that they need for visual presentation. They just do it, naturally," Ahean answered.
“So, why am I going to die?” I asked, closing my eyes for a moment. Dying was surprisingly comfortable — no pain.
“You beings need two things to survive. Magical essence and life force. I don’t think I need to explain what’s life force, right?”
“I think I have a general idea, yeah,” I said, nodding. "It's all the physical damage that might kill me, right?"
“Yes. If either of them reaches zero, you’ll die. But here’s a major difference. Lifeforce is like an endless candle that only burns. If you do something bad, it burns more. And sometimes it burns less. But it always burns. Normally when you rest and heal, the wax will rebuild itself, but it gets always weaker, thinner. And some try to cheat it by strengthening the wax with unnatural ways."
“Necromancy?” I suggested.
“For example, yes, but not the only thing. I do have to admit that necromancy has almost died off in your world. I never liked it,” the god said.
“Alright, how about the mana pool?” I asked.
“Mana pool has endless regeneration. It will slowly repair itself, getting itself as strong as possible. As you age, it might get slowly weaker, but in the end, it’s always fixing itself again.”
I looked at the candle. “Then why aren't I recovering any magical essence?”
“To create life, you need two,” the voice said.
I opened my eyes, leaning forward and looking at the candle. “Really?” I said, starting to chuckle.
“But as you can see, you have only a single candle left. And since it cannot create more life, it’ll burn, until it extinguishes.”
“So, I literally burnt up all the candles, except one? That’s quite amazing, don’t you think?” I said with slight sarcasm.
“Your joke isn’t far from the truth. Any normal mage would be able to control their essence, not using it all. Some might go to lower limits, but never deplete their magical pool, almost as they're incapable of doing that.”
“But I’m not a mage, aren’t I?”
“I think you called the others sorcerers, am I right?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Your body and mind protect you from harm that essence can cause you. Thus they add a lock to a certain part of your essence, so you wouldn’t burn it all out.”
“But why can I use so little of my essence? This lock is stupidly painful? Why can I use only like… a few percents of my whole pool, while others can use a lot more? Why not put the lock at the endpoint, so I wouldn’t just burn it all out?”
“You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me!” I shouted, standing up. “Why must I have all those disadvantages? Why can’t I be as normal as others?”
“Well, for the very reason why you’re asking. You want more, while you, or your body, or your mind is not really ready for it. You can't handle it. It's like a drug for you. The toddler won’t learn to walk overnight. Some manage to learn it fast, but for others it takes time. And in magical essence case, most will never learn to use their full potential.
“So, there are those who can use their magical essence pool fully. some need more time, and some will never learn.”
I sighed. “You’re comparing me to a toddler?”
“Who are you trying to fool? You’re young. You have no experience. But because of your situation, you demand more. The only reason why you're demanding more is the fact that you're the hero. If you were a normal adventurer, you’d be one of those kids in the school. Be honest, would you really want that? After you’ve experienced a life of Hero, would you really want to go back?
I looked at the candle, listening to the echoing voice. I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t argue. The fact was, I had come to enjoy this life. Not that long ago, I had begged for a cliche adventure. But now, I was afraid to lose it. After all, everything I had gained was only thanks to the fact that I had become a hero.
“I might be the only one who knows the real you,” the voice said after a long pause. "And I mean the real you."
Another long pause followed. “I have so many questions,” I whispered.
“Yet I cannot answer them. Not now. We do not have as much time as you think we have. And I can’t answer because you’re not ready.”
I chuckled. “What are you, a messenger?”
“Yes. I like that word. This is exactly what I’m now. A messenger.”
I sighed. “What do you want? Why are you here?” I asked the golden question. “Are you here to send me on my lonely journey to heaven or hell?”
“Oh no,” Ahean said immediately. “I’m here to offer you a chance. I can save your life,” the voice said.
One of my eyebrows rose. “Save my life? And what do you ask in return?”
“You have to swear that you’ll plant my seed within one month after you wake up. And trust me, you don’t want to break that promise.”
I chuckled. “You’re quite desperate. What if I choose to die instead?”
There was a moment of pause. I could hear a long sigh. He didn’t want to answer that question. Perhaps he had hoped that I was just going to say yes, immediately. “Then it’ll be a huge nuisance and I have to wait a long time before I can drive the next hero crazy.”
I laughed. “What’s stopping you to annoy another random person?”
“You placed the seed inside the hero’s chest. Only the hero’s badge can open it. And only a hero can use the hero's badge.”
“Huh? I wonder why Hin didn’t lock you into that chest then?” I asked.
“He created that chest. And he did lock me in there. But Hin was alive, and he didn't know anything about it. He wasn’t about to die like you. And unlike most deaths, this is something I can help with. It’s not that it's a huge deal-breaker, it’s more of a nuisance to wait another century or two before the next hero arrives. And there’s always a chance that there won’t be a next one. The way things are going, humanity might perish.”
My eyebrows twitched. I couldn't ignore those last words.
“Hero. Do you really think it’s your time, yet? There are still those who are waiting for you. Some still have a tiny bit of hope left. Do you really want to leave Aldrynte and Alice behind? Especially Alice, who is now known shadowbeast. Without the hero’s protection, she’ll be hunted down, just for sports.
“And there is still the major demon threat. Do you really think that fire giants and goblins on the other side of the wall are ready to listen to somebody else? They won't bow down to anyone else, not yet.
“Are you really ready to give your life away, while it could be saved?”
I kept staring at the candle. It was working itself out fast. Half of it was already burnt off since I first saw it. “What’s the fruit you’re going to bear?” I asked.
“I can’t answer that now. But one day, when the time is right, I’ll tell you,” Ahean said.
“And you promise that wherever I plant you, you won’t grow wild? I can’t let you grow endlessly large!”
There was a moment of silence. “That, I can promise.”
I looked up into the dark sky. “And I’ll heal fully back? I'll be whole again?”
Another moment of silence followed. “No,” the voice said, regret in his voice. “You’ll never be the same. The price you paid for removing the lock is massive. It seems you're back to normal, but you'll have a lot more on your shoulder. You might never be able to become a mage. But you can always train and try. You should not throw away your hope. You need to survive until you slay the brown and red eyes. So, try not to die”
I opened my mouth to ask about the last few sentences but closed it. I knew it without asking — he wasn't going to answer them. I visibly frowned. I thought about Aldrynte. I thought about Alice. I thought about all the students, new friends. And I thought about this adventure that I didn't want to end, not yet. “Fine. You have your deal.”
“Swear it in my name.”
I frowned. “In the name of Ahean, I promise I will plant your seed within a month after I wake up,” I said loudly, slightly annoyed.
I could feel chains surrounding my arms, but as I looked at them, there were none.
“May your candles spread wide,” Ahean said. And as he finished the sentence, a wind spread throughout the chamber. For a moment, I was afraid that it would extinguish the fire instead. But another fire lit next to the lone one. That fire was different though - blue.
And as a moment passed, I could see those two candles creating the third flame. But that flame was now something between red and blue. And then the fourth one came to be. And then two new ones followed. And every moment that happened, it felt like a fresh air got into my lungs.
The endless chamber of candles began to lit, slowly. Soon it was an ocean of flames surrounding me; mostly red. But there was always some blue hiding amongst the red.
“Remember, Hero, to never forcefully open this door again. Next time, it’ll be your doom, and even I can’t help you. But for now, I shall close the door once more, locking it for you.”
Something hit me hard, pushing me outside of the gate. The gates closed the moment I was out, still flying. I crashed against the ground, but it didn't hurt. A large key appeared, locking the gate. But that key was made of a pure familiar blue energy. And then the key shattered into millions of pieces.
“Now, sleep, rest. You need it. It’s going to take a long time to recover," now tired voice of the old god whispered into my ears. The voice was also weak and tired.
My sight began to go blurry. It was hard to stay awake now that I was outside of the candle chamber. And just before I lost all my senses, I heard one last whisper.
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- Matthew E. Damson
I'm someone whose pen-name is Matthew E. Damson. Some others know me as Elven. I'm also known as elf, elfie, elves, pointy ears, and some more. To be honest, I have no idea why they call me other names, but they create nicknames, not me.
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