Chapter 24 – Help
This was a sudden turn of events, but Aien had expected as much. In preparation for being caught off guard by the headmaster, he no longer hid any plants on his body. They could easily incriminate him with minimal effort on Zeristin's side. But it turned out that he didn't have to be cautious in that regard since Zeristin barely checked him for any hidden weapons or the like.
Despite his suspicions, Zeristin seemed to have preconceived notions as to what Aien was capable of. Maybe the famous magus still didn't want to believe that his daughter could fall at the hands of a regular human. Maybe he thought that Aien was only a petty henchman that leaked information, and therefore, only a small figure in the bigger picture.
It seemed that he could never imagine that Aien was the sole perpetrator and cause of his daughter's suffering.
Regardless, Aien had to first take care of this prison before deciding on how to deal with the dome that wasn't in his calculations.
It came to no surprise that before leaving, Zeristin had at least rid Aien of his Spacial Pouch. Since Aien knew that was going to happen, he'd already emptied all of the crucial contents weeks ago, and also prepared his secondary 'storage space.'
He reached into the back of his mouth and grabbed the sharp razor that was pierced deeply into his gums. It was a small fragment, barely the size of a fingernail, that he pulled out with his fingers. Ignoring the taste of blood, he straightened out his left arm and sliced open a fresh wound of a finger's length.
Without wasting any time, he rummaged within the insides of his own arm as if it belonged to another. He didn't care about damaging his muscles and tendons to lay bare the bone in the upper part of his forearm, close to his hand.
Afterwards, he walked over to the window that was barred with bars of steel and lodged his arm between them before leaning his body to the side. Following that, with the right amount of force, he violently swung his body to the opposite direction. Using the weight of his entire body, he crushed his arm like a pair of twigs on the ground. The bone-shattering sound that would make anyone shiver in discomfort resounded weakly in the small cell without anyone noticing. His actions weren't meaningless, as soon after, two tiny bags, that had been hidden within the cavity he'd prepared beforehand, dropped onto the ground. Since the bone was slightly weakened at this part, Aien was able to break his arm at the right place without much trouble.
When he first came up with this method of storage, Aien ran into a few problems. He couldn't easily store the bags in his muscle tissues alone, as his body would naturally try to get rid of the foreign element. Fortunately, when he'd first successfully stored something in bone, his body didn't react much after recovering. The bags fused into the bone, leaving it slightly weakened, but other than that, there wasn't much trouble. On top of that, Aien was unable to see the traces of mana in the tiny vial that contained a drop of blood, making it the perfect hiding place for his tools to escape.
Aien's body began sweating heavily in response to the abuse it endured. Still, he retained his calmness without a care in the world. He crushed a tiny, red crystal between his fingers, which then turned into a fine powder and fell onto his wound. Slowly, the injury neatly repaired itself. Anything that wasn't in the right place moved to its respective area as if his muscles had turned sentient. He could also observe layers of tissues that reconstructed themselves on top of each other until not even a scar was left.
Aien was already able to turn his theory of Health Crystals into reality. However, since it required an enormous amount of effort to create a single crystal that would never reimburse the costs, there weren't many purposes for them. Although they did come in handy for rare cases like this where their compressed form was quite advantageous.
After the procedure was over, he didn't act rashly. First, he had to rest as he wiped off the sweat that covered his entire body. Simply because he was accustomed to pain didn't mean he didn't feel any. Also, his body would naturally react as any other and enter a slight state of shock, so he had to wait until he fully recovered.
After all, he only had one chance to make this work out, and not only did he need the perfect timing as well as some amount of luck, he also had to find the best spot to place his make-shift blasting charge. Thus, for the time being, he relaxed in the bed that was far more comfortable than his previous one and studied the bars in the small window as well as the heavy door.
Inside the headmaster's office, Zeristin paced up and down with much agitation, trying to think of a different solution. Catching the perpetrator, albeit essential to subdue his fury, was only secondary for him. The most important thing was to find a way that would help Lea recover. Afterwards, she could also provide a clue as to who had done all of this, since the Divine Constructs in the academies had yet to present him any leads.
Unable to bear Lea's fragile state of mind and watching her meaningless suffering, Zeristin had decided to let her descend into a deep slumber. Unless he helped her, she would be unable to awake from it, and he used this time to think through all the options he had.
No doubt, he had to rely on others for help. The mental landscape was unexplored, and few humans were proficient enough to provide assistance. He was no exception. Even those that declared themselves knowledgeable were none that he'd entrust this task to as he didn't believe that they truly understood the intricacies of the mind.
Everything else he'd personally done so far showed no effect. He'd asked for the Blessings of priests and used an astonishing amount of precious medicine that could even mend the soul, but nothing helped. All his treasures from distant lands that he'd accumulated over his life proved ineffective - Treasures that could bring back a human at the brink of death were unable to cure the psyche that had shut itself off from the world. If her state was caused by magic or any kind of outside influence, there wouldn't be this much of a problem. Ironically, the fact that her brain itself was left intact was the root of the problem. There were no physical injuries that caused the mental damage; hence, no medicine that he knew could heal her. In the end, he could only think of one surefire solution.
No matter how much Zeristin thought about the issue, his mind always drifted back to the seemingly only solution he dreaded most. He continued racking his brain, hoping to find another sign of hope, but there was no other choice for him. He had to reluctantly accept the fact that they were the only ones who could help her, and it filled him with unspeakable sorrow. Of course, there was the slim chance that he'd find a different solution to Lea's predicament in the future. One day he might find or create something himself that could help her recover.
But 'one day' wasn't enough. There was no guarantee either that he would ever be able to help her on his own. He also couldn't let her suffer and waste away the prime of her life simply because of his own selfishness.
Thus, he made up his mind. This was not about him, and his own feelings shouldn't interfere in his decision. He had already failed to take proper care of Lea, so he could consider this the punishment of the Gods he deserved after neglecting his parental duty.
Perhaps his worries were for naught as nothing was set in stone yet. His fears might prove ungrounded, but part of him knew that it was a false hope. Regardless, he hung onto the illusion if nothing but for his own sake.
Finding solace in these last thoughts, Zeristin set off and disappeared from his office. He had the utmost confidence that no one was able to break through the dome during his short absence, and Lea was placed in the safest place of the academy he could think of.
Aien idled in his prison for quite some time. By his estimations, and the moonlight shining through the small window above, it should be past midnight. He couldn't tell for sure that everything from this point on would go smoothly, but this was a risk he had to take. This was the result of his actions, and he had to make the best of it.
He had decided to blast open the bolt of the door that turned out to be nothing else but a regular heavy door. With the glasses Lea provided him, he could conclude that it wasn't a construct, which was rather careless of the headmaster. He either underestimated Aien to a greater extent he'd initially thought, or his mind was simply too disturbed to judge his own actions.
Before he had the time to plant the charge of concentrated mana, however, he stopped in his thinking when the door gave off sounds of rattling and scratching. Only seconds later, the door swung wide open. Aien couldn't hear a single noise or step when a man casually strolled through the entrance.
“Phew!” The man sighed extravagantly. “Oh? Aien!”
Genuinely perplexed, Aien stared at the familiar face in front of him.
“It really is you!" Zoris chortled in the face of Aien's confusion. "Haha! Imagine my reaction when I was tasked with helping an accomplice and heard them mentioning your name!”
This was the first time Zoris had gotten a genuine reaction out of the man, and it left him very pleased. It didn't take long for the cogs within Aien's head to turn, and he soon realized the facade that had eluded him.
“Of course... I shouldn't be surprised that the nobles have someone inside the academy. But who would have guessed it would be you..."
“You are quick to catch on, as usual, my friend."
"It seems the academy sure is lax in the regards of the threat of infiltration.”
"That's easy for you to say.” Zoris sighed heavily, remembering the days past, “Lea was stuck onto me like a leech until you came around.”
Before continuing their conversation, the features on Zoris' face began changing. It was a smooth process, albeit a bit alien-like, when his youthful appearance changed into that of a middle-aged man.
“You have met me before, but let me introduce myself again. I'm Marvis von Erestiv.”
It was the exact same person Aien had met during the dance. The student uniform appeared out of place when worn by the middle-aged man in front of him. It was stretched to its limits as following the change of his features, he had also grown in size.
“Now what?” Aien continued, his eyes containing a wary glint. “Are you here to silence me? To cut the loose ties that could lead to the involvement of the nobles that caused this whole charade? I'm sure that you can already spin the events into your favor.”
“Of course not,” Marvis responded, sounding as sincere as he could. Though he did hide the fact that it came up for discussion during the meetings between the Noble Houses. Personally, he truly felt it would be a shame to get rid of someone this talented. This person with a lack of Aer was the perfect spy. They had plenty of uses for him as he'd soon explain, but besides that, there was another reason.
Marvis had lived a long, very long, and weary life. In his youth, he trained the art of camouflage and espionage until his skills allowed him to rise into a higher position within the House of Erestiv. Nowadays, he was overqualified for a simple job like an infiltration, but with the mundane life he'd been living in his office, he wanted a change of pace. He desired to once more feel the old adrenaline rush of being in enemy territory with no one to support him.
Although the job turned out much simpler and less dangerous than he'd expected, he found this interesting fellow. Their meeting, and him getting Aien into the academy, was all a part of a plan he didn't even get to use. But putting Aien's talent for espionage aside, there was something else that intrigued Marvis after he'd spend some time with him. At first, his idea had been to convince Aien to become a spy for the nobles. It was the first thing he'd thought of when he met him. Much to his surprise, however, there was no need for any convincing of his. The man approached them himself! As he watched and followed Aien's actions over the recent months, he was filled with newfound excitement.
The air Aien gave off as well as his covert actions that led to the disappearance of many magi clearly displayed that he was not to be trifled with. He had to agree that Aien had to either be pulled into their camp or be eliminated. Even if he never became a magus, Marvis was confident that Aien would amount to quite something if he was given time and the proper resources.
But all of that didn't matter to him. Having lived a fulfilling life with all that it had to offer, he was only out to find another form of entertainment, and he was certain that Aien would provide him precisely that. Being in the presence of him always left Marvis unguarded and loose-lipped, which was very unusual for the likes of him. Additionally, Aien made his heart race in anticipation of what he would do next. Marvis knew that this person in front of him would surely rid him of the boredom of the stale political world that had become a mere play of words. After all, under normal circumstances, the Noble Houses were too cowardly to act against Zeristin in this manner. Only with the appearance of AIen, did all of this change, even if the latter didn't know that.
“I'm sure you have your doubts about our conduct regarding the important information of Leathe Wezlak.” Marvis continued. “I can assure you, we had no bad intentions. That's why I'm here to help you escape. Well, at least that's part of the reason. Take this.”
He handed over a ball that could be grabbed between three fingers. It was heavy, presumably made out of some kind of bronze metal. Across its surface, it glistered with a golden hue, but aside from that, it looked like an ordinary sphere.
Not waiting for Aien's questions, Marvis proceeded to press onto the surface of the sphere. An indentation of the size of a small finger sunk into the middle before the construct transformed itself. It used to have an incredibly smooth surface without any carvings, but with its initialization, it unfolded itself through the many lines that lit up after being infused with mana.
A short time later, a mechanical construct that resembled a spider was resting on Aien's palm. With a small core in the middle and eight legs protruding out, it was ready to be used.
“This little fellow will crack any lock,” Marvis explained to Aien, who was caught in a trance, staring at the construct. The subtlety it took to create something like this was unbelievable to him. From what Aien knew about Magecraft, this delicate mechanism should only be found in personal constructs. Even without knowing of its precise capabilities, Aien was left bewildered when he saw the pathways. They were created with the utmost precision that left no room for error, else the construct would immediately collapse. Thousands of them were packed into this small lump of metal, and as it rested in his hand, the flow of mana made it almost seem alive, like a real spider. The pathways synchronized perfectly with each other, and he knew from this alone that this construct was capable of movement that would make actual spiders lower their heads in shame.
From the sounds of it, activating it once was enough for anyone to use it. This clearly displayed the difference between the private academies and the public one. Years of heritage were sure to accumulate in better results than starting from the ground up, and this was the proof to Aien. It was a perfect example of the gap that couldn't be bridged by one magus alone, no matter how talented he was.
“We still hope to find the blueprints. They are most likely hidden in Zeristin's office.” Marvis quickly continued when he saw the frown on Aien's face, who was asked to enter a lion's den.
“You don't need to worry about any traps. With your constitution, none of them will activate, and the construct will take care of the rest. Zeristin, and in fact, no one in the world ever accounted for laying traps for someone like you. We are sure of this as we can speak from personal experience. You simply have to go inside, grab the prints, and leave again. The only problem is-”
“Zeristin himself...” Aien grunted.
“But alright, I'll do it.” Surprisingly Aien agreed on the matter rather quickly, much to Marvis' delight.
He had already played with the thought of taking a detour to look for the blueprints. Since the Noble Houses were this interested, they naturally held some important secret he was also intrigued by, especially after witnessing the formidable dome of sentries. Initially, he'd dismissed the idea as entirely reckless. Leaving the city safely was his biggest priority. Still, with confirmation of the whereabouts of the blueprints and this construct, he decided he would take the risk should events play out in his favor.
“Great!” Marvis gave a loud and heartful laughter, not caring the slightest about anyone hearing him. Even more than accomplishing his meaningless mission, he was excited to see how all of this played out. “That's how youths should be! I promise you, you'll be greatly rewarded when we meet again. I'll keep up contact with you through the construct and notify you of Zerestin's whereabouts. It seems that he just left the academy in a hurry, but don't expect him to be gone for long. Oh, and before I forget, let me take care of this annoying little tracker.”
With that, Marvis silently disappeared from Aien's sight after transforming back into Zoris. The tattoo on Aien's hand had been easily removed with a construct resembling a tweezer. He stood calmly within his prison cell with a door that was swung wide open, organizing his thoughts. Everything had to be executed smoothly. Either way, with the assistance of the nobles, who were surely spectating the events from afar and ready to jump should the opportunity arise, he was reasonably confident in his success.