Chapter 21 - No Choice But To Loop
I woke up with my whole body strangely numb and unresponsive.
My body was wrapped in a large blanket and lying on somebody's bed that I didn't recognize. My vision was blurry, but I noticed somebody sitting near the end of the bed waiting for me.
"Oh, you're awake."
Blinking my eyes, they cleared enough for me to make out the outline of Anna's tired form.
"W-Wha," I started coughing uncontrollably for a few seconds until my throat cleared up. "W-What happened?"
"My house was attacked a few hours ago," she answered. "An entire army of monsters invaded during that time. I found you lying on the street when I felt a powerful presence earlier in the area."
She leaned forward and brought her fingers together. "That said, I saw the aftermath of what happened. You were somehow able to destroy a spatial partition by literally burning everything away. As far as I know, there's no way you're capable of that kind of magic, yet there's no doubt you're the caster. How exactly did you accomplish that?"
The whispers came back to my mind.
"I-I'm not sure," I told her. "It felt like something just took control of me."
"Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you're an apostle," she muttered. "Some kind of extra self-defense system?"
NoT An aPOsTlE
I winced as the voices shouted in unison in my head.
"Those monsters that attacked me, I'm pretty sure they were treants."
"Ah, that makes sense." She nodded at that. "Since magic is based on the collective human unconsciousness, magical creatures are also based on human thought. In essence - by the theory of magical existence - the most common monsters you'll encounter are based on the cultural history of your location. You can say monsters are based on what's local to their country."
"Treants are American?"
"Treants are ideas of popular culture," she clarified. "You can find various kinds of treants all over the world. They're a kind of subspecies to the original ents, which were created after the introduction of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien. Of course, the original ents were already an established concept in other myths and cultures, but were never really named until then."
I groaned as I pushed myself to sit up from my lying position. "Why were a bunch of monsters attacking in the first place?"
She was strangely silent at that.
I looked around and realized that she must have taken me to her home. A sudden thought came to me, and I realized what the answer to my question was.
It took a moment for her to answer. "...she's dead."
I sucked in my breath at that.
"W-Was that their goal all along? To kill the demon lord's daughter?"
"Definitely," she said with a dark face. "They sent an entire army of monsters to attack my home, but the family defenses managed to get rid of most of them. No, it was their leader who actually committed the deed."
She grimaced. "Demons are natural warriors that are capable of surviving many things. As the daughter of the demon lord, Irina was naturally one of the strongest demons there were. So obviously, they needed to send an equally powerful creature if they hoped for any chances to successfully kill her."
Anna looked me straight into the eye. "It decided to flee after killing Irina, so I wasn't able to avenger her. But I don't need to... not if I ask for your help."
It took me only an instant later to understand what she was asking of me. "You want me to loop back to the past."
It wasn't a question, it was a statement.
She nodded. "The creature that killed her is so powerful, even saying its name is dangerous. I can only describe it as a kind of dark spirit, a conceptual creature with no true form. It is not something that the unprepared can face, but with the right message to my past self, we can make sure this doesn't happen."
I furrowed my eyes. "Wait, so you want me to give a message to your past self, but without telling me what the thing that killed your friend is called?"
She gave out a frustrated sigh. "There's no other choice. I literally cannot tell you what it is called, otherwise, it will draw its presence towards us."
I tried to think about the last time I looped. "If I do this, I'm not sure if I can guarantee to get you to trust me. Don't forget, I loop back to the second day of school. You won't even know that I'm an awakened person yet."
"I'll take care of that," she replied. "I figured that something like this might happen. When you travel to the past, make sure we're in an isolated area and say one word."
She closed her eyes and whispered, "Candlewick."
I was curious about why she chose that word specifically, but I nodded. "I'll make sure I tell you in the past."
For a moment, she was silent. But a few seconds later, I saw tears rolling down her face.
"Please," she whispered. "Promise me that you'll prevent this from ever happening."
"I promise," I told her. "I do whatever it takes to make sure that Irina doesn't die. You have my word, Anna."
Anna slouched over in relief after I said that. "Thank you."
I chuckled and shakily stood up from the bed, surprising her at my movement. "Well, might as well do this now."
"O-Of course," she scrambled to stand up as well. "So... you'll be going back in time now?"
"Yup," I answered. "I'm not exactly sure about the rules behind my loop, but we can just do what we did in my last timeline. All we need is for you to fire that fireball spell at me again and it should activate the loop mechanism."
"Alright," she nodded at that and pulled out her utility lighter from somewhere. Pointing it in my direction, she closed her eyes.
"Wait," I cried out to her. "I have a question."
She opened her eyes. "What is it?"
I hesitated for a moment. "When the treants were attacking me, I tried to defend myself. I couldn't do anything to stop them."
"Ask me to teach you a defensive spell when you get back to the past," she quickly replied.
"No, that's not it." I closed my eyes and tried to find the right words. "I was going to die. The treants surrounded me and were going to kill me. But when I tried to do something, I remembered trying to cast the same fireball spell you used on me."
She gave me a confused look. "That's impossible. My spell is powerful, but it's not capable of literally burning a pocket dimension. Whatever you did has something to do with your apostle."
"That's not the point," I tried to explain. "Your spell, the chant you always use whenever you cast it, does it mean anything?"
"Why does it matter?"
"Just humor me," I said.
She sighed. "The flames of my will are born is an expression of how I infuse my intent into an external flame and convert it into a type of magical fire. It creates a conceptual attack that I use to destroy magical projections and contracts."
"So what about the flames of agony," I asked her. "During my chant, those words came to mind when I tried to use my spell. How come I'm able to create flames like that?"
That caused her to take a moment to think. "Well, if you were trying to cast a spell similar to mine, then that meant you had to have infused some of your intent into the spell to create a mystic flame. But unless you have a deep understanding of the concept of agony, that doesn't really make sense."
"Something took over me when I tried to cast the spell," I repeated. The voices in my head were strangely quiet now. "Could that agony have been from whatever possessed me?"
She blinked. "That is a possibility. Although I never really heard of a scenario like what you described."
Then that brought the question to mind, what exactly were these voices in my head? I never really thought much about them whenever I had a vision, but why was I hearing their voices in the first place?
"Any more questions?"
I shook my head. "No, that's all for now."
"Very well then." She once more pointed the utility lighter in my direction. "I'll begin the spell and send you back in time. Remember, once you meet my past self, tell her 'candlewick' and you'll be able to hopefully gain my cooperation."
"For breath — the flames of my will are born."
The spell that got me started on my path to magic was cast once more. A small ball of fire grew into a large pulsing sphere, and Anna looked straight into my eyes once it stopped growing.
"Good luck, Wren."
She flicked the ball in my direction, and everything around me paused. Reality itself froze as I felt some transcendent power take control of everything in the universe.
I cried out in pain as I suddenly felt my eyes burn intensely, the world around me distorting in a flurry of lights and flashes. Even as I tried to stay awake, I found myself slipping into unconsciousness once more.