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[-1 Slow Mirror thread]

The Slow Mirror on my wrist shattered and the torn-up parts of my soul reformed themselves based on the saved imprint the mirror had captured a second ago.

I was alive! I was still alive! I had a soul-healing skill and it saved me!

[-1 Luck thread]

The [Luck Tree] in my soul ignited, all of its power burning away and urging me to act. In that instance, I somehow knew exactly what to do to survive. There would be no other rewind for my soul, no other chance to survive. My slow mirror was broken, completely gone.

It kicked my [Calculator] into action, accelerating my mind. The second I had stretched into two as time slowed just a fraction.

The monstrous, hollow abomination was observing me with hundreds of shimmering, silver eyes. A jagged tentacle flew through the air.

I twisted myself out of the way, activating the [Michell Shield] in my right arm. The tentacle struck against my red-tinted shield and it shattered with a twinkle. Unfortunately my shield was weaker than the weapon of the monstrosity. The sharp ghostly thread cut through my right arm, bisecting half of it along with the [Wisdom] thread and severing it almost entirely.

I screamed silently as clouds of silver essence spilled out of me. The monster’s maw opened, sucking out the silver blood pouring out of my ghostly body along with the threads it had severed away.

The damaged Wisdom thread that the ghostly abomination held in its maw broke, snapped off with half of my hand. My soul was flung backwards with a blink.

The Still Forest was gone.

I screamed as I fell onto the floor of Alessi’s home, hyperventilating. It hurt. It hurt more than anything else I had experienced in my entire life.

The pain of my soul being bisected by the hollow abomination from the Still Forest was all encompassing, unbearable, horrific.

“Juni!” Alessi yelped, grabbing me. The view of her worried face swam out of focus as I folded into painful darkness, my eyes filling with tears.

 


 

A hand covered in gold, flowing, living script curving into itself in spirals. Emerald flames on my chest. An impossible, whale-like song in latin language. I’ve heard it before… the first time I was brought back from death.

I choked and inhaled as life poured back into my body, the unbearable pain growing distant.

“You smell like death,” Eunice spoke, her blurry form looming above me.

I blinked trying to clear my vision. The high-cendai came into focus.

“What happened?” She asked.

“A monster… from the Still Forest… attacked me,” I hissed out. “It pulled me… under.”

“That should not have happened,” the high-cendai said. “Not unless…”

Her eyes ignited from within, glowing from within with a strange iridescence that left imprints of itself in my vision.

“You… did magic?” she uttered, surprised. “A Soul-Tree has blossomed from your core?”

I nodded.

“How?” She demanded.

“I… killed and ate a nightwalker…” I replied. “It gave me power…”

“It seems that I have underestimated you, monci. You are the first broken chain that killed a magical creature so large at such a young age and feasted upon its magic and life.” Eunice mulled.

I groaned in reply. I noticed that Belassi was holding me in her arms. Alessi was standing next to us, looking at Eunice nervously.

“Regardless of your… accomplishment in killing a nightwalker, using magic on your own without my protection was an incredibly foolish thing to do, my monci,” Eunice shook her head.

“We… brought you to Eunice, when you wouldn't wake,” Alessi finally spoke up. “I hoped that she could help you.”

I nodded, looking around. We were outside. An enormous skull-home was visible behind Eunice. It was very elaborately decorated in comparison to the skulls inhabited by the rest of the chimera and stood out in the open on a wide field that was almost akin to a Ukrainian plain of orange wheat fields.

Rocks covered in gold runes surrounded the house. The front featured a buddhist-style garden, the pit of which was filled with glittering, gold sand. Red flowers grew on various balconies carved from bone. A circular dark gate that looked like it was made from black stone decorated with gold runes stood at the edge of the cliff that the dragonskull sat upon. A small lake was visible behind the beautiful building, waterfalls cascading down into it from the tall mountains forming the side of the Chasm.

“Many branches of your Soul-Tree have been torn up,” Eunice said, interrupting my observation of her grand abode.

She was probably using some sort of a magical skill to see my soul, if I had to gander a guess.

“H-how bad is it?” I asked.

“Very unfortunate… your soul is damaged, fractured. It will take a long time to heal fully," she commented, her eyes glowing from within.

“How long?” I asked.

“Ten winters. Maybe more,” she said.

"Oh," I gulped. Curiosity had killed the cat. Alessi gasped beside me.

We stood in silence for a bit, facing the high-cendai. She stretched her rune-covered arms and looked at me.

"...will you still teach me magic?” I asked, my voice trembling.

“You have talent, but you rushed headfirst into the deep water before learning how to swim and nearly drowned,” she said. “If It wasn’t for your… sister bringing you here and my healing song, you would be a cripple. From this point on, you must never attempt to do magic without my supervision.”

I nodded, feeling very sorry for myself.

. . .

“Since you are here, I might as well share the basics of the cendai arts with you.” Eunice gracefully circled us after bringing me some water. With the exception of her gray crystal hair, she definitely didn’t look like someone who was hundreds of years old.

“Magic is power, all around us,” the high-cendai waved her bug-bracelet hand. “Those of us that have walked the Still Forest and returned with their souls intact are able to learn to perceive and manipulate its currents, weaving it like thread into any desired shape.”

I nodded. It seemed that my thread-weaving ability was the result of my death-experience.

"While your soul heals I shall teach you how to become a Still-Walker,” Eunice continued.

“A Still-Walker?” I asked.

“She who can step out of her body into the Still-Forest,” The high-cendai clarified. “A cendai’s abilities comes from the Still Forest itself, as it contains memories, imprints of all magic that was ever performed upon Andross. By stepping into the Still Forest and taking knowledge from the long-dead, you will learn to inflict your will upon the world with greater precision and power.”

Alessi wasn’t moving, staying as still as possible. She was getting a free lesson in magic too as Eunice did not dismiss her or her mother nor pay attention to them. I wondered if Eunice even saw other chimera as worthy of note at all, since she was ten times as old.

“Do beware, monci. As you have painfully learned today, all arcane power comes at a cost, for it is guarded by fierce creatures that will seek to devour the curious or greedy cendai.”

Eunice had instantly smothered the spark of excitement in Alessi’s eyes with just a single sentence. My sister glanced at me with worry.

"I believe you met one of them, yes?" The high-cendai looked into my eyes. “The Still Forest holds many secrets of the long dead, but digging through it for answers attracts the nasty sort of attention. The Still Forest isn’t empty of life. There are dangerous, cursed things that refuse to die roaming through the vast graveyard of all that was once living.”

I nodded and bit my lip, thinking back of the hollow abomination that nearly sucked up my entire soul. If I only knew! If I just waited a few more days to level up and to do magic! I cursed my impatience.

“I have lost many chimera souls to these phantoms over the centuries,” The high-cendai said. “You must exercise extreme caution in performing magic. All of the magical arts leave a brilliant imprint in the Still Forest, a ripple in the dark, which the undead ones can follow. Many foolish cendai had perished as they carelessly performed magics and their souls were ripped out of their bodies by hungry phantoms.”

“But then… how can anyone do magic at all?” I asked.

Her hands traced the elaborate gold spirals on her dark, brown skin. “Each of these drawings is a rune, forming an unbreakable net around my entire soul anchoring it to my body. Without proper protection like this, the Still Forest phantoms will pull you under by catching onto the branches of your Soul-Tree which become exposed whenever a cendai uses magic.”

“Is there no way to fight them?” I asked, not satisfied with just a shield.

“There are many ways to repel the undead, yes.” Eunice nodded. “Specialized Soul-Arts. However… you, my dear, will not be able to lay a finger upon them anytime soon, for they are truly arcane creatures that feed on magic itself.”

I gulped. I was a clueless idiot. I was really lucky to be alive. Magic was dangerous. Abominable, hungry ghosts from the Still Forest hunted down little, defenseless magic users like myself.

“You will learn to be patient and focused. A rune shield like this takes years to craft,” Eunice spoke, pointing at her gold spirals. “Each rune must connect to the other and not just in the physical, but also in the spiritual world. The shield around your body must be made with total mental dedication. You must weave it yourself, by sacrificing parts of your body and soul. It must be perfect, so that the undead ones won’t be able to hurt you with ease.

“So it requires a sacrifice of my… spirit and body to make the rune shield?” I asked. Yet again, I scolded myself mentally for my reckless experimentation.

“Correct,” Eunice nodded. “Chimera are magical beings.”

Her slender finger pointed to my head. “The gems growing on your hair are crystalized magic. I will teach you how to crush them into powder to make paint that is imbued with your soul. With it you will make rune-shield art around your body!”

“Won’t the phantoms attack me while I am making this shield?” I asked.

“Oh they would definitely try to pull you into the Still Forest to feast upon your soul. However… you will be completely safe, because it will be done inside my abode,” Eunice waved her hand at her skull-dwelling. “It is the most warded home in our tribe. I spent three hundred years building its protection, embedding runes into every wall. Here, under my supervision, you will be able to perform magic safely.”

“Oh,” I mentally sighed, realizing that I wouldn't even be able to do magic outside of Eunice’s domain. “Once I recover…”

“When you recover, yes.” Eunice nodded. “Young cendai like you are a very tasty, defenseless snack for the phantoms. It will require a lot of my energy to keep you safe when you start to practice magic. I have lost many foolish children that tried to do magic before they completed their soul-shield.”

“I… understand.” I nodded.

As I looked about, feeling distraught that I would have to wait an awfully long time to do magic, my eyes settled on the black gate standing at the edge of the cliff-garden. The gold symbols on it flickered in my eyes, casting a grayscale afterimage. I blinked at it, trying to clear the weird imprint from my vision. The high-cendai followed my gaze, noticing that I was looking at the gate.

“Ah. You can see the End-Gate’s runes, yes? This is good. Means you have potential. Not all is lost. You got burned because the flame of your soul shines so bright. We will have thirty two great years ahead of us, my monci,” Eunice smiled.

"The End-gate?" I asked.

“Every chimera passes through the End-Gate when they reach the end of their lifespan at thirty three,” Eunice stated.

Thirty three years? I would live only thirty three years! This fact hit me like an oncoming truck. I had ignored it before, pushed it to the back of my mind when Alessi said it, not now I had no choice but to accept it.

Chimeras, like cats… lived shorter lives than people, grew up a lot faster but also aged quicker. I started to hyperventilate.

“Do not be afraid,” Eunice took a step forward, looming over me. “When you walk through this gate at the end of your life, your accumulated power, experience and knowledge will be passed down to me. Broken chain you are, but all broken chains eventually connect to the tribe's high-cendai. In thirty two years, when your body grows too weak to live, your soul will become part of me.”

I gasped at her. The high-cendai smiled at me serenely as if she wasn’t casually talking about absorbing my soul!

“You’ve been to the Still Forest, my monci. Do you remember what it’s like?” She said.

I shivered, recalling the icy coldness of the place, the mountains made from bones. “...It was very cold and filled with the remains of long-dead… things,” I said, my voice trembling.

“I carved this End-Gate hundreds of years ago, when the foundation of our village took place on this level of the Chasm. Since then, thanks to it, everyone who survived thirty three winters was preserved in me, their combined power benefitting the tribe,” Eunice explained. “You must understand that it is better to live on in me, rather than sink into the Still Forest where your soul will turn into an empty, crystalline husk or be consumed by the hungry phantoms.”

Her logic made sense. The Still Forest was the end of all life in Andross, the local purgatory and limbo.

I tried to still my shaking hands as I glanced at the high-cendai. All of my memories were just a snack for her in the end, my soul functioning as the nourishment for her immortality.

“Is there no way for a chimera… to live longer?” I asked, staring at her smile.

“You can spend hundreds of years to fortify an absolute spiritual-domain and build a gate like mine and find those willing to give up their souls to you,” Eunice answered. "If you can do that, you can lay a foundation for your own tribe."

I looked at the black gate with a wince.

“That’s obviously not a realistic option for you,” The high-cendai added. “Your soul is shattered and will take a long time to heal.”

“Is there… no other way for me to heal my soul?” I asked, desperately looking at Eunice for advice.

“Oh, there is…. It will also let you live longer than thirty three years. To heal your soul and to increase your life-span, you will have to catch a young, female jumbari.”

“Catch… a what?” I blinked, not understanding the word.

“The jumbari are very clever creatures, very similar to a chimera in appearance. They also walk on two legs,” Eunice answered. “Their claws and ears are shorter and their hair does not absorb ambient magic or crystallize, but they live thrice as long, aging slower than us.”

My heart started to beat faster.

“Jumbari live in homes made from stone, on the other side of the Chasm,” Eunice continued, pointing at the distant, fog-covered shore of the Chasm's ring of mountains. “Since you managed to take down a nightwalker I doubt that a young jumbari will present more of a challenge to you. Their younglings come down into the Chasm in a search for glory and power. A few of my monwai-cendai live in their tribe in secret, studying their unique magics.”

“W-what… does a jumbari look like exactly?” I asked, already dreading the answer.

“One moment… I will show you,” Eunice walked back to her home and emerged with a paper which she handed to me.

 

 

Upon the faded yellow parchment, surrounded by lines of handwritten text, I saw a drawing of a… human girl. The word “jumbari” meant “human”!

“This is yours to keep,” Eunice closed my trembling hand over the parchment.

"Once you catch one, you will need to consume their soul and take their body for your own.”

 

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About the author

Vitaly S Alexius

  • Canada
  • Archbishop of Captania and sovereign territories
  • https://www.rom.ac

Bio: I was born in the year 1984, in the 4th most polluted city of Soviet Union.
On April 11/1997 fate has given me an unexpected twist and by means of aerial transportation I was dislocated 5555 miles across the Atlantic Ocean to Ontario, Canada, wherein I currently preside in an 1890 cathedral and partake in writing and drawing things.

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