The Beginning After The End (Web Novel)-Chapter 398

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Chapter 398

Chapter 396: Limitless

Varay remained utterly still as my hand rested over her sternum. With Realmheart active, I could see the purified mana-like translucent snowflakes compacted within her core, perfectly controlled and radiating with purpose. The particles were steadily being distilled and released back into her body through her channels to strengthen her physical form and keep the conjured arm in place.

Along with the ability to see mana, Realmheart replicated the sixth sense a mana core provided for feeling mana in others, allowing me to feel the crushing weight and glacial steadiness of Varay’s core radiating out from her.

I closed my eyes, focusing on this second sense.

“Release a small burst of mana,” I said quietly, then followed along as purified water mana—now sparkling motes of its deviant ice form within Varay’s core—raced out through her mana veins and into the atmosphere. “Now, draw on the ambient mana and focus on purifying it inside your core. Specifically, think about clarifying your core itself.”

Varay took a steady breath in. I opened my eyes to watch the particles of atmospheric mana—almost all water and earth—be pulled into her body and then her core, just like how her lungs drew in the air. Within the snow-white core, the mana was quickly purified and made ready for her use.

I asked her to repeat this process a couple of times, then moved on to Bairon. He studied me carefully as I pressed my hand to his sternum. I was surprised by the smoky tinge to his otherwise bright white core.

“Does your core or your mana feel any different now than before Cadell attacked you with soulfire?” I asked, watching closely as he released mana, took a stiff breath, and then drew it back in.

He repeated the exercise again before answering. “I’m not sure how to answer that question. I had to work tirelessly to rebuild my strength after that battle, and I nearly gave up and accepted my fate.”

“Physically though…when you channel mana now, do you feel anything different in your core?”

He closed his eyes as he repeated the cycle two more times. “I’m not confident that I’ve regained all my strength,” he said eventually. “But I also don’t remember if the magic felt any different before.”

Nodding silently, I moved on to Mica. As my hand pressed against her sternum, her lips curved up into a cool smirk. “I told you once before, I’m too old for you.”

Regis was watching from the rocks where Gideon and Emily had laid out all of their equipment. He chuckled appreciatively. “And much too pretty, too.”

She cast a surprised look over her shoulder, then turned a raised brow in my direction. “Is that tiny creature trying to flirt with me?”

“Actually, he’s an asuran weapon of mass destruction, and he flirts with everyone,” I said matter-of-factly. “Now focus. Release your mana, hold it, then draw ambient mana back in.”

I couldn’t sense whatever mechanism Kezess had used to put a ceiling on the Lances’ potential, but I hadn’t expected it to be this easy. Moreso, I needed to establish some baseline in the feel of each Lance’ particular core and mana manipulation.

All three were incredibly efficient at both releasing and reabsorbing mana. Whatever hampered them, it seemed specifically designed so it wouldn’t interrupt the process of actually using magic.

“All right, we’re all set up over here,” Emily said, interrupting these thoughts.

I nodded, and Emily and Gideon began outfitting the three Lances with various apparatus that would allow them to read mana output and reaction times much more accurately than I could on my own.

While they were doing that, I withdrew three items from my dimension rune. I handed the first to Mica, who turned it over curiously in her hand, and then its twin to Varay. Bairon received the horn I’d taken from the ruined remains of the Wraith, Valeska, holding it carefully in front of him like it was a wasp nest.

“These horns contain a huge amount of mana,” I explained. “You’ll be drawing from them like I did with the retainer Uto’s horns a long time ago. They are incredibly potent, but,” I said quickly, as both Bairon and Mica opened their mouths to speak, “I need to warn you, there are additional effects as well. You’ll capture some of the previous owner's memories. It can be…uncomfortable.”

The Lances’ intrigue quickly soured into uncertainty. “But what benefit do you hope that we’ll gain from such a source of mana?” Varay questioned, setting the horn in her lap and looking up at me. “If your hope is to simply overpower the barrier with a sudden influx of mana, I’m afraid it’s been tried before. Elixirs have no effect on us.”

“Nothing as easy as that,” I admitted, glancing at Emily, who gave me a thumbs up as she finished activating the last of the monitoring equipment. Behind her, Gideon was staring at the readout, his half-grown eyebrows furrowed in concentration. “I can’t promise our time and effort will bear fruit. But none of us can afford to just accept our current limitations.”

Mica stared at the ground, her gaze distant and her expression stony. Next to her, there was a charge in Bairon’s eyes, an intensity that filled the air with a buzzing static that raised the hairs on my arms.

But it was Varay who surprised me.

She stood up in one swift, graceful motion, her furrowed gaze locked on the mossy stone at my feet. “Arthur, I know I speak for all the Lances when I say we are grateful for your time and effort.” A pause, just a heartbeat, then: “But are you certain your efforts here are worth your time? You are the key to victory against Alacrya and Epheotus. If your time would be better spent training yourself—”

“No,” I said firmly as her intense eyes bore into me. “Dicathen doesn’t need a savior or a…” I struggled for the word, then blurted out, “another deity to replace the asura. It needs soldiers and generals. People. Heroes. Dicathen needs the Lances.”

The ever-immovable Lance Varay faltered, just for a moment, her gaze searching to determine whether to believe my words. “Of course. You’re right.” Giving me a stiff bow, she sank back onto the soft bed of moss, holding the horn in both hands across her lap. “What do you want us to do?”

Kneeling next to the lake, I ran my fingers through the icy cold water. “The first step is to figure out what exactly is preventing you from purifying your cores further. I want each of you to meditate while drawing on the mana contained in these horns. Normally, taking in such a large amount of mana so quickly would force a core to rapidly clarify. As we monitor your cores during this sped-up process, we’ll be able to watch for any signs of the binding affecting you.”

“You hope,” Gideon grumbled, drawing an irritated look from Emily.

“I do,” I said simply, holding my hands out to my sides. “Now, are you ready to begin?”

“Of course,” Varay said.

“Let’s do this,” Mica added with a firm nod.

Bairon said nothing, but closed his eyes and focused on the horn in his hands.

“All set over here,” Emily said eagerly.

Regis hopped off the boulder and trotted up to Mica, who looked down at him in surprise, then up to me questioningly. The puppy gave a resigned sigh and said, “Don’t get too excited about this, but…” and then vanished into her body.

Mica gasped and nearly jumped to her feet, but I stopped her with an outstretched hand. “The mana in these horns could drive you mad. Regis and I are going to help keep you stable until you’ve gotten control of it, okay?”

“Maybe a little warning next time?” she snapped. “I feel violated.”

I focused on Realmheart, channeling as much of my sensory perception through the godrune as possible. “Go ahead, Mica. Begin.”

The effect was immediate.

Umbral mana, tinged by the black shadow that clung to all things Vritra related, began seeping from the horn and into Mica’s body.

She cringed at the sensation, and very nearly tossed her horn away. Her wide and frightened eyes stared ahead unseeing.

“It’s just a vision,” I assured her, keeping my voice low and soothing. Her fingers were white around the jet-black horn. “Stay in yourself. Remember our purpose. Focus through it. Don’t pull too hard. Just let the mana flow.”

I kept up a steady stream of consoling, guiding words as I began pushing out with aether, intermingling it within the mana. It was drawn into her body alongside the mana, pulled by Regis’s presence. Not all of the Vritra-born mana wanted to be drawn to her core and instead seeped out of her mana veins and into her body, but through careful manipulation of the aether, I was able to round up these stray particles and herd them in the correct direction.

Meanwhile, Mica’s eyelids were pressed shut so hard the skin around them turned bright white, while her cheeks flushed plumb purple and she began to sweat heavily. By the way she gnashed her teeth and fidgeted restlessly, I knew whatever visions she was seeing must be pretty bad.

“I…I’ve got it,” Mica said a few minutes later, letting out the breath she’d been holding. “That was…totally, incredibly, extremely awful.”

I bent down and closed her hands tight around the horn. “Keep drawing on it, but not too fast.” R ead f irst at

Next, Regis and I moved onto Bairon. He adapted more quickly to the flow of the decay-corrupted mana and surfaced from the visions after only a minute or two. Varay had it harder, her visions so severe that I had to hold the horn in her hands for her as she whimpered and twitched. Eventually, though, she too had made it through, with Regis drawing my aether toward himself while I guided the gray particles of mana and prevented them from permeating her body.

The Lances settled into a rhythm of slowly withdrawing and purifying mana from the horns, which almost looked as if they were burning as the dark mana boiled out to wreath the Lances’ bodies in a smokey nimbus.

Finally, with no danger of the mana poisoning their bodies or minds, I was able to really watch the process. Once in their cores, the mana was being processed, the impurities removed and culled by the core itself, leaving nothing but pure mana behind. But whatever process prevented the cores from clarifying further wasn’t immediately apparent.

“What are you seeing?” I asked Gideon as I watched the mana move in constant eddies within their cores.

Gideon’s grumpy facade had melted away as his mind bent to the task. I knew it would; he couldn’t resist such a complex problem. “There is a higher-than-normal amount of resistance as they draw in and begin processing the mana—except for Lance Bairon, whose channels and core seem to be functioning at expected efficiency given the Lances’ strength. I suspect it is due to the nature of the mana in question, however, not some symptom of the limiters placed upon them by the Lance artifacts.”

“It’s too bad we don’t have those artifacts still,” Emily added thoughtfully, one finger tapping against her cheek as she stared down at their equipment. “It would make this easier if we could peel those apart and figure out how they worked.”

“That would be ideal, but”—I imbued aether into the dimension rune, withdrawing two of the empowering rods—“we do have these.”

In one hand, I held the dwarven artifact, which was crafted from a handle of pure gold and studded along the length with obsidian rings. A large ruby-red gem glowed faintly at one end. The second rod—the artifact designed only for use by humans—was topped with a blue gem, and its handle was forged of silver.

“But we can’t use those,” Emily said nervously.

“Screw those evil things,” Gideon snapped vehemently at the same time.

Of the Lances, only Bairon seemed able to focus on both the horn and our conversation, but he stayed silent, his visage that of a nervous soldier trusting his leaders’ judgment.

What Virion had said about Gideon’s reaction to the artifacts came back to me. “What did you discover in your examination of these?”

“‘Godly tools are not crafted for mortal hands,’” Gideon said as if reciting something from memory. “Anyone with half a brain only has to look at those things for two seconds to see that they’re a veritable baklava of different spells all layered one over another, none of them decipherable even to a genius like myself. Maybe there is some good wrapped up in it all, but the asura haven’t exactly proven their intentions good, so it would be utter foolishness to assume that there isn’t more.”

The truth was, I agreed entirely with Gideon’s assessment. In my own overnight examination of the rods, I had discovered much—more, apparently, than Gideon—including cataloging the first few layers of spells and how they would unfold when the rods were activated. It was a risk, but I knew for certain that Kezess had to have built in a key to undo the Lances’ imposed limit if the artifacts were to make them any stronger.

“You’re right, Gideon. Which is why we’re not going to use them,” I said. “At least, not the way Kezess Indrath intended.”

“You’ve discovered something then?” Gideon’s half-grown brows drew up into the middle of his wrinkled forehead and he leaned over his boulder toward me. “Go on.”

I explained what I had deciphered in my admittedly short time spent studying the artifacts. Gideon nodded along, and before long Emily was grinning beside him. “That’s a good thought,” they said simultaneously, drawing a barking laugh from Regis.

“You two spend too much time together,” he cackled.

“Don’t you primarily live inside Arthur?” Emily shot back, still smirking. “Like…a parasite or something?”

“Point, Watsken,” Regis said, his little snout bobbing up and down appreciatively.

“Let’s not waste any more time,” I said, returning the dwarven artifact back to my dimension rune and maneuvering around in front of Varay. “Mica, Bairon, reduce your draw on the horn to as little as possible without severing your connection. I don’t think you’re at risk of draining the horns prematurely, but better safe than sorry.”

They wordlessly did as I asked, and there was a slight reduction in the amount of smoky mana pouring into them.

Varay’s icy gaze followed me intensely. The fingers of her natural hand twitched against the horn. She drew in a deep breath and steadied herself.

To Realmheart, it looked as if the uneven flow of mana through her body smoothed into a steady flow, its movement in her core becoming a consistent rotating motion as the new mana was continually integrated into that which was already purified.

With aether acting as an extension of my senses, I reached into her core, felt the walls, where mana should have continued to scour away what minute imperfections it still had. But the mana moved just inside the core’s walls, never touching or penetrating it beyond where the body’s channels and veins ran into the organ.

Varay was quickly reaching the limit of how much mana she could absorb. Soon it would become difficult for her to continue drawing in mana, and, for all the mana she could still absorb, an equal amount of purified mana would leak out of her core. This would waste the mana while also being far too slow of a process to help us see what was happening.

Despite how much mana she had already absorbed, I still couldn’t sense any mechanism behind the phenomena I was witnessing. I ground my teeth, feeling frustrated for the first time. I had thought for sure that the influx of mana would be the key to discovering what Kezess had done to them.

“What…should I do?” Varay asked after another long moment, her voice strained between clenched teeth.

The gears of my mind were spinning hastily.

Emily and Gideon hadn’t yet seen anything useful in all their readings. I had the rod, but I couldn’t trust the artifact’s internal programming to function if I was inhibiting certain effects. Before I could use them, I needed to understand exactly how the limiting spell worked. Even making an educated guess could be horribly dangerous to the Lances. If I couldn’t appropriately direct the spells once I’d released them, this would all be a total waste.

Varay needed to move more mana.

Think, Arthur. Kezess had designed the Lance artifacts to create a limiter, but more than that, this limiter was carefully hidden, undetectable even when the mage was manipulating large amounts of mana. Certainly, that meant he had concerns, even back when the artifacts were created, that the artificial barrier could be circumvented somehow. But what did he do? How could he hide a spell like that? And, more importantly, how could I find it?

One problem at a time, I told myself, trying to coral the rushing torrent of my mind.

More immediately a problem, I needed Varay to be able to keep moving mana. If only she could use mana rotation.

My mind ground to a halt. Mana rotation…

Sylvia had insisted humans were too rigid in their thinking to learn the ability, but much of what the dragons had told me had turned out to be wrong, or at the very least incomplete. Now it seemed entirely possible that the dragons themselves were too rigid and simplistic in the way they saw humans, elves, and dwarves to see our potential.

Steeling myself, I said, “I know this is going to sound impossible, but, Varay, I need you to expend a pretty significant amount of mana without breaking your connection with the horn.”

Her brows furrowed into a frustrated scowl. “You’re…right. That’s impossible.”

“It’s not,” I assured her. “I learned how when I was only four.”

She scoffed, and the flow of mana wobbled. Her expression hardened, and I could practically feel her will clamping down like a vice as she regained control. “Way to…kick me while I’m down.”

Rubbing the back of my neck, I gave her an apologetic smile. “I was going to say that the dragon who taught me said only someone with a pliable body and core could learn it. Like a kid. But…I think she must have been wrong.”

Reading my thoughts, Regis became incorporeal and jumped into Varay’s body.

“I’m going to help guide the mana with aether, like before, to stabilize the connection. I need you to keep part of your focus on the horn, but the other part, I need you to cast a spell. Something you can do without thinking.” To help the connection, I leaned toward her and took her hands in mine, keeping them clenched tightly around Cadell’s horn.

“Try flying,” Bairon said, most of his attention on us as he continued to draw only a trickle of mana from the horn in his lap.

“That’s perfect,” I said, giving him a grateful nod before turning all my attention back to Varay and the stream of mana and aether that connected us and the horn.

Varay bit her lip, a flash of uncertainty crossing her face, then again wrenched control back. Nothing happened for a minute, then two. Then five.

“I’m sorry,” Varay finally admitted, a hint of shame in her voice, “I don’t understand.”

Refusing to let myself become frustrated, I kept going back over Sylvia’s lessons in my head.

But…I can’t teach Varay the way Sylvia taught me, I realized with a sudden rush of adrenaline.

I had to do it my own way, how only I could.

“It’s okay,” I shook my head. “Follow along carefully. I can show you.”

Like shaping clay with a trowel, I began to reform the mana in Varay’s core with my aether. This couldn’t be done with mana, as a mage couldn’t influence the mana inside another mage’s body. At first I was just pulling it out, creating little more effect than if we’d let it be forced out naturally, but that was only the start. Bairon’s suggestion, I thought, was perfect.

Flying was second nature to the Lances as white core mages, something they did without thought, manipulating the ambient mana around them to lift them off the ground. For even a silver core mage, such a feat would have drained their mana reserves in minutes, but a white core mage could fly for hours. It was something Varay and I both understood intimately, and one of the few “spells” that worked exactly the same for all Lances.

Another minute passed as I practiced the mana-through-aether manipulation while simultaneously keeping a steady stream of aether flowing to herd the horn’s mana to its final destination in her core, where Regis hovered to draw the aether more accurately.

And then, with a suddenness that caught me off guard, Varay drifted up off the bed of moss.

“This feels so strange,” she muttered, wobbling slightly.

“Hone in on that feeling,” I said as I stood up to stay on a level with her, my hands still wrapped around hers. “Just hold it in your mind for a minute. Get comfortable with the sensation of both manipulating the mana and drawing it in at the same time.”

Varay nodded as she frowned. Her expression soon turned into unyielding determination, as though her pride wouldn’t accept anything but success.

Then, coming out victorious, her expression softened. Her breathing evened and her body stilled as though she was meditating.

We stayed like that for another minute, then slowly, very slowly, I began withdrawing my own influence, leaving her to keep the mana flowing on her own. With each step, her flight would become unstable as she rocked about in the air, then she’d clamp down and exert control over it, and I’d ease off a little more.

Just as I was about to release the last piece of my influence, Varay reached out and clutched my hand. I couldn’t suppress a surprised smile despite the biting cold of the ice. Holding on tight, I stopped channeling aether through her core and the spell.

Still cross-legged, Varay hovered a few feet off the ground as gray mana poured over and into her from Cadell’s horn.

It was a wonder, really, but the breakthrough was so far from what we were trying to accomplish, it was hard to see it as such. For our purpose, it was hardly a stepping stone.

“Emily, tell me you see something here.”

“I’m sorry, the readings don’t show anything—”

Gideon’s voice interrupted hers. “Open your eyes, girl. Look, here.”

“Are you sure? I really don’t—”

“Right here—”

“Guys!” I snapped, my nerves taught as a pulled bowstring.

“Oh! I think I see it,” Emily said, her voice an excited squeak.

I was following the absorption and release of Varay’s mana through Realmheart, but couldn’t see or sense anything new. “So what is it then?”

She was leaning down toward the series of indecipherable readouts arrayed before her, squinting through her glasses as Gideon pointed at something. “Sort of like…crevices or wounds in the core itself, places where the core is inactive.”

Regis, do you sense anything like that?

‘Everything is all shiny and white in here. No wounds to be seen.’

Aetheric particles swarmed in and around Varay’s core. With them, I poked and prodded everywhere I could reach, but I couldn’t sense these crevices Emily was describing.

“I need you to output more mana,” I told Varay. A sudden thought lit up like a lighting artifact in my mind. “Your arm. Varay, you’re already maintaining a constant stream of mana just to sustain your arm. Focus on that. Push more mana to it, out of it. It doesn’t matter what the mana is doing, just so long as you are channeling it and maintaining space to keep drawing in more.”

Frost began creeping along the frozen exterior of Varay’s conjured arm. Just a hint at first, then more as crystals of ice formed over the smooth surface, freezing my skin and sending a web of light blue ice crawling up my arm. The air around us grew bitter cold, finally resulting in a gently falling snow all around us.

“Perfect, keep that up.”

As more and more mana began to leave her core, it reached a kind of equilibrium.

Emily gasped. “There!”

Just as she said it, I found them. Amidst the perfectly balanced input and output of mana through the core, there were six points where a faint disturbance in the otherwise smooth flow could be sensed. Simply absorbing mana hadn’t highlighted the spots due to the way the incoming mana swirled and eddied as it pushed and compacted against the already existing mana.

In any other circumstance, the wounds—no, scars, I thought—were entirely undetectable. Kezess must have thought his spell was perfectly hidden. A spark of retaliatory pleasure brought a smirk to my lips.

“Well done, Emily. That has to be it.”

But what are these points, and how are they preventing the mana from continuing to clarify the Lances’ cores?

Each breakthrough was only the smallest stepping stone on the path to understanding.

“I need to let go. As much as you can, don’t let this mana spread in your body. But I think we’re almost there.” Varay gave me a single jerky nod in acknowledgement, and I released both her hand and my constant output of aether.

Brushing the frost off my skin, I picked up the silver-handled rod. “Emily, leave the readouts to Gideon. I think I’ll need your help for this.”

Reluctantly, she left her equipment behind and circled around the Lances to stand beside me. I set the incandescent sapphire crystal against Varay’s sternum. “Okay, imbue mana into the rod.”

I felt her eyes burning into the side of my face, but kept my gaze on the crystal and staff, watching every infinitesimal movement of the mana and aether. After a few seconds, she gripped the staff between two of the silver rings, just below my own hand, and pushed out with mana.

The crystal blazed with blue light, refracting off the snowflakes in the air and bathing the lakeside in sparkling sapphire light. Immediately, mana and aether jumped to life, the particles condensing into spells and rushing along the length of the staff.

Reaching out, I pulled at the aether surrounding and imbuing the staff. The coalescing spells jerked to a halt, jagged and misshapen, and the staff began to tremble in my hand.

A cold sweat broke out across my brow, and I redoubled my effort to hold the magic in place. The rod itself was designed to release several spells in sequence, but I couldn’t allow that. Whatever Kezess intended for these implements, they would only harm us in the long run. Instead, I needed to release only the spell that would undo the damage to Varay’s core.

With the screech of metal shearing, a crack ran the length of the rod. The force of holding back so much mana was ripping the artifact apart from the inside.


My companion flew free of Varay’s body, his form appearing only for an instant as a burning wisp, then he vanished into the rod.

His pain wracked my body as the surging force around the artifact began tearing at his incorporeal form. ‘Argh! It’s like…trying to piss in a…hurricane…’

The gem’s light began to flash intermittently from the buildup of energy. The heat turned the snowflakes to rain.

My heart thrummed like the wings of a butterfly, and sweat was pouring into my unblinking eyes. There was too much energy—more than there should have been. It was like the rod was reacting to being tampered with. A safeguard, I realized with a sick twist in my guts. A trap in case anyone messed around with the artifacts. Damn it!

My entire body began to shake. “You all need to…run,” I said, the words vibrating oddly as they left my mouth.

Varay was oblivious to my warning, but Mica and Bairon were halfway to their feet in an instant. Bairon reached for Varay as Mica turned, apparently intending to grab Emily and Gideon.

“Don’t move, you idiots,” Gideon snapped. He’d coiled some kind of wire around his shoulder and was slowly, carefully approaching me, Varay, and the artifact.

With a kind of clip, he attached one end of the wire to the artifact. The other trailed like a long copper worm back to the equipment laid out behind the Lances. The pressure instantly lessened, and I sensed mana being drawn quickly back along the wires and into a series of mana crystals.

“You’ve got about twenty seconds before those crystals overload and we all die horribly,” Gideon said nonchalantly.

With the pressure lessened and Regis there to help draw and focus my aether, I wrapped the rod’s magic in my own power and clamped down as hard as my will allowed. The mana stabilized, but it wasn’t going to last for long.

‘What exactly are we doing here?’ Regis asked with the mental equivalent of letting out a deep, momentarily relieved breath.

The third spell contained in the rod was a vivum-based healing spell. I’m sure that’s the spell to heal their cores, but everything is all jumbled up.

Worse than being jumbled up, many of the spells looked broken. The ramping pressure and subsequent drain on the artifact’s mana had left many of the spells incomplete.

‘Here!’ Regis thought urgently, drawing my attention to a specific swarm of mana and aether within the relic.

Crushed and distorted, a thread of vivum-type aether wound around an amorphous wave of silvery mana like that used by my mother in her healing spells.

Using my own purified aether, I began to weave together a barrier around the spell, effectively cutting it off from the rest of the mana, like a seamstress cutting away the stitching to remove a single piece of fabric from a garment.

“Running out of time,” Gideon said as he examined the bank of mana crystals.

Next to me, Emily whimpered. Her knuckles were white around the silver shaft. Suddenly her knees buckled, and she began to fall.

I wrapped one arm around her, pulling her against my side.

With the spell separated from the rest, I released it, then watched as it flowed out through the crystal and into Varay’s core. The mana and aether buzzed around the core, but nothing happened.

“Gideon?” I shouted.

He bent over the readouts. “No change.”

My breath caught. All that leaked mana, all the compression and delay, shearing apart the spells…

We must have broken something. The spell wasn’t complete, wasn’t functional.

“Damn it,” I ground out through clenched teeth. A fuzzy static was building up around the edge of my peripheral vision from the strain.

Taking the smallest piece of my consciousness, I broke away a sliver of aether and empowered the Aroa’s Requiem godrune. Golden light burned against the conjured rain pattering softly around us. My vision became little more than a clear tunnel at the center of a static void. I tried to blink it away to no avail.

Aetheric particles danced down my arm and across the surface of the rod. The cracks closed as the particles broke away and condensed there, undoing the damage to the artifact itself. The largest share of my focus remained on the broken spell, and I willed the golden motes past the artifact and into Varay’s core.

Fix the spell, I urged. I understood the intent behind the spell, if not the specifics. That had to be enough. But Aroa’s Requiem only bumbled about within the core. The particles didn’t gravitate toward the broken spell. In an act of pure desperation, I turned them toward the core itself, hoping to scrub away the scars and reverse the damage Kezess had done.

Still, nothing happened. My insight into the godrune wasn’t complete. I couldn’t heal a person, and apparently I couldn’t remake a broken spell either.

I found myself considering those moments back in the Relictombs when I rushed to acquire insight via the keystone. So much of what had happened since could have been fixed if only I’d had a more complete insight into Aroa’s Requiem. But whatever force handed down these godrunes seemed to be playing cruel jokes on me.

‘Art, the spells in the rod,’ Regis said, drawing my attention back to where the spell had first been formed within the artifact.

With the sharp sound of the silver shearing over and over again, the artifact kept healing and breaking, then healing again. Within it, the spells were doing the same.

Each time the aetheric particles from Aroa’s Requiem fixed the artifact, the spells within reappeared, whole and undamaged.

That’s it!

Reading my thoughts, Regis rushed out of the artifact and took physical form, his jaws closing around the crystal at the end. Just as the rod healed, I cut away the healing spell with aether, and Regis pulled at the Vivum enveloping the silvery mana. It tugged loose before Gideon’s device could displace any of the mana, and Regis swallowed it.

The spell drifted into him, searching for a core. He pounced at Varay, becoming incorporeal just as his paws touched her, and then shot into her core. The spell, pulled into her through him, was released. It immediately broke into six equal parts, but they were directionless.

Releasing Aroa’s Requiem so I could send a tendril of aether into Varay’s core, I maneuvered each drifting star of silver mana to one of the scars.

White radiance spilled across the surface of Varay’s core, then raced along her channels and veins until it came out her pores, bathing her in a soft white light.

“Now, Emily, now!” I said in a broken croak.

Emily’s mana receded, and she yanked her hand away from the artifact, her body slumping against me from pure exhaustion.

The magic surging within the rod went still, the particles tumbling free of their constricted shapes, the spells fizzling out without effect.

Varay’s eyes rolled back in her head and she tumbled out of the air, falling prone on the ground beside Bairon. He jerked as if to catch her, remembered the horn in his hand, and froze.

As quickly and softly as I could, I eased the tremulant Emily onto the ground before hurrying to Varay. Her breathing was shallow and her connection to the horn had been severed, but she was alive. I pulled her upright. “Varay? Varay. Come on, Lance.”

Suddenly her arms wrapped around me and she was pulling me into a tight hug, her breath coming in shallow gasps. I froze, caught off guard.

“It worked,” she gasped. “I can feel it, Arthur.”

I searched her core, and a broad grin spread across my face as I realized she was right. The mana filled her entire core, pressing out against the hardened shell. As I watched, she reached for the atmospheric mana around us and drew it in.

Where it scoured against the white walls of the organ, no longer held at bay by whatever scars the Lance artifacts had left on her.

We’d done it.

Indrath’s spell was undone.