The next day was finally the true beginning of the Atlantean Restoration Project. Standing tall and proud on boats from the mighty Poseidon navy and guarded by their soldiers, the court magicians of Poseidos gathered around the swirling black mass that was the island of Atlantis. Among the collective ships surrounding Atlantis was one massive vessel dressed in white cloths and bearing great cyan drapes. It boasted a banner with the crest of the royal family next to the flying streamers. Soldiers lined the deck and at the quarterdeck stood a stark white marble throne decorated with pearls. Sitting upon the throne and dressed regally for the occasion was Kai Tempest, king of Poseidos.
The boats drew nearer and nearer to Atlantis until they finally halted several dozen meters away. Any closer and they would be swallowed into the rotating dark mist. The king’s boat took up the rear, with every person in his entourage turning to face him from their ships. Kai left his throne and made his way to the hull. The court magicians and soldiers all watched him anxiously as he placed a hand on his sword and addressed them.
“Friends,” Kai began, “soldiers, and people of Poseidos. How long we have waited to see this day. Our ancestors tried but failed at this grand task, yet here we stand at the ready, about to create a miracle. This infamous island contains thousands of years’ worth of lost history. It has taken the lives of countless loved ones who so gallantly sacrificed themselves in the pursuit of knowledge.” Kai paused, taking a few moments to mourn the loss of his subjects. “But no more. The dark past that Atlantis has created for itself will cease; for today is the day we remove its curse and bring its culture back into our arms!” Kai unsheathed his sword and raised it to the sky. “For Poseidos!”
“For Poseidos!” the crowd of soldiers and magicians cheered back.
Serena half-heartedly raised her fist. She was just as excited as the rest of her comrades, of course, but the lack of deep loyalty to Poseidos made all this commotion around her a bit frightening. Even Kakane was shifting uncomfortably around her, dodging the wildly partying soldiers.
“It’s too soon to celebrate,” he muttered. “Idiots.”
“Let them have this, Kakane,” Serena murmured back. “It’s not like we’ll be able to stop them anyway.” He grumbled and shrugged, turning away from her.
Kai raised a hand and all the noise ceased at once. He nodded to Mira beside him, who took his place at the hull. On her signal, all the soldiers and magicians turned to face Atlantis: the guards with their spears and the spellcasters with their staves. Serena felt her heart begin to palpitate. Even Kakane was holding his breath, eyeing Atlantis warily.
Mira raised her hand. One by one, the magicians lifted up their arms, going around in a circle until magic was slowly gathering in their palms. Wisps of bright green and silver light swirled around in a ring, growing faster and faster until a visible circle was rotating around Atlantis. Double checking that there was enough magic energy in the air with a small device, Mira took a deep breath, looked at the sky, then faced Atlantis.
Mira lowered her hand in one fell swoop. The minute she did, a huge magic circle appeared around Atlantis. The wind magic in the air became trapped within the circle and became concentrated into a single point, turning into a tornado. Slowly but surely, as the tornado gained speed, the black fog around Atlantis became trapped within the magicians’ magic.
Synchronizing with the other mages felt weird; it definitely wasn’t something Serena was used to. The feeling of other spellcasters’ magic flowing through her was very unusual, and every drop of magic felt different. One second it was cool and calm like a mountain spring, then it was bright, cheerful, and fiery like a field of sunflowers. But none of it was malicious, so Serena welcomed the feeling. It was a sign that everyone around her was giving it their all.
Once every wisp of black smog was swirling right alongside the massive silvery-green tornado, the magicians slowly, carefully, and cautiously began cutting it off from the ground. It took quite a while; several hours, perhaps, but time was blurring together so quickly Serena wasn’t sure. It could have been thirty minutes for all she knew. When that deed was done, what then began was the steady process of sending the magic𑁋and the curse𑁋up into the stratosphere.
Around her, Serena saw her fellow magicians’ arms waver and they began to sway, becoming unsteady on their feet. Sending this black mist up into the sky using wind magic was no easy task, and it required an unfathomable amount of mana. It was no wonder that the mages were running dry; going on like this any longer would cause them to pass out. Strangely enough, Serena felt perfectly fine, but she was glad Mira had prepared precautions for such an event as this.
The island of Ka Mauna was famous for its mountains and active volcanoes. As lava spewed from the tops of the peaks, it became infused with the natural magic surrounding Poseidos. Landing on a mountain allowed the cooled lava to ferment in a sense, absorbing more mana and altering its magical structure. Add pressure and a few hundred years, and the result was a natural magic storing device: the precious and rare gemstone pōhaku pele ’ōma’o. Fracturing the crystals allowed the mana trapped inside to be released, which could then be absorbed into the body through a special ointment. The ointment was made from the pollen and nectar of a certain plant found on Ka Ma’ukele. Every magician had smeared the ointment on every inch of their skin but as Serena was not experiencing any loss of magic, she simply let the mana released from the pōhaku pele ’ōma’o to aid the mages around her.
Considering how far up the stratosphere was from the surface, Serena had no idea how long it would take for them to get the tornado all the way up there. They only had so many crystals and if it extended into the night, they would need to make substitutions so the mages could get some sleep…
There were so many aspects of this plan that could go wrong, yet for Mira’s sake and REAN’s, Serena was determined to keep going. Even Kakane was depending on her because he wanted to see REAN completed as much as Serena did. She could not let them all down. She refused to let everyone’s efforts be in vain. She would not fail!
But even Serena had her limits and though she was not short of mana, she was feeling her arms grow heavy and her strength leaving her. Keeping this up was utterly exhausting and Serena didn’t know how much longer she could go on for.
Behind her, Kakane was eyeing Serena warily. He was concerned for her, seeing her drooping arms and laboring figure, but his thoughts were elsewhere.
“Do you know what makes a good king?”
“Being a king is more than confidence, or strength, or power. It’s about protecting those who cannot protect themselves.”
Kai was wrong. He was totally wrong. He had to be! Otherwise, Kakane’s vengeance would be for nothing! Restoring his kingdom would be fruitless! What was the point of doing either of those if that was the case? Cooped up in Poseidos, Kai had not yet seen the world for what it truly was. That had to be it! What else could it be? Even Kai Tempest would change his mind if Kakane’s experiences had been his own.
A king had to be an absolute ruler, guided by their will and their strength. They ruled their subjects without any objections, completely unfaltering. If the weak could not protect themselves, then they would simply die. Kakane had seen this simple truth enacted before him, right in front of his eyes. Protecting the pitiful weaklings of this world was not the job of a king. It was impossible for anyone to accomplish.
Kakane had to be strong, he had to restore his kingdom! And to do that, he could not allow weaklings into his castle. Everything he worked to attain would not be sacrificed on a freeloader who did nothing to contribute.
“For me, being a king means prioritizing the safety and well-being of my people above anything and everything else.”
Yet as Kakane looked at all of the mages, standing on boats and raising a curse into the sky, he began to hesitate. To Serena’s left, a man was whispering to himself, “For Poseidos.” To Serena’s right, a woman chanted, “For His Majesty.” Somehow, one way or another, with his feeble, weak, and petty ideals, Kai had inspired these magicians enough so that repeating the name of their country and king gave them strength. Perhaps it was his image? Compared to Kai, Kakane knew he didn’t look much like a king. His clothes were shabby, his face was scarred, his hair was mussy, and half the time he was covered in dirt and blood. Kai was constantly adorned in fine silks, gold, and silver, with a crown to prove his lineage.
And if it wasn’t appearance, then what was it? What made Kai so inspirational to his people? What did he have that Kakane did not?
Still surveying the magicians, Kakane was shocked to find so many smiling giddily. They were deep in concentration, yes, but they wore happy grins on their faces. Rather than seeing this as a deed for the greater good, they saw it… As a deed to honor their king? Why? And how?
How could they feel such deep loyalty to one who had such a weak will and fragile virtues like Kai?
From Kakane’s standpoint, it was inconceivable and utterly ridiculous. Yet here he was, being disproved by the minute.
He couldn’t stand it.
“Fine mages!” Kai cried. “Do not give up! Please, for all the people in our beloved kingdom, do not buckle now! For Poseidos!”
That seemed to give the magicians the strength boost they needed. Heaving one last time, a surge of magic rippled through the air in waves, condensing on the slowly rising tornado. The wind collapsed upon itself, turning into a bullet that rushed into the stratosphere at the speed of light.
Clouds parted from the sudden force, and soon the tornado was nothing more than a glinting speck in the sky. In front of the Poseidon navy and the people part of the Atlantean Restoration Project was a large island that had white steam rising off of it. Seeing the smoke meant only one thing, though, after so long. They had started at ten in the morning. It was now late afternoon; the sun was beginning its descent. Yet they had done it.
The island was a huge, lush mass of towering green trees and deep, mysterious jungle. The edge of the island was covered in smooth, bright white sand with salmon-colored seashells and small pieces of strange stone buried in the shoreline. Atlantis was huge, bearing the honor of being the third largest of Poseidos’s islands. It was gorgeous, too, carrying the natural beauty of Ka Ma’ukele but the forlorn sense of impending danger found on Ka Mauna.
Serena took a few steps back, reeling from dehydration and a lack of stamina. She could feel the last pumps of adrenaline surge through her veins along with her quickly beating heart. All of a sudden she had a headache, she felt like vomiting, and she almost collapsed, but beyond all that was a sense of elation and accomplishment for what she and her fellow magicians had just done. Perhaps that was the cause of her light-headedness, but she didn’t know and she didn’t care.
Serena had never felt like this back in Zetreum Village. But this was a task she had desperately wanted to complete and knew it could not be done alone. The people around her were not pretentious or arrogant of their abilities; rather, they were gratified by their gifts and used them to help others. They were just eager to do what was right and to assist in any way they could. Serena felt honored to have worked alongside them in this grand project. Around her, people were congratulating each other and laughing. They even praised Serena, making her dizzier than she already was. They gave Serena a warm, fluttery feeling inside.
Kakane swooped under Serena and caught her as she toppled over her feet, breathing heavily. Sweat drenched her face, but with every deep breath was a small laugh. On her face was a huge, dorky grin that Kakane couldn’t quite comprehend, but he knew her joy was well-deserved.
“I… We did it! Kakane, we did it!” she said breathlessly.
“Yeah. Good job.” He gave her a weak smile that didn’t meet his eyes. Serena frowned.
“Is something wrong? We can finally finish REAN! I thought you’d be more excited about this.”
“For the last time, Serena, I’m fine,” Kakane huffed. “You should be more worried about yourself; for gods’ sake, you can barely stand.”
“T-That took a lot more out of me than I expected,” Serena admitted. “Geez, I’m so tired… Ulp! Hang on, I think if I talk any more I’ll throw up…” Kakane rolled his eyes.
“Then shut up. I don’t want your stomach juices on my feet.”
“Shut up I said!!”
Serena continued to let out breathy, airy laughs, but she did stop talking, much to Kakane’s relief.
“Do you know what makes a good king?”
Kakane shook his head.
He had to save those thoughts for another day. Serena was right, he should feel happier from this achievement. Yet Kai’s words lingered… No, now was not the time for that. Atlantis was finally free from its curse, meaning that REAN’s completion drew nearer. He had resolved to complete it alongside Serena, for her sake and his. If she really did allow him to copy her model, he could hopefully mass-produce them in Aaliyah’s country. Then he could truly, in one fell swoop, destroy Doryoku and restore his kingdom with the power of puppetry.
“Restoration or revenge. Choose one or the other and get your damn priorities straight.”
Kakane had no idea why Cateye’s words were suddenly coming back to him. For the past ten years, vengeance was all that had mattered to him. That, and restoring his beloved fallen country.
“There’s a reason why people call revenge bittersweet. It can be a pitfall if you’re not careful.”
Again with those empty words! Kakane knew what he had to do and was willing to do anything to accomplish his goals!
Yet as he looked at Serena in his arms, exhausted yet smiling, he knew with a twinge of his heart that he could not betray her. After all the time they had spent together, he knew the look of disappointment on her face when he revealed his intentions to her would keep him from his revenge. He could not tell Serena the truth about himself, less she looked upon Kakane with horror. But if he did not, he would be dooming them both to a despairing fate.
“For me, being a king means prioritizing the safety and well-being of my people above anything and everything else.”
No, he had to remain strong and vigilant. Strength was all that mattered to a king. After REAN was finished, Kakane knew what he had to do. He would not let Serena’s face break into tears, into sadness and disappointment. He would not allow her to get caught up within his problems. To protect her, though it would pain them both greatly, Kakane would have to leave her behind.
They would have to say farewell.
She would be sad, upset even. But every goodbye was bittersweet, and this one would be no exception.
There was something that Kakane had to accomplish, and he would not let anything stop him; let alone his own emotions and attachment.
In the end, if Serena had nothing to offer him, he had to cut her loose. Being a king meant knowing when to make decisions like that, after all.
He wanted to take advantage of her ingenious puppet, but he had fallen in the trap Cateye had warned him about time and time again. Perhaps this was what Aaliyah had warned him about, about his despair dooming his fate, even though the answer lied across the sea.
“Never let your emotions get the better of you. Attachment will cloud your judgment and cause you to make rash, stupid decisions. If you’re being chased by a hungry bear with a person tailing you, don’t hesitate for a second to let the bear eat the guy behind you. Who cares if that person dies when you get to live?”
He wouldn’t have REAN, but Kakane knew this would be for the better. Serena did not deserve the life of pain and suffering he had been forced to endure, and he wasn’t about to subject her to it. His attachment to her ended here. Most likely, this expedition to Atlantis would be the last time he ever saw Serena again. Kakane figured he might as well make the best of it before he had to completely cut ties with his beloved Serena Bly.