Corruption

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Chapter 2

The next morning, I decided to take a walk around the garden. "Ah, it's so nice out. Hm? Oh, it's Ren. "Good morning," I called out to him. "Are you feeling better today?"

Ren sat beneath a large tree, reading a novel. He looked up as I approached him and nodded in response to my question. As he nodded, his black hair dropped over his eye, making him need to fix his hair back behind his ear. "Aeris' tea was very helpful."

I made my way over to Ren and sat down beside him. As soon as I sat down, I noticed him staring at me. "What? Is there something on my face?"

He shook his head. "You're alone today?"

"Ahaha.....well it took a while to get Nocturne off my back. I need some breathing space from him."

"I see."

"..."

"..."

This silence is unbearable! Why is it so hard to keep a conversation going with this guy? I don't even know what to say with him.

"He's here," he spoke softly.

"Ah!" I quickly scrambled on to my feet and began climbing the tree behind me.

"Ren, did you see Stella come by here?" Nocturne asked, slightly out of breath.

Ren remained silent for a moment. Then shook his head and brought his attention back to his book.

"Thanks," Nocturne replied as he quickly left to continue his search.

As soon as I was sure that Nocturne was nowhere left in sight, I climbed down the tree. "Thanks, Ren!"

"Stella."

"Hm, what is it?"

"Your aura seems different."

"Different? Well, we do use complete opposite elements of magic so maybe you can sense minute changes in my magic flow. Plus all of us have come of age and our magic abilities have all matured!"

"...I'm not quite sure. It gives off a different feeling."

I shrugged my shoulders. "If it is something important, you'll be the first to notice, right? I feel completely fine now. Anyways, I'll be heading off now. See you later!"

"..."

I headed towards the castle's main entrance. "I think I'll head down to town for a bit. I could buy a few snacks to store in my room!"

"Stella, are you going to town for a bit? Would you it be alright for me to accompany you? I have a few stops to make."

"Good morning, Zeno. I don't mind," I replied kindly. Zeno is a strange fellow. He told me once that he enjoys charming ladies. I've seen him hanging around a bunch of women in town at night once when I snuck out of the manor. I wonder if he's going to town to buy more ingredients to make hair dye. For some reason, he enjoys having blue hair, just like his magic element. Maybe he thinks it'll attract the ladies' attention more...but I don't think he realizes that those constant attempts at dyeing his hair would be bad for his health.

We made our way through the castle gates and into the town. The streets were full of bustling people, going from one place to the next. In the center of town was a large fountain where many street performers impressed the passing public with their music and dancing.

Eh? Why are there so many women looking at us? I glanced up at Zeno and found him flirtatiously winking at all the passing ladies. Why the hell are you grabbing all this attention for? "Um, Zeno, I'll meet up with you later."

"Alright, Stella. I'm glad you were able to notice my intentions," he winked at me.

You wanted to be rid of me so badly that you would gather everyone's attention? Then why did want to accompany me to town? ...I really don't understand him. I casually made my way to another area of town. I eventually found the candy store and eagerly entered. My eyes lit up as I found the main item I was searching for-- chocolate-coated strawberry gummies! I quickly ran up to the desk, "ten pounds of chocolate-strawberry gummies, please!"

I exited the store with two medium-sized bags filled with my treat whilst chewing a couple pieces that I tossed into my mouth before I left the store. Now I want to go look for some new dresses.

"Haha, come on now, who's next?"

That voice sounds really familiar... I squeezed through the crowd and made my way towards the center. There were two men in the middle. One was laying down on his side, wrapping his arms around his stomach. A sword lay a few feet away from him. His face showed that he was in a lot of pain. His body had a couple of scratches and bruises and he was even bleeding. The second man, on the other hand, stood triumphantly with his sword in hand, looking at the surrounding crowd, hoping for another challenger. But then he suddenly locked eyes with me.

"What are you doing here, you brat?"

"That's what I should be asking you! What are you doing fighting other people, Ace?"

"Tch, that's no concern of yours. Now run on home."

"Quit treating me like a kid! You're so irritating."

"Whooo, come on girl! Take him on!"

Huh?

"Yeah! Show him whose boss!"

Do what?

A man in the crowd picked up the sword on the ground and placed it in my hands. "Don't worry, I'll hold on to your goodies for you while you fight."

Ehhhhh??

"Hah, you don't even stand a chance against me. Just leave. You don't belong here," Ace snorted.

"Grrr, I'll show you!" I gripped the sword tightly. I've had a few sparing lessons and watched Nocturne practice his swordsmanship, too! But just in case, I'll just use a fortifying spell on my blade and a spell of speed. The aura of my light magic then wrapped around my blade and my feet. I could see Ace frown. He probably noticed my spells. But I doubt he'd want to expose us both as nobles. He'll just have to deal with my enhancements!

"I'm not going to go easy just because it's you." Immediately after his words, Ace dashed forward and swung his blade down at me. I quickly reacted and blocked his blow. Our blades locked on to each other.

When did he get so much strength? I swiftly dashed to the side and made my way around him with a spinning backslash and swung as fast as I could. But even with my increased speed, Ace was able to block my attack and push me back. But I wasn't going to give up there. I immediately pushed back against the ground, jolting my body forward. Our blades clashed again and again.

"Humph, you wouldn't be able to handle me if you didn't enhance yourself," Ace muttered beneath his breath, soft enough for only me to hear beneath the sounds of roars and cheers of the audience. "But I'm done playing with you now!" And with a forceful swing, Ace cleanly knocked the blade out of my hands. My sword flew into the air and dropped straight down into the ground a few feet to my side. He then pointed the edge of his sword against my neck. "It's over. Now go home."

"Urgh..... I hate you, you jerk!" I immediately shoved my way past the crowd and ran out into the streets. "Damn it, he's just trying to make a fool out of me." I sighed as I stopped in the town square, not able to find a trace of Zeno. "Ah, I forgot my candy!" Now my mood is completely ruined... I guess I'll just go back home. I suddenly felt a chill run through my spine. What was that? I turn my head back and forth, searching for what might have caused the feeling, but I couldn't find the source. The feeling had quickly vanished as soon as it had appeared.


I dragged my feet into straight into my room. "This day sucks..." I groan as I drop myself face-first on to my bed.

"Oh? And I thought you would have been out and about enjoying yourself without me."

I jumped at the voice. I didn't even dare to turn around to look at him. He sounds angry... Of course he would, considering I was avoiding him so I could sneak off on my own.

The sounds of bags being dropped caught my attention. I turned and saw two medium-sized bags laying at the foot of my bed.

"You were pretty quick in your fight against Ace. I didn't realize you were keen on improving your physical abilities," Nocturne spoke as he tossed a few pieces of chocolate-strawberry gummies in his mouth. "And those attacks...you've been watching me train?"

"I used magic to enhance my speed and my weapon. And I didn't know any other way to fight," I replied as I sat up and began eating my candy, somewhat happier with the entire day. People with no affinity for magic are unable to see or feel the aura when magic is being used unless the magic has a physical property, which is why no one in the audience noticed me using magic. "Wait...you followed me the entire time?" Nocturne remained silent as he continued to look at me. "Wow, Nocturne, I'm impressed. You've become a first-class stalker."

"....Can't you just say I'm a very diligent guard?" he sighed hopelessly.

Knock. Knock.

"Oh, Olber, did you need something?"

"I heard you had a fight with Ace. It's not good to fight each other. And you're also a girl. You shouldn't be getting into fights. It won't be good if you're injured."

Ah, of course, he's come to scold me. "I'm alright, Olber. And even if I did get hurt, I can just easily heal myself up," I replied reassuringly.

Olber sighed. "Even if you can heal yourself, I just want you to remain unharmed."

"I understand." I really can't talk back to him.

"Good. Then I leave her to you, Nocturne."

Nocturne nodded in reply as Olber left. It was silent for a few moments until Nocturne spoke again, "while you were out frolicking about, the crowned prince asked me to deliver a message to you."

"What did Prince Odin want?" I asked curiously.

"He said that there have been complaints about irregular activities in the Northern forest. The reports said that there have been an abnormal amount of dead animals throughout the forest and sightings of animals behaving strangely. There is supposed to be some temple in the depths of the forest to monitor what goes on in the area but the people in charge of the temple haven't responded to any of our courier pigeons. The crowned prince wants you to investigate what's been happening as your first task as a full-fledged mage."

"But couldn't this be the work of an increase number in bandits and hunters? Wouldn't it be better to have knights investigate this situation?"

"It could be. But the crowned prince believes that it may be the cause of something more supernatural."

I sighed. "Alright. I'll go investigate this matter tomorrow morning."


The next morning, I woke up bright and early to get ready for my first official mission by the royal family. I'll bring a small pouch of candy with me since the journey is a bit long. I made my way over to the stables to ready my horse next. But I didn't see my horse in sight.

"Are you ready to go?" Nocturne asked, approaching me from the side. Beside him was my horse. He had attached the saddle and reins for me.

"I'm guessing you're going to be coming with me?"

Nocturne grinned, "Of course." He held out his hand and helped me up the horse. As soon as I was on, he climbed up behind me, taking the reins in his hand. We then began our small adventure to the Northern forest.

It didn't take us very long to reach the Northern forest. By the time we reached the outskirts, the sun was fully up high in the sky.

Entering the forest felt strange. I couldn't hear anything besides the sounds of the horse's clopping and the light sounds of our breath. The forest was eerily silent. A few moments after we entered, I could feel a sudden weight added on to my chest. What is this feeling?

"Are you alright?" Nocturne asked. "Your breathing seems a bit heavier."

"Something doesn't feel right." I looked around, trying to find the source of the strange feeling. "Nocturne, go to the northeast."

Nocturne looked at me with a puzzled expression. "As you say."

We continued on our path. The feeling just felt much worse as we progressed. It felt as if the air became thick and heavy. I gasped and immediately put my hands over my nose and mouth. This stench is horrible! Surrounding us on the ground was a large amount of animal carcasses.

"We must be getting close to the temple."

'"But how did this all happen? This is definitely not the work of hunters. There's such an ominous feeling in the air." What kind of thing could cause all these animals to die all of a sudden?

Nocturne looked at me seriously. "Then this definitely isn't the work of normal humans. Whatever you're feeling, I don't feel it at all. It’s best to keep your guard up.”

I nodded in reply, staring at the horrible scene around me.

We rode in silence, trying not to look at the terrible environment. We eventually reached the temple. It was so deep into the forest where the trees were thick enough to cover out a large amount of sunlight from reaching the forest floor. This seems more like a temple of darkness than a normal temple to watch over the forest. Nocturne and I dismounted from our horse and made our way into the temple.

Despite the horrible exterior, the interior of the temple seemed completely normal. There were a few candles that remained lit on the tables. Nothing within the temple seemed out of place. It remained well maintained, with no sign of burglary. The only thing which was not right was that it was utterly silent. There was not a single soul which resided in the temple. What happened to the people that should have been staying here?

I walked over to a desk which had a journal placed on top of it and flipped the pages to the last few entries.

“A mysterious stone appeared out of thin air at full moon last night. It was strange. I was not able to comprehend how this stone came to be and where it came from. As a monk, I am able to have a somewhat ‘sixth sense’ which allows me to sense if something has good or evil intentions. With this stone, I am uncertain. It releases an aura of calmness, but I can still sense something darker deep within. For the time being, I will keep this stone sealed away in a box.

A few days have passed since the appearance of the stone. Despite having sealed it’s powers, I can feel it’s powers steadily growing. The powers emanating from it feel much darker. Even the forest creatures are being affected. How is this stone’s power growing? Does it have something to do with the approaching day of the next generation of mages? This is the only event I can correlate with this stone’s increasingly terrifying powers. Does this mean the stone is waiting for something?”

“Hey, Nocturne, apparently there’s supposed to be a stone somewhere. That’s probably what’s been causing the changes to the creatures in this forest.”

“Then let’s start searching. I'll start in the basement. Call me if you find it."

I nodded in reply and made my way towards the upper area of the house. I can't believe something as simple as a rock can cause all his havoc. The upper area of the house seemed to mostly have bedrooms for the temple's residents and most likely people seeking refuge for the night. Every room was kept tidily, just like the rest of the temple.

Finally, you have come.

My body froze in place. I couldn't move a muscle. What the hell is happening? I struggled as hard as I could but my body refused to listen. I couldn't even call out to Nocturne for help.

You are the one I have been waiting for.

Who are you? What do you want with me?

To give you what you truly desire!

A sudden surge of heat began to envelop my body. I couldn't do anything to stop it. It was a strange feeling. However, despite being surprised and confused, I didn't feel a need to reject the energy. The heat eventually dissipated and my entire body was completely at ease. I began checking my entire body. Nothing seemed to be out of sorts. I looked down and noticed a dark, purple stone laying at my feet. I picked up the stone and observed it thoroughly. I could feel the strange aura which surrounded the temple's forest emanating from this stone--but on a much smaller scale. This seems to have been the source of the heavy aura. Maybe the stone ran out of magic to use. I guess that would happen with items that were infused with magic since the magic would have to run out eventually.

I made my way back to the main floor of the building, finding Nocturne reading through the journal. "I've found the source of the problem," I announced, holding the stone in my hand. "Let's leave this place and report back to the crowned prince."

"Of course."

As we made our way outside, I could feel that the air had returned to normal. It no longer felt heavy. The only thing that remained was the stench of decaying animal corpses. I made sure to pinch my nose as we made our way to our horse. I have to make sure to let prince Odin know to get some knights to clean up these animals and have a couple of priests to create a proper burial for the area.


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