The Selection

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Chapter 52 - Avarice - Dream

I open my eyes very briefly but close them again. It doesn’t feel like I slept well at all. Marin rolls around in bed. Maybe I’m not the only one. Remembering last night, I scooch closer to her and then wrap an arm around her. She’s faced the other way. “Marin…”

I grab one of her breasts. She squeals but something’s not right. It’s much larger. Maybe the grip’s wrong. I touch and squeeze multiple times at different places but it still feels off. She smells different too. Wait a minute…this isn’t Marin…

I open my eyes and take my arm off her. What the…

I sit up and look around. I’m not in my room anymore. A completely different room. Where the hell am I? Then I remember that there was a mystery girl next to me. She sits up too and asks, “Honey, what’s wrong?”

Her red long hair, large breasts, and slender figure catch my attention immediately. She looks at me and smiles. My heart pounds rapidly and I gulp. My lower half is excited too. I have an almost uncontrollable urge to jump on her but I hold back. I can’t be thinking of such thoughts when I have Marin. Where is she? And where am I? How’d I get here? I was asleep in my room with Marin and… The dots connect. I’m still asleep and this is a dream. I cock an eyebrow. This woman with red hair must be what I think Marin would look like in the future. “Marin?”

“Yes, honey?” she answers. That settles it.

I smile. Marin’s never called me honey before, but it has a nice ring to it. I don’t hold myself back anymore and push her down onto the bed. I climb over her and squeeze both of her breasts. A surge of adrenaline courses through my body. This feeling’s nothing like anything I’ve experienced before. Not even for her. It feels unbearable. Even the inside of my mouth is producing a lot of saliva. As if I haven’t eaten in days and a bowl of delicious soup is in front of me. But instead of the soup, an older Marin is in front of me. I can’t hold back anymore. I’ll skip the usual steps and go right into the action.

It helps that she’s nude too. As if inviting me in, she spreads her legs. I position my body over her, about to put it in, but I notice something. A mole on her neck that wasn’t there before. I try to hold back the beast inside me. What if this isn’t Marin? It’s my brain tricking me. Even if this is a dream and none of it is real, I don’t want to be disloyal to her. I focus my attention on her facial features. The ones that I know really well. She has…purple eyes…

It can’t be her because Marin has brown eyes. Even though I know it’s not her, my body still wants her. It feels like there’s something inside me in the center of my body. I don’t know what it is but it gives me a weird sensation. I try to loosen the grip on her breasts, but I can’t. It’s like my hands are glued to them. Marin, Marin, Marin, Marin, Marin…

I repeat her name in my head. I can’t be disloyal to her. I fight back the nearly uncontrollable urge to jump on the woman in front of me. I let go of her melons and lay down in the space next to her. I still need to ask who this woman really is. I don’t ever remember seeing someone like this before. “Who—“

She climbs over on top of me. “Honey, if you don’t want to be on top… I will.”

“Ho-hold on a second… I don’t know who you are, but I don’t want this.”

“You don’t want me?” She asks and then grabs my thing. “When you’re this hard. You want me.”

Her words tempt me. I grit my teeth. Every part of my body wants to, but when I think about Marin, I don’t want to go through with it. At the same time, I can’t muster the strength to push her off me. She moves around while on top of me while still holding onto my member. “Honey, you’ll feel better soon. Just relax.”

She’s about to sit down on me. I have to get her off me. Something inside me clicks the moment she drops her body. I exclaim, “No!”

I push her off me with all my strength. She falls off the bed. She gets up immediately, frowning. “Ow…”

“I don’t know who you are, but you’re not Marin. Even if this is some crazy dream, I won’t do that to her.” She looks at me expressionlessly for several seconds before bursting out in laughter. “What’s so funny?”

“So, Marin’s your girlfriend? Not some girl you have a crush on?”

My girlfriend? I never thought of her that way but in a way, she is. Though we keep it a secret. “Yeah.”

She smiles. “I see. So that’s how you were able to resist. It must’ve been hard, right? To resist me.”

I gulp. Part of me still wants her, but I’m able to keep composure. It’s no doubt that if I didn’t have Marin, I wouldn’t have been able to resist. She continues, “And here I thought you wanted to live out a fantasy.”

“Fantasy? This is a nightmare. I’ve never had such a weird dream before.” The reason why I’m having this dream must be last night. I was more passionate than ever with Marin. I told her my secret and she told me one of hers. Felt like we became closer with less to hide with each other.

She bursts out laughing again. “Dream? You’re a funny one. I won’t play house with you anymore, so stop playing stupid.”

I have no idea what she’s talking about. This is getting weird for a dream. Usually, my dreams are more…violent. I’ve had about enough of this dream. I lay down on the bed and close my eyes. Wake up, wake up, wake up…

“You’re taking this joke too far. It’s no longer funny,” she says. I open my eyes, finding myself still asleep. There’s no point in talking to her. She’s a part of my mind, after all. I must’ve met her before and forgot. It could be that I’m trying to remember who she is by having this dream.

“Who’re you again? I’m having trouble remembering.”

“Eprillon,” she answers firmly with narrowed eyebrows. That doesn’t ring any bells. “Wait…how old are you?”

“Sixteen,” I reply quickly. Even though I didn’t mean to answer her.

Oh… I suppose you’re too young to know…”

This is getting a little creepy. I’m not sure where I met this woman. I’ve only ever known Emdos since I was young. Was she someone we passed by in the streets when we went out? Or is she someone that was around before my first memory? Or did I forget? “What’re you talking about?”

“Your parents didn’t tell you anything?”

“I’ve never met my parents.” A chill goes down my spine. I answered again, but I swear I didn’t mean to. I have a feeling this is going to turn to a true nightmare very soon. But that’s a good thing because I can wake up. I’m still scared, though. Maybe because it feels too real this time. The door’s on the other side of the room. I sit up.

“I see…” she mutters. It appears that she’s in deep thought. This is my chance to ditch her. I hop off the bed and dash toward the door. I open it. The other side of the door is made out of a silver metal. Ahead is a long passage with the width of the door. The entirety of it is made out of the same metal. At the end is another metal door. I dash toward it. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Away from you!” I shout. It seems like I can’t refuse to answer her questions. A familiar purple haze suddenly appears in front of me that covers the entire passage. Void magic?!

It’s too late to stop. I go through. I flail my arms reflexively, soon falling on a bed face up. The woman is next to me, smiling. But I don’t see the portal above me. I sit up to confirm my suspicions. It’s a one-sided portal that faced the ceiling. Last night is when Marin helped me figure this out. My mind’s really messing with me. Is this a test? I’ll fight Void magic with Void magic.

I prepare instructions to create an exit one-sided portal to the hallway. But something’s weird. There’s a part inside my torso area where I can’t move any of my Mana. I ignore it and continue. Both of her portals disappear.

“Why would you want to get away from me?“ she asks. “Let’s talk.”

“Because you creep me out. It feels like I’m your puppet and this will turn into one of my usual nightmares soon.”

“Wow, you really don’t know anything. A word of advice, you should stop whatever you’re planning or you really will be my puppet.”

I ignore her and hop off the bed. I activate my magic and then run into the portal in front of me. I appear right in front of the metal door I saw before. I reach for the doorknob. Suddenly, my vision changes. I’m lying face up on the bed again. What the hell just happened?

I look at the woman, who is still smiling. She couldn’t have possibly used the portals on me again. I had it blocked, but she might’ve had something already set up. But, I didn’t see anything before it happened. I sit up. There’s nothing above the bed either like before. I don’t know why I’m surprised. This is a dream. She can do whatever she wants, apparently.

“How do you know about Void magic if your parents didn’t tell you anything?” she asks.

“I learned how to use the portals through a Magic Scroll inside a book Emdos gave me. It originally came from my parents,” I answer while looking around the room. If I can’t leave through the normal way, I’ll make my own exit.

“Who’s Emdos?”

“He’s the one who raised me.” I hop off the bed again. I turn toward the wooden wall next to the bed where there is no furniture blocking the way.

“Did the book have any information about anything else?”

“I don’t know. The only thing I read was a letter my father wrote saying something about me being the last hope. I don’t know what he means by that and I didn’t get to read any more of the book. I lost it.” I answer and bond my Fire Affinity to my Mana. I’ll emit Fire magic from my palms and burn an exit out of here.

“The only type of Void magic you know of are the portals?”

“Yeah,” I answer and then pause my plans to burn a hole in the wall. Wait a minute. “There’re other types of Void magic?”

“I’m the one asking the questions here. Give me what I want, and I’ll tell you everything you don’t know. My service to a junior.”

“What do you want?” She points to my member. There’s no need to play along with her. I’ve always known that there were other forms of Void magic that I didn’t know about. I shake my head. “That’s not gonna happen.”

“It’s going to happen whether you like it or not. Especially if you keep on doing what you’re doing.”

I ignore her and point my palms toward the wooden wall and then activate my magic, releasing a stream of hot flames into the wall. It burns the wood into ash immediately. I move my palms around to create a large enough opening to go through. But something’s strange. I stop my magic. A silver metal is behind the wood. The same colored metal as the door and the passage.

“No matter what you do, it’s pointless.”

Pointless? We’ll see about that. I’ll wake myself up forcefully. I write instructions to release my strongest fireball to come out of my palm. The same as usual but with my Mana instead so it won’t take long. I need to distract her in the meantime, so she can’t stop me. I ask, “Why’s there metal behind the wooden wall?”

“The metal separates from the inside to the outside.”

“But why have the wood at all?”

“Do you sleep in a room made out of metal?”

“No, stone.”

“Stone… So you live in a castle?”

“Yeah.”

“Does it feel like home?”

“No.”

“Exactly. That’s why this room is made out of wood,” she says and then walks over to me. She lightly strokes my cheek once with her hand. “To make you feel comfortable when I brought you here.”

I push her hand away and take a step back. I don’t want to be tempted by her again. “Well, it didn’t make you comfortable enough. Why don’t I show you around the base? This room is a very small chunk of it all.”

“Base?”

“That’s right. That metal behind the wood you see there encases the base,” she says and then starts to put on her clothes. She’s turned away from me. This is my chance. I point my right palm toward my face. I close my eyes. “What are you doing, you fool!”

I activate my magic. A hot feeling envelops my face, but nothing beyond a minor burning feeling. I open my eyes. There are no flames coming out of my palm. What happened? That magic should have ended me instantly… The woman stomps her way toward me with a frown. I bond my Mana with Fire Affinity and try to release it as a stream out of my palm. Nothing comes out. She grabs my chin and turns my head her way.

“Doesn’t look serious. I’ll have a medic heal you later. Are you trying to kill yourself?”

“Yeah, so I can wake up.”

“I don’t know many times I have to tell you. This is reality,” the woman says and then sighs. “Come with me. I’ll tell you everything later. Then you’ll see that this is not a dream.”

“Whatever,” I say. No matter what she says, this is just a dream. I’ll see what my mind has in store for me. I follow her through the narrow passage. She opens the door at the end. It’s bright. I go through and find myself outside. I shield my eyes from the blinding bright light. “I thought you said we were inside a base?”

“We are. What you see is not what you think. Look closely.”

I look around. Looks like an ordinary village to me. A large one at that. Children, women, men out and about. Grass and dirt on the ground, trees around the village. There’s a blue sky, clouds, and light, but something’s off. The clouds aren’t moving. And there’s no sun. I turn around to the door we went through. The other side of the door is made of wood instead of metal. The wall around the door have the mountains and scenery painted on them. I touch them and confirm that it’s fake.

“What’s this?” I ask. Why do they have a fake outside inside a building? Even if it’s a dream, it’s very mysterious. They must be using Light Crystals and Glims or P-Glims with Mana Crystals to create the light among other things.

“It’s a simulation of village life. Some prefer to live in this environment.”

“But…why? Why not live outside with a real sun?”

“Safety reasons.”

“Safety from what? Monsters?”

“No… It’s more of a precaution,” she answers. Two men are walking toward us.

“Commander,” they say with a salute.

“Is this him?” one of them asks.

“Yes,” the woman answers.

They point their gaze at me. One of them says, “Okay, come with us.”

“That’s not necessary,” the woman says. “I’ll take it from here.”

The two men exchange a brief glance. One of them asks, “Are you fulfilling your duty?”

The woman frowns. “Yes. I have been for over a decade. Why would I stop now? All the things I’ve done for this community.”

“Please, excuse him, commander. He’s still young,” the other man says.

“What? I have to make sure she’s not getting cold feet. She was completely emotionless when I was with her. It was like I fucked a doll. It was awful.”

The woman slaps him. “Get out of my sight.”

“Heh. Even if you’re the commander now, I wanted to remind you of what your only purpose is.”

“What’s wrong with you?” the other man asks and smacks the man’s head with his hand. “Go on ahead of me, I’ll meet you there.”

The man walks away. The remaining man continues, “One other thing, Arlene. It’s about your oldest daughter.”

Arlene sighs. “We’ve talked about this. We’re only going to use her as a last resort.”

“Our supplies are running low. She also consented given that she chooses her mate.”

“I don’t care if she’s consented. She’s too young to make that decision.”

“It’s strange that you’re playing the role of a mother now. Is it because she’s about how old you were when you made that decision?” the man asks, but Arlene doesn’t answer.“Do you regret it?”

“No, of course not. We would’ve been doomed to make the same mistakes as our predecessors.”

“Your daughter just wants to commit to the same cause. I know you’ll make the right choice,” the man says and then walks away in the same direction as the other man went.

“Who were they?” I ask.

“The older one was my second mate. The younger was my last mate,” she says and continues walking.

I follow her and ask, “Mate…? Is that what you want from me?”

“That’s right. Aren’t you a smart one?”

“Yeah. Why does it have to be me? If your goal is mating, won’t anyone do? You already have a daughter…”

“I’ve had several daughters…and sons… But only a few of them are alive now.”

“What happened to the others?”

“It’s best you don’t know. Look, you have something they don’t. Void magic. And your Affinity is very high. It was a part of my plan to bring you here and mate with you. As well as to store your seeds for the future.”

“Store my seeds…?” I can’t believe what I’m hearing. It doesn’t sound sanitary.

“Yes, and you know how it goes right? How Mana capacity and magic talent is largely dependent on the parents.”

Does it work like that? Did I learn that at the Academy and forgot about it? I’m not sure if I was paying attention for that. “Um, sure?”

Arlene stops walking and turns around. “Sure? This isn’t common knowledge for you?”

“No,” I answer quickly.

“I can’t even begin to imagine how primitive the place you ended up is,” Arlene says and shakes her head. “With your high Void Affinity combined with my own almost guarantees strong pure-blooded children.”

“So does that mean your children now are weak and can’t use Void magic?”

“Well, they can’t use Void magic because they were never taught… I have no reason to teach it to them because it serves no purpose in their daily lives. I’ll create a training regimen eventually, but it’s not important right now. It was a poor choice of words. By strong, I mean that they have high Affinity for Void magic. If I didn’t create children with your seeds, children several generations down the line might not have any Void magic talent at all. That would pose a danger to our plan.”

“Plan?”

She ignores me and continues walking. I follow. “So I’ll be able to use your seeds to create strong children for the rest of my life.”

“What’s the point? You said you don’t use Void magic in your daily lives. Why do you need to create strong children?”

They don’t use Void magic, but I do. After I pass away, there needs to be a successor to my work.”

“I see…” I say, though none of this makes any sense to me. I feel like it’s pointless figuring it out since this is all in my head, but I don’t know how Void magic plays into any of this. “What work do you do?”

“Isn’t this place mysterious?” she asks while looking around.

I look around and see nothing too out of the ordinary, other than people living indoors as if it was outside. The village is bigger than I originally thought. Nothing too strange or out of place. I’m not too familiar with village life. There’s no sense of adventure. Wait a minute…are these grass and trees fake too? Or those crops over there. With this fake sunlight, they wouldn’t be able to grow. But it’s a dream. Anything goes. I answer, “Not really. I’ve had stranger things happen in my dreams.”

“What’s so hard to believe? That there’s light but there’s no sun?”

“No, it’s obviously a combination of a Glim, a Light Crystal, and a Mana Crystal doing the work,” I reply. Arlene stops walking and turns around again. “It doesn’t explain how these plants are able to grow.”

“You know about Glims?” Arlene asks in a tone more serious than before.

“Yeah.”

“What do you know about them?”

“They give Mana instructions when it passes through the Glim and higher quality Mana produces a stronger effect. It’s made out of this crystal material. Oh, and you need Intermediate Runic magic to make them.”

The woman squints her eyes slightly, focusing on the ground. “That’s all?”

“Yeah.”

“I see…” Arlene still stands there looking at the ground. She mutters, “That’s mysterious…”

“Excuse me?”

“Nothing,” Arlene says and then continues forward. “There’s nothing mysterious on what you’re seeing. If you know about Glims, then you know about Runic magic. It’s converting the magical object of light into a physical object. It’s more complicated than that, but know that the end result is a replication of sunlight.”

I get the vague idea. So this place isn’t as mysterious as I first thought. Of course, something like this is possible. I’ve never thought about these things. What’s my mind trying to show me?

“We’re almost at one of the exits,” Arlene informs. We enter a dense forest. The village isn’t visible from here.

“To the outside?”

“No, to this village. You’ll be able to see it soon.”

“Where’re you taking me exactly?”

“A couple places. The research branch to start off. I’ll show you proof that this isn’t a dream.”

“Whatever. What were you saying earlier? The reason why you don’t live outside’s because of a precaution? For what?”

Arlene chuckles. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

“You’re right. I don’t believe any of this.”

“That’s why I’m going to convince you that this isn’t a dream before saying anything else. The exit is up ahead.”

I’ll prove to myself that this is a dream before that. I’ll find some inconsistency somewhere.

There’s a clearing up ahead. The exit is shaped into a large arc. It’s big enough for a wagon to go through comfortably. The passage is made out of that silver metal I saw earlier. Light comes out of the ceiling here too. I ask, “Is this sunlight too?”

“No, that’s regular light. The village and the basking area are the only two places with simulated sunlight. Our supply upkeep isn’t high enough to maintain simulated sunlight everywhere in the base.”

We’re almost at the end of the passage. I thought there would be a door or something, but there isn’t. Arlene stands in front of the wall at the end. Is this where the nightmare starts? I gulp.

“We’re here,” Arlene informs. A purple portal appears in front of us. It must be Arlene’s Void magic, but where does it lead? There’s no way for Mana to move past this solid metal wall. I follow Arlene through the portal. We arrive in two similar looking hallways. Straight ahead and to the left. There are pairs of metal doors on opposing sides evenly spaced across the two paths. This place reminds me of the living quarters at the Academy. “This is where our researchers live.”

I stop walking and turn around. The purple portal is gone and what remains is a similar dead end. I want to try the same thing she did and see what happens. Arlene asks, “What are you doing?”

I turn back around. “Just trying to see if I can copy what you just did.”

“No, don’t waste your Mana.”

“What, why?”

“It’s nothing big,” she says after a delay. She continues walking forward into the path ahead. “Just saving you the trouble of trying when it won’t work.”

I follow her. “Then how’d you do it?”

“That’s a secret.”

Of course it is. She won’t tell me because she doesn’t know how. She’s a part of my mind. I don’t know, so she doesn’t either. Another strange thing is that there’s hardly anyone here. Other than who I saw in the village. And she mentioned something about supplies. Those men from earlier said something about that too. What does that exactly mean?

The simulated sunlight is created through Glims and Light Crystals. If she said that there aren’t enough supplies to maintain the entire base, that must mean that there aren’t enough Light Crystals. The only way to obtain Affinity Crystals is to extract them from monsters who have them. Normally that task is left to Adventurers…but I don’t think that exists here. This has to be an inconsistency to get me out of this dream. Though, she’ll probably say something like it’s a secret or something that doesn’t prove or disprove anything.

With nothing to lose, I ask, “How do you get enough Light Crystals and Mana Crystals for all this light? Are there people hunting monsters outside the base?”

“Well…we have ways,” she says.

There it is. The vague answer I expected. When I think about Drymo, there must be over a thousand people using Affinity Crystals every day. We didn’t replace the Affinity Crystals in the living quarters very often, but I find it hard to believe that Adventurers would be the ones to bring all the Affinity Crystals to a city. Not all Adventurers do it either. Our group didn’t. I never really thought about these things. Maybe I’ve been taking too many things for granted.

“Is there someone living in every single one of these rooms?” I ask.

“No, we mainly built these ahead of time so we don’t have to expand in the future. We only have a few hundred people right now.”

We pass an adjacent corridor but continue forward. At the end is a lone door. Arlene informs, “We’re here.”

I have no clue what she’s planning to show me. It would have to be something I’ve never seen or could even imagine existing. She takes out a keychain with several keys on it and then unlocks the door with one of them. I follow her inside.

It looks like an ordinary bedroom except the room is made out of metal. I’m not sure if all this was a trick or if there’s something here. I ask, “What’s this place?”

“My room.”

“I’m not gonna do it with you if that’s why you brought me here.”

“Don’t worry. That’s not why,” she says and walks over to a drawer. She unlocks it with another key. “It’s because of this.”

She takes something out. She’s holding a familiar object. It’s a Gun made in the same metal as the walls. It’s shaped differently, though. Looks smaller too.

“There’s no way you’ve seen anything like this. It’s called a—“

“Gun,” I answer. I sigh with disappointment.

Arlene widens her eyes and asks, “You know what this is?”

“Yeah. I learned about it earlier today. It’s one of the Artificial Magic Weapon models. Those things that can hold Glims, Affinity Crystals, and Mana Crystals to allow anyone to use magic.”

“Interesting,” she says with a smile. “If you know about it, can you dismantle it?”

“Of course,” I answer. She tosses me the Gun. I catch it. Heavier than I expected for something of that size. By dismantling she must mean remove the parts inside. I look for the mechanism that opens up the compartment. It doesn’t seem to be anywhere. There are some tiny buttons but they don’t do anything. Now that I have a closer look at the Gun, it seems too small to house any Affinity Crystals inside.

“What’s wrong?”

“I can’t find the switch that opens the compartment.”

“That’s because it’s not what you think it is,” Arlene says and then takes the Gun from me. She does something with the Gun and clicking resounds. I knit my eyebrows as pieces of the metal drop to the floor. It’s not a Gun. The top of it is visible and there are clearly no crystals of any kind inside. There are these small yellow and orange colored pebbles. “This is a type of gun called a pistol. It has nothing to do with magic.”

She kneels down and picks up the parts of the gun. She puts them back together.

Nothing to do with magic? How does it work? I think it’s supposed to shoot those pointy yellow pebbles out, but I can’t imagine it would be very fast. It’s not real. None of this. But how did my mind come up with any of this if that’s true? Is this really not a dream?

“This metal you’ve seen all over the base is called steel. You’ve probably never seen that either, have you?”

“No.”

“It’s a strong, cost-efficient metal. About as hard as Titanium, but a bit heavier. You won’t believe this is real until you see it in action. Close that door and stand back.” Arlene stands up. I do as she says and close the door. She points to a spot on the wall near me. “Stand there.”

I move over to the spot indicated. A pair of portals appears in front of her. “Watch closely. You probably won’t be able to track it with your eyes immediately. Guns shoot these small pointed pieces of metal called bullets at a high speed.”

She extends her arm out with the gun in hand. Part of it sticks a little past the first portal. A loud bang resounds. A vibration goes through my entire body. What just happened?

Something clanks on the floor less than a second later. It’s a bullet. It’s slowing down rapidly as it passes through the portals while hitting the floor. The two portals disappear. The bullet bounces off the wall and it rolls by my feet. I focus my eyes on the gun in Arlene’s hands. That’s a gun…

I was able to see the bullet for a moment before it hit the ground. Is this really not a dream? It makes more sense if it wasn’t because this isn’t like any dream I’ve ever had in my life. None of this makes any sense.

“Well, still think this is a dream?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, there is one more thing I can show you,” Arlene says as she returns the gun back into the drawer. She closes it and locks it before walking over to the other side of the room. A purple portal appears in front of the wall. “Follow me, slowly, and watch your step.”

I follow her into the portal. We end up outside on a small balcony area. I widen my eyes at the sight in front of me. What appears to be a huge ravine. Below us is complete darkness other than another larger steel platform below is. It’s far enough where I wouldn’t want to jump down there. The ravine extends farther than I can see in both directions in a straight line. The top of this cliff is in sight, but we’re fairly deep down.

A sight in the starry, bright, sky catches my attention immediately. This has to be what she wanted to show me. A full moon and a half moon at the same time. They seem larger than I remember compared to the moon I’m used to seeing.

“A beautiful sight,” Arlene says. “You’ve probably haven’t seen anything like this in your world.”

“My…world…?” I ask. Did I hear that right? That means this is…

She smiles and then says, “You wouldn’t have believed me before, but yes, this is another world. I brought you here with Conjuration magic.”

What the hell? My mind goes blank. This is too much information to process. If what she says is true, so many other things would have to be true too.

“I’m sure you have a ton of questions for me, but there’s still a lot of time left before you have to go home. The infirmary isn’t far from here. Follow me,”

I follow her back into her room using the portal. The previous revelation aside, the fact that there isn’t a door here bothers me. I remember she said that metal encases the entire base, but I thought that at least there would be a metal door that let you go outside, but she’s been using Void magic everywhere.

“Hey, is the base really surrounded by steel?”

“Of course.”

“What’s the point of all that when it’s already underground?”

“It’s complicated. I’ll tell you all about it later,” she answers and opens the door. I follow her out the door. She locks it before we continue.

Based on her answer, it seems that we’re completely trapped in steel. But there’s a problem with that. What if they run out of space? This place seems pretty big, but eventually, there will be too many people. To begin with, how did they manage to spread this steel so far and cleanly? It seems to be all in one piece rather than in layers. There’s no way that they did all of this in a short timeframe.

“Was this base initially smaller?” I ask.

“Keen observation. Yes, it was. We kept it enclosed from the very beginning. We constantly expand. The passage between the village and here is still under construction. I only allow certain people to live and work in the research branch. That’s why there was a wall in between. It was also because putting a wall there was faster than constructing a door. Creating the wall is simply magic, but creating a door requires manual labor.”

“Magic?”

“Earth magic, specifically. I assign those talented with Earth magic to jobs like these. Expanding the base, building, and waste control. That platform you saw below outside was connected to the waste room. All of our waste and trash are collected into Earth cubes. I transport them outside using Void magic and dump them outside.”

Runic magic must be involved too in the creation of these walls. But she said that these steel walls are made out of magic…? “I thought the special property of Earth magic only allowed you to create wood, rock, and dirt.”

Arlene laughs. “You’ve definitely been misinformed. Earth magic can create almost anything that comes from a planet’s composition. Unless you’re capable of using Earth magic, I won’t bore you with the details.”

There are so many things I don’t know about magic. The things that Ragnar showed me and now this. The things she said earlier bother me, though. Conjuration magic. Can it really do something like bring people from other worlds? I thought it was more like creating something. At least I thought that’s what Moria taught.

There are still those issues I attributed to this being a dream that doesn’t make any sense anymore too. My intense desire to do it with Arlene, my inability to not answer her questions, how she managed to bring me to her without a portal, how she moves Mana past a physical barrier, and everything else.

“Still…the world you live in now seems very interesting. It shares commonalities with Eprillon, but at the same time it doesn’t,” Arlene says.

“What do you mean?”

“You told me Glims were crystals that when Mana passes through them, assigns them instructions based on their Mana quality.”

“Yeah.”

“I know Glims to be simply any Mana permeable object that assigns instructions to Mana.”

“Any Mana permeable object…?”

“That’s right. Mostly things like dirt, wood, rock, and water. They don’t have to be crystals.”

“I see,” I say. Maybe just the ones I’ve seen were made out crystal. Doesn’t seem to be a big deal either way.

“Initially, I thought you’re from Eprillon too, but I’m not sure now.”

“You keep going about Eprillon, but what’s that exactly?”

“It’s the name of another world. Where we came from.”

“We?”

“Everyone that lives here.”

“You traveled here…from another world? How?” I ask. I honestly don’t know how that’s possible. Bringing me here with Conjuration magic is one thing since that’s temporary, I think. But permanently moving to another world… That’s a stretch. It can’t be, Void magic?

“Yes. I have an idea of how it was done…but I’m not sure.”

“What do you mean you’re not sure?”

“It was my parents who did it.”

“Where’re they now?”

“They passed away.”

“Oh, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s been sixteen years. More importantly, tell me about your world. What do you do there? How’s life?”

“I work for the army now after I lost several friends in an attack by criminals. Life was good before that. I went to the Academy to learn how to use magic and be an adventurer when I was 11. Graduated a few months ago and completed E ranked missions until that attack.”

“I see. It sounds like the place you grew up in is already very developed. Something is strange, though. You speak the same language and are familiar with objects such as Glims. I know that at least several other parties traveled to other worlds around the same time. There have been no previous accounts in our history of people employing that technique.”

“That technique…does it have something to do with Void magic?”

“Yes, actually. I wouldn’t recommend that you try it yourself. It will cost your life.”

I widen my eyes. “Is that how your parents…”

“Yes. I can’t say for sure that’s what happened to your parents since someone else could’ve cast the magic,” Arlene says. “There’s one thing I know for sure based on what you’ve told me. Emdos, your caretaker, definitely knows something.”

“Yeah, I know. He told me that he would tell me when the time comes. They were famous adventurers together. He said that they weren’t killed out of hate. Does that mean Emdos could be from another world too?”

“That can’t be true.”

“Why not?”

“That letter addressed to you by your father. By last hope, he meant that you’re the only one with Void magic. That means that no one else with Void magic was brought to your world. Adventuring existed in Eprillon too, but it doesn’t sound like Emdos is from there. Your father wouldn’t have said you were the last hope otherwise. Emdos is lying to you.”

I frown. There’s just no way. Sure, he lied about how the shower mechanism worked when I was little. He lied about making my favorite food on my first day at the Academy. He lied when…wait. I guess he has lied to me before, but I trust him. He said he would tell me everything one day.

“We’re here,” Arlene informs as she opens a door. I follow her inside.

“Welcome, Arlene. Fiona hasn’t arrived yet,” a woman says.

“Our specimen is already here,” Arlene says and points to me with her hand.

A woman with wrinkly skin and brown hair walks up to me. “Oh, he’s young! What happened here?”

She waves a hand over my face. A green glow emits from it briefly. The pain from my face disappears. I knit my eyebrows and touch my face. The burns are gone. Wow, I didn’t think she would be able to heal that injury so fast.

“There ya go, sweetie.”

“Uh, thanks,” I say.

“Ann, I need you to find Fiona, and bring her here immediately.”

“Alright. She’s probably still asleep. I’ll be back,” Ann says and walks past me out of the room.

Asleep? That reminds me. It’s obviously night outside, but in the village, it wasn’t. Maybe that’s why I haven’t seen many other people in this place. Everyone might still be asleep. I ask, “Is it because everyone’s still asleep that this place seems so empty?”

“No, most of the people in the research branch are out in the expedition.”

“Expedition?”

“An organized team I put together to explore the surface. We need to learn more about the world we’ve arrived in.”

“I see. How do people in the village sleep when it’s always so bright?”

“It’s not always that bright. It gradually becomes brighter throughout the day and then dims when night approaches. The days are simulated in a 24-hour cycle mimicking Eprillon. This planet isn’t on the same cycle. Everyone has a slightly different sleep schedule based on their role in the base. Everyone’s role is important to our survival.”

Hmm… It was a good thing that Arlene brought me here when I was supposed to be sleeping. Marin was with me too. I hope she doesn’t worry too much if she wakes up. I’ll have a wild story to tell when I get back.

Arlene was so insistent on mating with me, but now she’s not trying anymore. Something’s off. She referred to me as the specimen. What’s this Fiona person going to do when she arrives? I cough before speaking up, “Well, what’re we waiting here for?”

Arlene smiles. “For Fiona to arrive. But I suppose we could get started now. You can stay right where you are…”

She walks toward me. I gulp and take a few steps back. My back now against the wall. Is she gonna try to mate with me again…?

“What’re you doing? I’m not gonna do it with you.”

“You can’t resist anymore. You’ve fallen completely under my control. I could easily mate with you now if I wanted to,” she says and strokes my chest. I gulp. For some reason, I can’t move. I can’t move any of the Mana inside my body either. “But I won’t. There’s another way.”

“Huh?” I still can’t move. Arlene slowly moves her hand down between my legs. I groan as she takes hold of it and strokes it back and forth. “Wha-what’re you doing?”

“Exactly what it looks like. Collecting your seeds. Close your eyes and think of Marin, if you’d like.”

I won’t be able to stop myself from releasing my fluids if it comes down to this. Despite that she’s doing this against my will, she could easily mate with me in this situation. Why is it that she’s choosing not to? It doesn’t make sense to me. If there’s another way to get what she wants, why hasn’t she done that with her other mates?

“How will you mate with me without doing it with me?” I ask, trying to keep my calm.

“Easy. I’ll put one of your seeds inside me when the time is right.”

“Why haven’t you done that with your other mates?”

The grip around my thing gets tighter. “Because of tradition. Because I’m a trophy. Every year, there’s a competition for men of all ages to compete in. The winner of the competition will mate with me each year. The winner is thought to be the strongest and create a more capable child.”

“So you’ve been with a different man every year…? Has there been a different winner every year?”

“Yes, because the same man can’t win more than once. It’s to create variation in magic talent. If the same man were to mate with me every year, there would be more issues with inbreeding several generations down too.”

“Haven’t you found someone…special?”

She frowns. “None of this has anything to do with love or anything like that… Since the day we came to this world, I had no other choice. It was either to let my parents’ sacrifice be all for nothing or help ensure our survival. I was willing to swallow my pride for that. I didn’t plan on letting filthy Halfblood kidnappers have their way with me the entire time. I trained and planned for this day. After I collect your seeds, I won’t ever have to mate with them again.”

She strokes harder and faster. I groan and pant. I can’t…

I close my eyes and explode. Euphoria spreads throughout my entire body. A wooden cup is in front of my thing. I take a deep breath in and then out. “You were kidnapped?”

“That’s right. I would’ve been with the Purebloods if not for them. It’s in the past now,” she says and then looks into the cup. “Not enough.”

“What’re you doing?” I ask as she takes off her top.

“Desire me.” I gulp as every ounce of my being wants to climb onto her, but I don’t move. My friend who went limp after being overwhelmed with pleasure stands firm again. Arlene strokes it rapidly again. “I envy you. You can freely choose your mate and experience love. You know, I find you very attractive. I was hoping to enjoy sex for once, but I can’t.”

It hurts. My thing throbs with pain every time she strokes it. I’m going to lose it again soon. I close my eyes and think of Marin. I don’t know how much time passes before I explode again.

“Sorry about this, I’ll need to do it one more time to be safe. I’ll answer all of your questions afterward. You need to be well-informed about what happened 17 years ago.”

I can’t think of anything right now other than Arlene and her body. It becomes hard again. I throb with pain on every heartbeat. I wish she’d stop even though she won’t. I grit my teeth and keep my eyes closed. I lose track of time again.

“Arlene, I’ve brought Fiona,” Ann says. Footsteps resound closer to me.

“Good. I’m almost done with our specimen,” Arlene says. “Come here, Fiona.”

“No, it smells over there…” a woman says. “I’ll do it from over here when you’re ready.”

“Fine,” Arlene says and speeds up her hand.

Ugh!” I exclaim and then pant. Pain radiates from my entire groin into my lower stomach. I feel extremely fatigued.

“Do it,” Arlene says.

I open my eyes. The wooden cup that has my seeds is on the ground. Blue flames erupt out of nowhere that envelop the entire cup. Something feels weird inside me. I still can’t move, though. Arlene turns toward me.

“Oh, no. Something is interfering with our connection,” she says. My vision is fading despite that my eyes are open. “There’s…need…know…”

My hearing is fading too. Arlene’s mouth moves but I only hear some words. “Beware…Mana…”

I wake up and open my eyes, panting. I sit up and look around. I’m in my room. Marin’s nowhere to be found. Pain radiates from my lower region. I place both of my hands around my thing. What the hell just happened? I had this dream…no it wasn’t a dream…

I try to remember everything that happened. A flush resounds in the bathroom. The door opens and Marin comes out.

“Kai, you’re awake? It’s still too early… Go back to sleep,” Marin says as she joins me in bed. “What’s wrong?”

“Marin, this is gonna sound weird, but have I been sleeping here the entire time?”

“Yeah…why? You were tossing and turning. Were you having another one of those nightmares?”

I knit my eyebrows. “No, it’s nothing.”

“Okay, if you say so. Is something wrong with your…thing?” Marin asks as she glances over to where I have my hands placed.

“Oh, yeah… Just really sore.”

Marin blushes and then answers, “Well, you were really passionate last night…”

I blush and stand up. “Gotta use the bathroom.”

I head into the bathroom and close the door. I look into the mirror.

I can’t believe that it was all a dream. It was too realistic. There has to be a hint that I was actually there. I walked through the village area barefoot. I felt the dirt stick to my soles. I raise my legs to look at them. Completely clean. No traces of dirt whatsoever. I slide my palm across them and notice nothing unusual. I smell my arms. Nothing. My face too. I burnt it with my Fire magic, but Ann healed it with magic.

I sigh and lower my head toward the sink. I never got any real answers how any of the magic worked. Was everything just a result of everything I already knew and the possibilities that I never thought about? The last thing that Arlene said. Beware Mana.

It reminds me of the folklore at Beltan. That using too much Mana turns you into a monster. I must’ve somehow twisted everything that happened today into this fantasy dream.

I look back into the mirror and widen my eyes. I grab a part of my bangs with my fingers. It’s burnt. In the dream, I tried to kill myself by unleashing my strongest flames into my own face. I don’t know how it disappeared, but is this proof that it wasn’t a dream? No wait…

I think back to earlier in the day. There was a moment I came into close contact with Fire magic. It was when someone from Ragnar’s group launched me into the air. I used the Artificial Magic Weapon to help me avoid the incoming ball of fire. It must’ve been at that moment some of my hair was caught.

I sigh. I think a part of me just wants to believe that it was really real. Now that I think about it, it was really ridiculous. It couldn’t have been real. There were too many things that just couldn’t be true.

I use the bathroom before heading back to sleep.

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