9.0 Ignis_Chapter 3: Anger

I crashed into a mountain and the blurring scenery vanished. The darkness let me collect my thoughts.

What do I do? How do I get back? I need to hurry!

The absolute darkness gave way to a flashing blur as I came out the other side of the mountain. My thoughts scattered until I was no longer able to think coherently.

Why did they have to call me now? Why couldn’t I resist their call? If I’d been able to resist for a second or two…

Why was I so weak and powerless? Why couldn’t I choose for myself? First the haze and now this? Was I a puppet meant to dance around at the whims of others?

I couldn’t form these questions in my mind, but they tortured me nonetheless.

I felt guilty. I was the one who used magic I didn’t understand. I was the one who lit up the forest and the night sky. That monster found us because of me, and Jeffi and Yunni were in danger because of my actions.

I felt despair and helplessness, because I couldn’t think of a way to save them. I didn’t know how this ‘summoning’ worked. Were they calling out to me? Was it some sick, perverted joke by a higher being? I didn’t know.

But most of all, I felt anger. Overwhelming anger. Anger at whatever force or being was controlling my actions. Anger at whoever it was that forced me to leave the children right when they needed me most. And anger at myself for putting them in that situation and failing to save them.

Soon, anger began to consume my other emotions. I was angry at my helplessness. I was angry at my guilt. I was angry at myself for allowing those emotions to distract me from my objective.

I felt my anger burst forth, as if it had manifested in my blood and was gushing through my body. Anger flooded through my mind and cleared it until there was only one thought left.

I need to protect them!

I tried everything. I lashed out with my fists, I flared the energy that I had used to fight the ape monster and I tried shouting as hard as I could.

Stop!

And I did.

I tumbled for several miles until I managed to dig my feet into the ground. As soon as I stopped, I rushed back through the trail of broken trees and rocks. My anger fueled me, driving me faster and faster through the forests and mountains.

I’d left a fiery trail of destruction behind me but luckily it didn’t seem like I’d gone through a town or a village, and the fire proved useful in showing me the way back.

A sea of flames greeted me as I reached the forest where I’d last seen Jeffi and Yunni. I searched around, wildly cutting across the burning trees while shouting their names.

The night wore on, the gentle moonlight ravaged by the light of the flames devouring the forest. Black ash and scarlet embers floated through the air, burning branches fell from above, and the cries of animals and monsters rang through the night.

But I still couldn’t find them.

My anger intensified and so did my frantic searching. Were they already dead? Were their corpses devoured by the flames? Were their ashes floating above my head?

And then I saw it. A scruffy brown haired boy holding up a burning tree with his back; a little girl covered in burns lying on the ground beneath him. I rushed over and punched the blazing piece of wood away just as the boy’s body finally collapsed.

I looked at what was left of his back, most of which was burnt to a crisp. I forced my trembling hands to turn him over.

“H-hey Aia.” His cracked lips barely moved as he whispered those words to me.

“I-I am so sorry, Jeffi. I-”

“It’s all right. You came back…that’s…that’s all that matters.”

“No! I should have never left. But I could not help it. It just-” Tears started falling from my eyes as I fell to my knees besides the boy. “I will take you back. We can heal you. We can-I can still protect you!”

“Not even a goddess can save me now…”

I froze. “What do you- since when?”

“Since you came crashing through the forest. When that monster cornered us, I don’t know why but I started praying…praying to the fire goddess. And just when I thought that we were dead, you showed up.”

“But I couldn’t- I couldn’t save you. I couldn’t protect you. I-I failed as a goddess.”

“Nobody can do everything…if you hadn’t saved us back then, we would’ve died a long time ago. Besides…it’s too late for me but Yunni, you can still save Yunni.” The corners of his lips twitched. “You’ll have to be her big sister from now on. Take care…take care of her. Family is important you know? You have to protect her, help her, teach her, and take care of her. I know you can do it.” His arms slid down my side as he whispered through cracked lips:

“Big sis.”

The light went out of his eyes just as he stopped breathing. I wailed, crying out into the night as the first droplets of rain started to fall.

The flames on the trees went out, but I was still burning inside.

I carried Yunni back to the shrine. She cried along the way. Jeffi’s lifeless body hung over my other shoulder. When I got back, I was told that they had attempted to call me by praying in front of my statue at the shrine and that they had heard my voice in their heads, telling them to stop.

I raged at them for daring to summon me. For daring to pull me along like a toy. For daring to pull me away just when-

But I soon calmed down. They didn’t know and it would be wrong to blame them. I forbade them from calling me like that ever again and stormed up to my room at the top of the tower. There was no bed so I went up to the stone pedestal and put my head on it.

And cried.

I buried Jeffi outside the shrine, at the top of a nice, quiet hill. Monsters never came to that hill for some reason, possibly because it was too far away from any food source. I made it a forbidden zone for the people at the shrine. Only Yunni was allowed to go there.

I left some flowers over his grave, and Yunni wrote some words on his gravestone.

“Here lies Jeffi, the best big brother anyone could ever ask for.”

I didn’t want to see anyone anymore. The only one I ever allowed up the tower was Yunni, but we barely ever talked.

She became a junior priestess at the shrine and was learning how to take care of it. I always thought back to Jeffi’s last request and tried being a good older sister to her but soon, she was the one taking care of me.

I didn’t need to sleep nor eat nor go to the bathroom. I just stayed up there on the top of the tower. I had already gotten used to the small tugs on my soul and barely noticed them anymore. I could recognize who it came from as well, although the only person I knew was Yunni and I’d forbidden her from praying to me. Having your little sister pray to you was strange. Of course, that became a problem because many of the shrine’s duties and traditions revolved around praying to me. So, I abolished them and forbade them all from worshiping me.

I was no goddess. I was just a broken girl who had lost her first friend.

I learned how to resist the larger pulls. I just had to direct some of that energy that I had used against the ape monster, in the direction of the tug. At least there wouldn’t be any more holes in the shrine’s walls.

Yunni came up again, she’d grown up and become a proper priestess by now. I hadn’t changed at all though, and she looked much older than me now. Now she looked and acted like the older sister.

She tried to make me come down from the tower, but I only came down to visit Jeffi’s grave whenever I was feeling particularly sad.

She tried to cheer me up and I gave her a hollow laugh. She went downstairs with a sad smile on her face.

Yunni is the head priestess now. They seem to have made a new title for her in fact: ‘The Red Shrine Maiden.’ At first I grew angry when I heard that title, thinking that they were making fun of her face that had red burn scars all over it, but Yunni assured me that the color was her idea. After all, there were other shrines in the world.

The ‘maiden’ part came because she never got married. Was it because she was always looking after me and didn’t have the time to find love? I still don’t know the answer to that question, but I was grateful for her company.

We started having tea every month, after the calendar was setup. I’d met up with my sisters to talk about the world and how to govern it, but that’s a story for another time.

For now, Yunni was my only sister. My only family. She didn’t need my protection anymore because she’d made a name for herself on her own. She was powerful, both politically and with regards to magic.

We were having tea one day when she turned around to get the sugar. And then her cup fell to the ground.

I quickly went to her and called for help. Nobody could hear me from up there but I had long since learned how to speak to my followers through my mind. A group of red robed priests rushed to the foot of the stairs just as I reached the bottom.

We helped Yunni to her room and laid her on the bed. Her white hair stuck to her wrinkled forehead because of the sweat that was pouring out all over her. I hadn’t been able to stop her from aging, and no matter what I did I couldn’t find a cure to her illness.

And even though I spent a year looking for medicinal herbs and pills, nothing seemed to work.

I grew enraged again. This time, I was angry at fate for taking away Jeffi and for trying to take away Yunni from me too. In my frenzy, I developed a new magic, ‘appraisal’ that helped speed up the search for doctors and herbs.

But it was no use.

I lay next to Yunni, tears streaming down my face as I held onto her hand. She told me that I had been the best big sister she could have ever asked for. She assured me that Jeffi would be proud of me. She said she loved me and would always be watching me.

She made a request just like Jeffi had done in that burning forest sixty years ago. She told me to take care of the children of this world, and be their big sister. I cried as I promised her that I would try my best.

She smiled.

“Thank you…for everything…big sis.”

I saw her close her eyes as a wave of emotions washed over me.

Sorrow, helplessness and of course, anger.

Fate forced me to endure the torture of the haze. It forced me to be summoned at the whims of others. Fate took away Jeffi. It took away Yunni. But Fate could never take away my anger.

I will fight fate one day and I will make it pay.

I cried as she took her last breath. Yunni was gone.

Now all I had left, was my anger.

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8.0 Ignis_Chapter 2: To Protect

When I opened my eyes, I saw a rocky ceiling covered with vines. I sat up and looked around.

I was in a damp, dark cave and couldn’t see anyone in front of me. Just as I was about to call out, a hand suddenly stretched out from behind me and covered my mouth.

“Shh! There might be monsters outside, whisper if you wanna say something.”

I nodded and the hands withdrew. I turned around and saw a scruffy, brown haired boy wearing a ragged leather jacket, a dirty blue shirt and a pair of muddy gray shorts. He was the boy I’d saved from that horrifying black smoke.

“What was that…thing?” I whispered.

“Dunno.”

“Where are we?”

“Dunno.”

“How did you get here?”

“Dunno.”

“…”

“…”

I stared at his brown eyes for a while before my gaze drifted to the side. I saw the little girl from before, leaning against the cave walls. She had brown hair just like the boy but where the boy’s hair was short, rough and unruly, her’s was long and silky. Her clothes were in better condition too; her baggy blue shirt and gray shorts weren’t caked in mud and there weren’t any noticeably large holes either.

I shifted my gaze back at the boy.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“Name’s Jeffi.” He said, then he pointed towards the girl, “That’s my little sister Yunni. My turn now, who’re you?”

“Aia Genrion Ignis.”

“Wow, sounds fancy! I’ll just call you Aia then.”

“Uh…okay?” I frowned. This child is a little…

“Oh yeah!” He said, interrupting my thoughts. “How did you do that Aia?”

“Do what?”

“You know! That scary red aura and those flaming fists! They were so cool!”

I hesitated. “I don’t know…I just felt…angry.”

“Angry? What for?”

“That thing. When it attacked me, it made me remember…the haze.”

“The haze? What’s that?” He furrowed his eyebrows.

“Do you not remember it? Do you not remember being trapped in that state for who knows how long? Unable to move. Unable to feel. Unable to think.”

“Oh…that.” His expression darkened.

We were silent for a moment, solemnly recalling our experiences from the haze.

“Where do you live?” I said, hoping to break the silence.

“Dunno. We were in the middle of this forest for a really long time. Or maybe it wasn’t that long? I don’t even know why we’re here. I mean, why would a couple of kids like us be in such a scary place with all of these monsters roaming about? And I remember that we were smiling all the time, like we didn’t care about the danger at all. Some guy in shining armor or a shadowy figure in black would come by and talk sometimes but I don’t remember what we talked about. But this morning, I felt a cold breeze and I could hear the leaves rustling. But I couldn’t stop and enjoy it for long because then there was this loud roar and I just grabbed Yunni and ran as fast as I could but then we ran into that smoky thing and I felt like…like we were going to die. And then you showed up and beat it up!” He said, his eyes sparkling near the end.

I thought for a moment and then decided, “I will take you back with me then.”

“Do you know where your home is? How are we going to get there?” He asked.

I felt a strong pull on my soul.

Just in time.

I grabbed Jeffi as well as the sleeping Yunni who was jolted awake. Before either of them could protest, I hugged them and allowed myself to be pulled by the tug that seemed to be coming from behind me.

We started crashing through the trees while I tried my best to shield the two children in my arms. Soon, the forest was just a blur as we rushed off in the direction of the pull.

We were rushing through the forest and my back was sore from all the constant collisions with trees, rocks and sometimes even monsters.

However, I suddenly felt the pull on my soul vanish just as we crashed into another tree. Our momentum carried us for a few more miles until we gradually tumbled to a rest in a large clearing.

Either because I had already experienced it before or because we didn’t stop as suddenly as last time, I wasn’t very dizzy so I immediately sat up and looked at the children in my arms.

Jeffi had fainted but Yunni’s face was frozen in an expression of fear. I tried calling to her but she didn’t respond at all.

I concluded that they were uninjured and began surveying our surroundings.

We were in a small clearing in what seemed to be a different forest. The trees here were taller and probably belonged to a different species.

Although I didn’t understand why the pull had vanished so suddenly, I decided to think about that later. For now, the best course of action would be to walk towards the direction where I felt the most tugs, since that was likely to lead me to the shrine.

“H-huh? Yunni? What’s the matter? Wher- Wa! Aia! What did you do? Why’d yo-”

I quickly covered his mouth. “Shh!”

He nodded and I removed my hand. “But what was that! Don’t do it again! You scared Yunni you know?” He pointed towards Yunni.

The little girl blinked a few times, then nodded. “Hmn!”

“I was taking you home.”

“Huh? Is this your home Aia?” He looked around. “It’s…er…a little…”

“This isn’t my home. We got cut off for some reason but we can walk the rest of the way.”

“Do you know where to go though?”

“Yes. Follow me.” I started walking.

“…hey Aia…ha…We’ve been…ha…walking for…ha…hours. We should…ha… rest. Yunni’s tired you know?” Jeffi said, pointing towards Yunni while gasping for breath.

The little girl who was chasing a butterfly stopped and blinked. Then she nodded. “Hmn!”

“So soon? Very well.” I stopped.

“Huah! Finally- I mean, make sure to rest properly Yunni!” Jeffi said, before collapsing onto the ground. “How far is it now?”

“I am not certain, but I am sure it isn’t much f- What was that?” I quickly turned around.

AAAHHHH!

“Yunni!” Shouted Jeffi, before he jumped off the ground and started running towards the scream.

Of course, I started running too. I rushed through a bush and saw Yunni trembling while staring at the monster in front of her.

It was a giant ape-like monster with four arms, each thicker than my entire body. Under the bright midday sun, its red fur was almost as glaring as its bright scarlet eyes.

It stared at the trembling little girl in front of it, but didn’t move to strike.

“Yunni!”

Just as Jeffi broke through the bush, the ape monster growled and reached for Yunni with one of its hands.

“S-stay away!” The girl shouted while running in the opposite direction.

Just as the monster’s hands were about to grab her, I jumped at her and dragged her out of the way.

The monster roared while beating its chest and smashing its fists against the ground. The sky was filled with birds that were flying away, spooked by the monster’s actions.

It is too loud! I need to finish this quickly.

I flung the terrified little girl at Jeffi and looked at the monster’s bright scarlet eyes.

It hesitated, noticing that my eyes were an even brighter shade of red.

I grunted and then lunged at it.

There was a loud crash and then a thicket of trees fell over.

I’d missed.

It isn’t as easy as I thought it would be.

I got up from among the broken tree trunks and winced as I felt something warm trickling down my left arm.

Tch.

I looked at the monster and saw its mouth twist into a smile and though it angered me, I also felt a little smile breaking out on my own face.

It’s afraid…

I lunged at it again, this time punching out with my right fist. It was shocked by my speed but barely managed to meet my fist with one of its own.

Crack!

Blood erupted out of its crumpled fist as it roared in pain. I was surprised by my own strength and stopped.

And then I went flying into the trees again.

Where did that come from?

The pain in my left arm intensified, making me gasp as I picked myself up again just in time to dodge a tree that the monster had thrown at me.

Blood dripped onto the ground beneath my left arm but I ignored the pain and looked up at the monster again.

I rushed towards the monster, dodging the trees and stones that it was flinging at me. It grabbed a particularly large tree and uprooted it, then swung it at me with two of its arms.

I leaned back to dodge it but my eyes widened as I saw its third arm coming at me. I was in no position to dodge so I raised my hands in front of my fists.

I felt a sharp pain in my shoulder again as I was pushed back by its attack, but I ignored it again while racking my brain for a way to end the fight.

I could feel my anger rising but surprisingly, rather than obscuring my thoughts, it made them clearer instead. As I looked at the monster, I realized that the fist that I had blocked was also bleeding. I looked into its eyes, saw the fear and uncertainty within them as well as a little…unwillingness?

The beast roared and this time, it was the one rushing towards me. I smiled, before kicking off the ground.

It saw me in the air and its mouth twisted into a grotesque smile again as it swing the tree at me, confident that I wouldn’t be able to dodge.

It was right.

As the tree approached me, I grabbed onto one of its sturdier branches and pulled myself towards it. I felt the wind get knocked out of my lungs as I slammed into the tree trunk, but most of the force of the collision was absorbed by the branches.

I felt the tree stop moving as the monster grew confused by my sudden disappearance. I felt it bring the tree close to its body again as it assumed a defensive stance.

I smiled and jumped out of the tree, punching at the monster’s head with my right fist. I felt something get crushed just as I was showered in blood.

Its body fell back by several feet before collapsing onto the ground while I fell on my knees, gasping for breath.

As I stood up and my breathing started to calm down, I felt my anger drain out of me along with the mental clarity and focus that had unexpectedly come with it. I saw something move in the corner of my eyes and instantly turned to face it, certain that another monster had come to finish me off.

But it was just a stunned brown haired boy and a frightened little girl.

I calmed down and took a deep breath. “We should leave before more of them show up.”

They flinched, before nodding and following me as I continued walking towards the shrine.

I cleaned the blood off myself as well as I could while Jeffi helped me bind my injured left arm with leaves and vines. Yunni was drinking water while watching us but when I met her gaze, she quickly looked away.

We kept walking until it got dark but I couldn’t tell if we had gotten any closer to the shrine.

“Aia it’s late isn’t it? We should make camp for the night so we can go to sleep. Yunni is…uw~a…sleepy you know?” Jeffi said, pointing at Yunni while yawning.

The little girl’s eyes were drooping but she still managed to nod before falling into Jeffi’s arms.

I stopped and looked at them, puzzled.

“What is ‘sleep’?”

“What do you mean ‘what is sleep?’ It’s sleep you know?” He said, looking at me as if I had gone crazy. He gently laid Yunni down on a bed of leaves.

“I am sorry, I do not understand. Have you ever experienced sleep before?”

“I-I dunno. Maybe? I just know what it is. I mean, it’s basic human knowledge you know?”

I frowned. I really didn’t know what sleep was supposed to be and finding out that it was basic human knowledge made me even more confused. “What is it like?”

“Er- Well, it’s what Yunni is doing over there.”

“Is she not simply unconscious?”

“No, she went to sleep because she was tired.”

“Oh? Then is it like losing consciousness of your own will? Strange, I always assumed that losing consciousness would be an unfavorable experience.” I frowned, deep in thought.

“Well, I’m sure you’ll get around to it when you’re tired enough. But seriously, you have amazing stamina don’t you? You fought two tough and scary monsters but you still aren’t tired. You’re amazing!” He said, his eyes sparkling again.

“I…thank you.” I replied, surprised by the sudden outburst of admiration.

Yunni made a small sound before turning over to her other side, and I happened to see Jeffi’s eyes as he looked at her. There seemed to be a very strange emotion in his eyes but I couldn’t understand it at the time.

“Jeffi, why do you care for Yunni so much?” I asked.

“She’s my sister. She’s family! The only family I have, you know?” He whispered to avoid waking her up.

“Sister? Family? Are these things important to you?”

“Huh? Of course they are! Don’t you have a sister Aia? Or any other family?”

I was about to say no but then a few faces came to my mind. “Maybe.”

“Maybe? You have to take family seriously, you know? They’re really important! You have to love them and take care of them. Especially little kids like Yunni. It’s my job as her big brother to protect her, you know?”

“To Protect?”

“And always listen to what they say! Helping your little brothers and sisters whenever they ask is also a big brother’s job, you know!”

“I see.”

As the night wore on, Jeffi lay down next to Yunni while I stood guard because I still didn’t feel tired at all.

Jeffi’s words were still floating around my head along with some faces that I couldn’t quite recognize.

“H-hey A-aia. C-c-could you l-light up a f-fire? Y-yunni is f-feeling c-cold, y-you know!” Jeffi said, his teeth chattering as he pointed towards Yunni.

Yunni was wrapped up in Jeffi’s jacket and covered with long leaves so she was sleeping peacefully.

“I do not feel cold though?” I said. It really didn’t seem cold to me at all.

“Y-you’re strong Aia! B-but Yunni is w-weak s-so she n-needs a f-fire!”

“Very well.” I replied. “Where is the fire?”

“Huh? A-aia, you h-have to m-make the f-fire!”

“And how will I do that?”

“M-magic of course!”

Magic? Oh!

Status!

A pale red screen appeared in front of me. I saw that my level had risen again without me noticing it. I scrolled down to the ‘skills’ section and found the ‘fire magic’ skill. It was at level 10 and when I focused on it, it opened a list of magic that I could use.

I read through the different magics and decided to use the level 3 magic ‘Flames’ to light up a fire.

I focused on the skill and said “Flames!”

The space in front of me lit up in a roaring blaze that reached far above the tree tops. The forest around us started burning. Hot embers floated above our heads and fell onto fell onto more leaves, spreading the fire even faster.

I quickly roused the sleeping Yunni and stunned Jeffi and dragged them away from the center of the fire. However, I suddenly heard a loud snarl from behind us so I threw the children ahead.

Something slammed into my back, sending me hurtling towards the burning trees.

Although I felt a dull pain in my back, I forced myself to turn around so I could see what had attacked me.

Just as I did, a claw tore into the ground where my head had lain mere moments ago.

I immediately kicked the beast off me and shakily stood up.

I’d managed to fling the monster several feet away but it didn’t seem to be hurt because there were no cuts or bruises on its smooth golden skin.

As it turned around, I saw a feline face with black stripes over the golden skin that also covered the rest of its body. It snarled at me, showing off its large, serrated teeth.

I rushed at it.

The monster was surprised by my aggressiveness and chose to swipe at me with its huge black paws.

As its claws came down on me, I shot ahead even faster and got underneath its outstretched arm. I jumped up while punching as hard as I could and heard a satisfying crunch.

The monster roared in pain and thrashed about but I had long since escaped its reach.

As the fire grew more intense I quickly turned around and ran to the children. The monster noticed my actions and let out a furious roar that made me turn my head.

A large ball of light was forming outside the monster’s mouth.

I dug my feet into the ground and grabbed a large branch that I threw at the monster’s face. The branch flew straight at its target and pierced the monster’s eye.

It howled in pain and fired its magic towards the side before collapsing to the ground.

I knew it wasn’t dead and would probably come after us in a few moments, but the fire was raging so intensely that I had no choice but to turn around.

But just as I reached out to the children, I felt a strong pull on my soul.

My eyes widened as I stared at the frightened brown haired child who was holding his sister to his chest.

No! I…I have to protect-

I started crashing through the forest.

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7.0 Ignis_Chapter 1: Haze

At first I felt nothing. No heat, no cold. No pain, no joy. No sorrow, no happiness.

I had my senses but I was behind a veil. I could see, I could touch, I could listen, I could smell and if I’d ever eaten anything, I’m sure I could taste, but I just couldn’t process any of it. I didn’t care about anything, as if I was perpetually indifferent.

Of course, I always carried out my duties, but in retrospect, those duties seem very strange. I blessed anyone that came to my shrine or healed anyone that came to my church, but almost nobody ever came.

I vaguely remember blessing a knight covered in glowing armor or healing a shadowy figure wearing robes. But no ordinary people ever came to my shrine or to my churches. Even the priests and the priestesses only prayed to me whenever the shining knight or the shadowy figure spoke to them, and they never asked to be healed or blessed.

They were as indifferent as I was.

Yet I never thought about any of this at the time because it didn’t matter to me. Nothing mattered to me. All I cared about was fulfilling my duties. But sometimes, I’d feel a change in my existence. As if someone was tampering with my soul.

But then again, maybe I didn’t have a soul back then? I can barely remember any of this, because these memories are vague, indistinct, and hazy. I couldn’t even tell the time back then, so I don’t know how long that state lasted. A few days? A few months? A few years? A few centuries?

I didn’t know and I didn’t care.

But then something happened. A prickling sensation crept up my toes, and went up my body all the way to my head. For the first time ever, I felt something: a cold, hard surface touching the tips of my toes.

Then something gently brushed past my back. Something with a smooth, silky texture rippled across my skin. A slight chill engulfed me, but it was soon replaced by warmth. Warmth that came from my own body.

I could sense something else too. Something fresh and sweet that drifted into my lungs with each breath I took. Mesmerized, I stood in the same pose that I’d always stood in and explored my newly discovered senses.

Although sight wasn’t a new sense for me, everything I saw was sharper and more distinct, and the colors livelier. The red tiled floor, the red walls, the red ceiling, the red curtains, and the red stone pedestal that I was standing on made the entire room pulse with an aggressive energy that captivated me.

 

Red; such a powerful color.

A while later, I felt a familiar sensation. Someone was calling me from the bottom of the tower.

Is someone seeking my blessing? No, this feeling isn’t coming from the shrine. It’s coming from somewhere else.

I frowned. I sensed the direction from where the feeling came, but I didn’t know what lay there. Whenever I’d felt this sensation before, my vision would blur for a moment after which I would be inside a church or the shrine but this time, nothing happened.

And then I felt another similar feeling. And then another. And another. And another.

Soon, I felt as if someone was trying to pull my soul in a million different directions but surprisingly, I felt no pain. In fact, every pull made me stronger and sturdier and my senses become even more potent and refined.

Ping!

I fell off the pedestal.

What was that?

Ping!

There it is again!

I heard the sound a few more times but soon, there was only silence.

Those were the first sounds I’d ever heard. Even when the shining knight or the shadowy figure prayed to me or asked for my blessing, I never heard anything. Their intentions just came to my mind. Even when I responded to them, I never actually said anything.

Ping!

This time, not only did I hear a sound, I also saw something strange. A pale red square hung in the corner of my eye before slowly fading away. Worried that it would soon vanish, I tried to touch it. However, as soon as that thought crossed my mind, the square expanded and filled the lower half of my vision.

Level up! Aia Genrion Ignis has reached level 354! Required experience to reach next level: 39400517

Although I somehow understood that ‘Aia Genrion Ignis’ was my name, I couldn’t understand anything else. Confused, I ignored this new information for now and willed the screen to disappear.

Ping!

 

This is starting to become annoying. Is it possible to stop it?

Surprisingly, it worked. Although the pale red square in the corner of my eye remained, the annoying sound no longer came. I waited for a little while and when I was certain that I wouldn’t hear it again, I began thinking about what to do next

The thin, red curtains covering the window were fluttering in the wind, so I walked over and pulled them aside. Bright light flooded in, blinding me for a few seconds until I gradually got used to it.

A clear blue sky, with a glowing yellow sun shone above my head. Down below, rows of red buildings lined a lighter red road that led up to the tower that I was standing in. A lot of tiny, red-robed figures were running around. A few of them seemed to be walking in a daze and a handful weren’t moving at all. In fact, they seemed to be looking at the tower, or maybe, at me?

Some of the tugs I was feeling seemed to be coming from these figures. Someone moved towards the large, bright red doors on the far side of the road and pushed them open, allowing several other red-robed figures to enter.

A smaller version of that door was on the other side of the room I was in. The door was covered in strange runes and symbols that I couldn’t understand at all, but rather than being impressed, I shrugged them off as gibberish. I approached the door like the figure down below had done, and pushed.

The doors glowed brightly as angry red sparks flew out from their center. They rumbled and scraped the floor before opening. I hesitated for a moment, before taking a deep breath and walking down the stairs behind the door.

Why would anyone build such a pointlessly long staircase?

After walking all the way down the pointlessly long staircase, I encountered another door like the one upstairs. There seemed to be voices on the other side so I stopped for a little while, trying to listen to what they were saying.

“…miracle…must be…divine…pray…gratitude…go up…impudence…wait…she expects…praise be to…should we…maybe…fools…heretic…how dare…let go…how dare…why you…stop it…interfere…unsightly…”

Unable to understand what they were saying, I approached the door and pressed my ear to it, hoping it would help. Sparks flew, the door glowed bright red and I was suddenly looking at a group of red-robed men and women frozen in the middle of a brawl.

A young blonde-haired woman had her hands around the neck of a fat middle aged man. A black haired young man was pulling on a white haired old man’s beard and a short, bald man was trying to force the boy to let go.

And of course, I stood with an ear pointing towards them in a pose that obviously betrayed the fact that I was eavesdropping on them. Feeling awkward, I quickly stood up and accidentally struck the same pose I’d made on the stone pedestal upstairs.

Immediately, all the red robed figures fell to their knees and bowed.

“Oh, great one! We humbly express our gratitude for your benevolence. Praise be to the Fire Goddess, master of the raging flames!”

I sat on an elaborately decorated red chair in the shrine’s gathering area. It was a large hall filled with rows of wooden benches facing the stage where I was sitting.

I soon learned everyone had experienced the same hazy state of existence as well as the sudden liberation of their body and senses. Since they were listening to everything I said, I decided to have them all gather together so we could discuss all that had happened.

Judging by their endless praises and heartfelt gratitude, they seemed to believe that I had released them from that hazy state of existence and I didn’t deny it because I wasn’t sure if I had.

After we collected some more information, I found out about the status window. It was a pale red screen like the one I had seen that described your physical and mental condition. Although merely expressing the desire to check your condition would also open the status window, thinking of the term status window or status would open it more easily.

After a few tests, we learned that a person’s level corresponded to their overall power. Also, it seemed that my level was absurdly high, because the highest level that anybody else had was 11.

Your title was your position in society. Even the servants had titles like: servant of the Fire Goddess’ shrine.

Moreover, everyone had a unique ability that nobody else seemed to have. I had the ability Wrath of Ignis, however, some of the less fortunate people around me had abilities like Celestial Firewood Collection or Mastery of Tongue Twisters.

As I sat listening to more people share their experiences, I suddenly felt a powerful pull towards my right. It was so strong that I was sure that I would be physically pulled in that direction if I even thought about it…

Oh…

I crashed through the walls and sped towards the forest outside the shrine, leaving behind the stunned the priests and priestesses that sat on the wooden benches below the stage.

I traveled so fast that everything was a blur. I crashed into trees and boulders and felt a dull pain in my right shoulder, which bore the brunt of my collisions. By the time I finally stopped, I was so dizzy and disoriented that I stumbled and fell on the ground.

It’s all hazy again…

When my vision cleared, I saw a little boy with an even younger girl in his arms. They stared at me in shock but quickly recovered and looked behind me fearfully. I followed their gazes and saw hazy black smoke blowing in the wind. Yet no matter how hard the wind blew, the smoke didn’t move at all.

What is it?

Unbelievably, I felt as if the smoke was looking at me. And then, I saw it move. I was surprised, but another thought came into my mind.

Why am I surprised by this? Why do I feel like smoke shouldn’t be acting like this even though I’ve never seen smoke before? Wait, why do I even know what smoke is?

However, this was just one of many similar questions that had popped into my mind today. Why did I know about these things despite not knowing when or where I learned them? Or who I learned them from?

While I was lost in my thoughts, the boy pushed the girl behind him and glared at me and the living smoke. The smoke moved, seemingly provoked by the child’s actions. However, I didn’t feel any malice or ill intent from it. In fact, the smoke seemed reluctant. As if it couldn’t help but move towards us despite its true desires.

Confused, I asked: “What are you trying to do?”

The living smoke stopped. Bubbles of air started erupting from its surface and it emitted a soft, gurgling sound. Was it trying to say something? The little children behind me started quivering in fear and before I could stop them, tried to run away.

The smoke stopped making noises and flew towards the children, passing through a tree branch on the way.

Something tightened in my chest.

The branch withered and died.

I rushed in between the smoke and the children just as it almost touched the little boy. A wave of coldness washed over me, followed by a stifling pain in my lungs. I gasped for air while flailing about, but the pain intensified and soon, I couldn’t breathe at all.

What…what is this?

My lungs constricted and my vision grew blurry.

It’s all…hazy again…I don’t…I don’t want…to feel that way again.

But no matter how I thrashed about, my lungs refused to take in air and my body grew colder and colder.

And then…

I couldn’t feel anything. For a very brief moment, I felt like I was back on that stone pedestal in the room at the top of the tower. I was behind a veil again, aware of my senses and of my existence but unable to move, unable to feel.

I panicked but my panic soon gave way to anger. I was angry at the smoky creature that reminded me of that time. Angry at the children who had called me to this place. Angry at myself for my inability to fight against this feeling of helplessness. And angry at the haze and whatever or whoever it was that had made me experience it.

There was a blinding flash of red light and a powerful pulse of heat went through my body, driving out the cold. Tremendous power coursed through my body. I opened my eyes and saw a world painted in red. Or rather, everything I saw had a red tint to it.

I looked up, and saw a frightened face. The boy had tears in his eyes and he seemed to be clinging onto my clothes. The girl was hiding behind the boy, but I was sure she was crying as well.

I turned and saw the smoke creature a few feet away from me. It seemed to be trembling. The sight made me happy for some reason but there was another emotion in my heart, one that overpowered everything else at the moment.

Anger.

I rushed over to the living smoke and punched, but my fist just went straight through it, making me angrier. It tried to escape but I followed it easily. I kept trying to punch it but my fists went through it and hit the ground or a tree or a boulder. Although the ground was full of craters and the trees and the boulders lay in pieces, I didn’t manage to hit the shadow at all.

No! I will not give up on my revenge! You dared to confine me! You dared to imprison me! I will never forgive you! Never!

I roared, letting out my anger and frustration. I felt a vague power on the edge of my senses and intuitively grasped it. A bright red flame emerged on my fists as I punched at the living smoke again. Although I didn’t feel like I’d hit anything with my fists, I knew that I had done it.

Sure enough, as the dust settled, the living smoke lay in the crater that I had just created. It slowly dissipated, leaving a small black ball in the center of the crater.

Breathing heavily, I looked at the crater for a long time before my anger subsided. However, as my anger disappeared, so did my strength and I instantly collapsed onto the ground.

An indistinct sound came from the distance. A blurry figure reached out to me, but I couldn’t feel anything. I was behind the veil again.

Everything was hazy. But soon, everything went black. I was unconscious, but I felt relieved. At least I wasn’t caught in the haze again.

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