“Mommy!” exclaimed the girl, running up to the woman with open arms.
Aria accepted her daughter’s affectionate hug, wrapping a hand around the girl’s back, and using the other to gently stroke her head. The two lovingly held onto each other for a moment, before Aria spoke.
“How was your day, dear?”
“It was good! I went gathering this morning, and was at Mr Walden’s lesson since noon. I was going to tend to the garden when I got back, but I didn’t know you would be home so early today!”
Aria felt herself smile at her daughter’s excited chattering. She knew for a fact that this was the most the girl had spoken today. Her daughter never usually spoke much to others. In fact, she only ever acted this way towards Aria. The young woman had seen her daughter interact with both other children her age and the adults of the village— to say that it was tedious to watch, was a complete understatement. She only ever spoke when spoken to, barring some exceptions such as asking questions when in Walden’s lesson. And even then, she never minced words, always direct and to the point.
So, as Aria stood there, she allowed herself to tease her daughter.
“Would you have preferred me to not be home, my dear?” said Aria, hiding a hint of a smile.
“Wha— no!” sputtered Melas, quickly letting go of her mother and looking up. Upon noticing Aria’s smile however, she pouted. “You know that’s not what I meant!”
“I know, I know.”
Aria was aware that she had not been home as often these days. Because of the recent surge of Monster activity, she was out from dawn to dusk, working to gather more herbs than normal. And when she was home, she was also busy brewing up new medicine for the village. Knowing this, her daughter had been going on gathering trips on her own, to help lessen Aria’s workload. She knew that her daughter did that so they could spend more time together, which was why she came home early this day.
After the two finally separated from their hug, Aria took her daughter’s hand, leading her inside the small cabin.
“How was Mr Walden’s lesson today?” asked Aria, as they entered the house.
“Not good. Your lessons are so much better!”
The door closed behind them, as Aria let go of her smiling daughter’s hand and turned to face her.
“Melas,” said the mother in a stern voice.
The little girl protested. “But it’s true!”
“I know, but…” sighed Aria. She knew her daughter was right. Walden might have been smart, smart enough to have been sent by the village to be educated at the country’s Capital of Remheart, but he just did not know how to teach children.
Even so, Aria also knew that Walden did not have to hold his lessons. He did not make any money from teaching the village children four times a week. He did it because he believed that knowledge was important in a child’s growth, and he wanted to give the village children the chance to learn from a young age. That was why Aria had to be stern.
“But Walden is still teaching you things that are important for your future. So whatever you may think of his lessons, it is important that you listen.”
Upon hearing that, Melas opened her mouth to say something, then hesitated. After what was clearly some internal conflict where her better judgement lost, the little girl decided to continue.
“But it’s obviously not true! He keeps telling us the fake Demon Lord story! He keeps going on about how all Demons are bad, how magic is bad, and how the Godd—”
Aria interrupted her before she could continue, this time taking on a horrified tone. She knew what her daughter was about to say if she let her continue, and she would not let her say it, even if no one was around to hear it. Implying that Demons and magic were actually good was bad enough, but whatever she was going to imply about the Goddess would have been full-on blasphemy. She did not want her daughter to get into the habit of saying such things.
“Melas, my daughter, please do not say such things. The story I told you about the Demon Lord is what the Demons claimed to have happened. It is not any more true than what the Church claims in their history books.”
Aria paused, eyeing her daughter to see if she would drop the subject. When it was clear that she would not, the young mother continued.
“When you asked me for the truth behind Demons and magic, I believed that you would understand that neither side held the truth. You are a very smart girl, Melas, that is why I told you what I knew. And I still believe you are, so why are you acting like you are not?”
Aria knew that Melas would be hurt by that, but it needed to be said. She needed Melas to know that the way she was thinking was extremely dangerous, and she had to know the reasoning behind her daughter’s thoughts. Aria however, was not prepared for what was said next.
“B-because, I want to learn magic!”
Aria was speechless. She stood there, mouth agape, and eyes open wide. Melas saw this, and took the opportunity to continue as quickly as she could.
“Adrian told me that it has been dangerous lately. There are more Monsters appearing nearby— he offered to protect me. He knows how to use a mana crystal already and can use his dad’s pistol! But what if he isn’t around? What if I get attacked by a monster? I can’t protect myself. I can’t even use a mana crystal— I’ll just die! Magic is, uhm, pretty much the same thing as working a mana crystal, right? So please teach me magic!”
Melas knew that she was just rambling. She was listing off any possible reasons why she should learn magic, even ones that didn’t make sense. She just needed to make up a good enough reason to not get scolded. All Melas could do now was give her mom the best puppy dog eyes she could give. Seeing that, Aria sighed.
“I’m sor— wait… fine?” Melas blinked in surprise, “You’ll teach me magic?”
Aria sighed again.
“No, I will not teach you magic, Melas. But you are right, you are not safe.”
Melas immediately slumped her shoulders in disappointment, though she was clearly relieved that at least her mother wasn’t mad at her.
“You rely on others, because you are not safe. You are not safe, because you can not protect yourself. You can not protect yourself, because you rely on others. But what can others do that you can not?”
Melas did not answer because she knew it was a rhetorical question, instead she let her mom continue.
“Others can use mana crystals,” Aria said matter-of-factly. “Mana crystals are the gifts of the Goddess that allow normal people to face Monsters far stronger than them.”
Melas groaned upon hearing the Goddess mentioned, getting a glare from Aria.
Aria knew why her daughter reacted that way. Mana crystals were made from pure mana sources like mana stone mines or liquid mana wells. They always existed deep underground, but were never used until the Great Hero Xander came along, and used it to end the stalemate against the Demon Lord. Unlike manipulating the mana around you which used ambient mana, manipulating a mana crystal only used the mana inside of it. It allowed the Great Hero’s forces to use the same power that the Demons had, without violating Holy Law. That was why mana tools were sometimes called the gifts of the Goddess.
Aria ignored her daughter, and walked towards the kitchen in the corner of the room. It wasn’t very big, in fact it could hardly be called a kitchen. Cooking area was a more apt description in the young woman’s opinion.
She walked towards the stone fireplace. It had a cauldron dangling on top of some unlit firewood, but that was not where she was going. She walked slightly past it, towards a part of the back wall covered in shelves that were filled with jars.
The jars all contained different medicinal herbs, sorted by the type, and arranged neatly according to their effects. Aria reached for a shelf below that, aiming for the long wooden table that ran the length of the shelf wall.
There, she picked up a small rectangular prism, one that barely fit the palm of her hand. In one of its faces was a metallic tube protruding out a couple of inches. Its edges were made of metal, with the rest of its body seemingly made from clay. In the center of it, a fiery red mana crystal was embedded, alongside simple runes that engraved all throughout the object.
It was a lighter. A basic tool most adults used to start a fire. Though this one was a bit more fancy and lasted longer than normal ones.
Holding the lighter in her hand, Aria turned to her daughter, who followed her across the room.
“You said it yourself, Melas. Adrian knows how to use a mana crystal. That’s why he can protect you. Hence, I will teach you, so you too shall know how to use mana tools. And if the time ever comes where you have to protect yourself, without anyone else there to save you, you will be able to do so by yourself.”
With that said, Aria pointed the tube part of the prism towards the fireplace, and activated the mana crystal. A small jet of red flames shot out, igniting the wood, bringing the fireplace to life.
It’s not working, I sighed, looking at the lighter in my hand.
When my mom did it, it looked so very easy; her explanation to me on how to work it, also sounded so very easy. She made it seem like it took almost no effort, but that was obviously not the case, since it’s been half an hour and I haven’t done anything!
I turned to look at my mom, standing with her pointed hat, working up a new brew of healing paste. It’s supposed to be able to patch up most nonlethal injuries in a single day, which was better than most medicine in my previous life.
And it was not even as good as an Alchemical healing potion, which could reattach even a severed limb. My mom could make those too, but the ingredients were too expensive, and could not be found anywhere near Villamcreek. So, the village had to make do with just the healing paste.
As she continued her work, I slowly found myself gazing at my mom in admiration. She was a Herbalist, an Alchemist, and a scholar. She could use magic, and could also use even the most advanced of mana tools around. She was so amazing, and I wanted to be just like her. But…
But I can’t even work this dumb lighter!
I found myself looking at the lighter again, and sighed even louder than before. Perhaps having the potential to be the greatest magic-user did not translate well to being able to work simple tools; I had feared that, which was why I wanted my mom to teach me magic.
I would have been amazing right off the bat— I could have quickly learned to protect myself, and maybe even be able to protect my mom if something ever happened to her.
If my mom was ever in any real danger, I did not think I’d be able to do anything to help her; she was extremely powerful, and even with the request I made to that false god, I doubted that I would be able to catch up to her anytime soon.
Then maybe… Adrian? If he was ever in trouble I could protect him if I learned magic. Wait, I can’t. If I learned magic and he found out, he’d definitely tell on me, even if I made him promise not to! Wasn’t that how those kinds of stories usually went? Yeah, it’s probably a good thing mom didn’t teach me magic.
Whatever the case was, I needed to focus. I needed to remember what my mom said. Working mana tools felt like you were trying to force mana out of the stone; it needed to feel like a nudge, and not a push. Trying to push leads to trying to manipulate too much mana at once, and would usually lead to nothing happening for most people— especially beginners.
That was because a beginner’s control over mana would still be weak and unrefined. They tended to either only slightly graze the mana, or try to shove it to the ground without the strength to actually do so. On the other hand, people who have worked mana tools for a while would have built up more strength, and would actually succeed in shoving if they wanted to.
That would lead to immediately depleting a mana crystal, which wasn’t something you wanted to do in most cases. Doing so with an everyday tool like a lighter, would just make it combust into an explosion that wouldn’t even kill you. But doing it with a weapon would most likely kill anything nearby. That’s why people also had to refine their control over the mana, and not just force it. With power, and no control, they might have accidentally destroyed the tool they were using.
None of that mattered to me, however, since I can’t use the stupid thing! I was supposed to be feeling like I’m prodding into it. Touch the mana with one finger, giving it a slight push. But that’s all too abstract for me to understand. Touching the mana? How does that even work! Isn’t everything made of mana? Aren’t I always touching mana? None of this makes any sense!
Because I had no idea what I was doing, nothing happened. I was supposed to just feel it out, but it was not working—
Suddenly, I felt it— like an extension of my body that sprouted out of nowhere. It was weak. Difficult to move. It reminded me of when I was first reborn. When I could barely even move my arms and legs; I had no strength back then, because I barely had any muscles. And yet, that wasn’t the worst part— that was the lack of control.
I knew how fingers work, considering how I’ve used them all my life. But when I became a baby again, I could not control my fingers. My fingers would never move the way I wanted it to. When I tried to move a single finger, sometimes all of them moved and sometimes none of them did. It was always completely random, and it was so frustrating.
Same thing with when I tried learning how to speak; when I opened my mouth and moved my tongue, things that barely qualified as sounds came out instead of actual words. It made me feel so out of control, and it nearly drove me insane. It was no wonder newborns did not have the brain capacity to understand or remember anything! Because if they did, I was certain most kids would grow up with some sort of complex.
Right now though, I was glad I remembered all of it. It made this new limb much easier to control. I had the experience, so all it took was just to remember how it felt, and to feel it out from there.
So using the limb, I seized the mana inside the mana crystal, and pushed. I didn’t push like an adult who was trying to start a fight in a bar, nor did I push like a kid who’s trying to get into their parents’ bedroom without waking them up. Instead, I pushed like a baby— one that’s climbing on a countertop, and sees their mothers’ expensive vase. A baby who then made the stupid decision to push the vase, simply out of pure curiosity to see what would happen.
And when I pushed, I felt the vase wobble. It wobbled on the countertop, but didn’t drop. So I did what any baby would do in that situation— I pushed again. And again. And again.
Finally, the vase fell. Off the countertop, and into the hard marble ground, shattering into thousands of tiny pieces.
And just like any mother would do, my own mom came running to me. Except however, she was not running to the sound of her expensive china shattering; something else called on her, making her run to me. My mom ran, not to witness the destruction of something precious, but to instead witness something that was precious: her daughter taking her first steps.
So, as my mom dropped everything she was doing to see what I did— to see the gentle candle-like flame hovering at the tip of the lighter— I turned to her and smiled wider than I ever did in my previous life.
“Look mom! I did it!”
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