The Beginning After The End | Chapter 291

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Beginning After The End Manhwa Novel

Chapter 291



 Chapter 291


Chapter 291: Telling Tales


Reaching out, Haedrig closed Riah’s sightless eyes before turning back to the rest of us gathered around Ada.


Though she appeared immobilized by whatever Regis was doing in her body, I knew this wasn’t over. The glowing purple eyes were locked on Riah, and a quivering smile kept flitting across her lips as she fought for control.


‘I can’t hold this forever!’ Regis transmitted to me.


“We need to tie her up,” I said, my voice sounding raw and tired to my own ears.


Haedrig helped Kalon and Ezra to their feet while I held Ada, just in case she broke free of Regis’s control. Kalon scooped her out of my arms and set her gently on the bench next to Riah’s body, then began to restrain her using rope from his dimension ring.


Suddenly her head lunged forward and her teeth snapped shut, just barely missing Kalon’s nose.


“Ada…I’m sorry,” Kalon whispered, sorrow dripping from his voice.


After she was restrained, Regis burst from her back, landing in the fountain between the benches. The shadow wolf immediately rolled onto his back and began to splash around in the fountain, coughing in a hacking, throaty way that reminded me of a cat coughing up a hairball.


‘That—was—gross! I need a bath,’ he thought to me.


Thank you, Regis. It was enough for us to safely restrain her, so—


A shove from my left caught me off guard, causing me to reel back, though there wasn’t enough force behind it to knock me off balance.


“If you wouldn’t have knocked Kalon over, we’d have gotten to Riah in time!” Ezra, his face bright red and his eyes bulging, shouted at the top of his lungs. “She’s dead because of you! I should kill you right now—”


I let him vent. Behind him, Kalon had frozen in the act of covering Riah with a spare cloak. Haedrig had stepped off to the side to give the brothers some space. I could tell by the way his hand drifted toward the hilt of his sword that he was ready to jump in if necessary, however.


‘How long are you gonna sit here and let him shout at you?’


He’s right to be upset, Regis.


‘Maybe, but that doesn’t doesn’t make him not a jerk.’


“—never should have brought you with us, you bastard!”


No, perhaps you shouldn’t have, I thought.


Just like in the convergence zone, it appeared that my presence made things more difficult for the others. From everything I’d heard, the first zone should have been easy enough for ascenders as strong as Kalon and Haedrig.


“Do it, brother! Kill him!” Ada chimed in, her voice oozing with malice. Once she had killed Riah, any pretence of this purple-eyed creature still being Ada had slipped away, leaving behind a violent shadow of Ada’s innocent excitement.


“Shut up!” Ezra roared, turning on Ada as if he would strike her. Kalon was between them in an instant, his eyes boring into Ezra’s. The younger Granbehl brother was quick to submit, turning away from us all and walking to the broken mirror, staring out into nothing.


Ada’s glowing eyes followed him, her lips twisted into a disappointed sneer. She then turned toward Kalon and put on an innocent smile. “Oh, big brother, please untie me? These ropes hurt…”


Having had enough, I let out a wave of aetheric intent that froze everyone in place, including the false-Ada. I took a step toward her, my eyes boring holes into her skull.


“What are you doing?” Kalon asked through gritted teeth, my intent pressing down on him like a giant fist.


“I need answers,” I said matter-of-factly. “So I’m going to ask this…thing…some questions.” I released the pressure and kneeled down in front of Ada. She grinned.


“Who are you?” I asked, wanting to start with the obvious.


“Ada of House Granbehl,” she said confidently.


“Where is the real Ada?”


“I am the real Ada,” she said without hesitation or any hint of a lie.


“How do we get her back out of the mirror?”


“You can’t,” she answered with a sneer.


I narrowed my eyes. Had the creature just slipped up in admitting that the real Ada was trapped in the mirror? I couldn’t be sure if I was dealing with a trapped adventurer or some manifestation of the Relictombs, so I had no way to know what this phantom’s purpose was.


“How do we escape this room?”


“You can’t,” she repeated, the sneer twisting into a vindictive grin.


“The djinn wouldn’t have designed a test that couldn’t be completed,” I shot back in a whisper.


Taking a moment, I thought through everything I knew about the Relictombs.


Some zones we’d visited were clearly tests of our strength, requiring us to fight through powerful creatures to proceed. Others, like the millipede jungle, tested resourcefulness and adaptability, requiring less pure strength but more caution. Then there had been the platform zone, which required careful consideration instead of direct action to complete.


These “aether zones,” however, seemed less distinct than those I’d seen on my first ascent. The hall of faces had presented itself as a test of our strength against the serpent monsters, but I had no doubt now that the horde would never have been defeated. What was the test, then?


It had required the use of an aetheric ability I already knew—God Step—to complete. Beyond that, it also forced me to acknowledge the limits of my power; no warrior could fight forever against an endless army of foes, no matter how strong. Instead of fighting our way to victory, retreat had been the only way to win.


What aspect of my control over aether was the mirror room intended to test then? Regis and I shared control over the destruction rune, but I couldn’t see how destruction would help us escape the zone.


I glanced at Kalon, who was watching my conversation with Ada closely. Speaking plainly about my abilities in front of the others would reveal more than I’d intended when I sought out a group for my preliminary ascent, but it might also be the only way to escape.


“Is the ability to manipulate aether required to escape this place?”


Haedrig’s gaze, which had followed Ezra to the broken mirror, snapped back to me with furious intensity. He took a step forward, his mouth agape, and I met his eye. There was something strangely familiar about his expression; it reminded me of someone else, but I couldn’t quite place it in the moment.


I realized Ada had spoken, but I was so focused on Haedrig that I missed the answer.


“What?”


“No.” Though Ada said the word with a mean-spirited confidence, I heard it as the lie it was. I couldn’t believe that this zone was not a test of some aspect of aether.


“Do I have to use the rune of destruction to escape this place?” Kalon gave me a confused, disbelieving look. Haedrig seemed surprised, but did a better job covering his expression this time.


Ada grinned. “Yes.”


Regis huffed in my head. ‘But that doesn’t make sense. If the solution requires you to use destruction, then it requires you to use aether, right? This thing is just running you in circles, bud.’


I grinned back at Ada, meeting her glowing purple eyes knowingly. I thought I understood what was happening, but I needed to make sure with a few pointed questions.


“Who is that?” I asked, pointing at Ezra.


Ada rolled her eyes. “Why are you asking me such a stupid question?”


Pointing again, I asked, “What is his name?”


She glared at me. “I don’t know.”


Ezra had turned away from the broken mirror to watch. He seemed about to interrupt, but I motioned for silence.


“Did you kill Riah?”


“No.”


“Do you know who Riah is?”


She glanced hungrily at the cloak covering Riah’s corpse. “No.”


Shaking my head, I asked the simplest question I could think of. “Does one plus one equal two?”


*** You are reading on https://ReadNovelFullonline.com ***


“No!” Ada hissed, her face twisted into a hideous scowl.


Haedrig was the first to catch on. “Everything the creature says is a lie!”


I nodded, smiling faintly at Kalon. “See? She said that Ada couldn’t be reclaimed from the mirror, but everything that she says is a lie, even if the answer is obvious. Working backwards, we can use the lies to build a picture of the truth.”


Far from looking happy about this revelation, Kalon was staring at me as if I were a mad drunk shouting wild tales on the street corner.


It was Ezra, however, who spoke up first. “Who the hell are you? What are all these questions about aether and destruction and stuff?”


“You’re no first-time ascender from some rural blood, are you?” Kalon asked, his gaze hardening as suspicion crept through him. “Ezra was right. You’re the reason that first zone was so hard, and you’re the reason we didn’t go to a sanctuary room.”


There was no longer any point in hiding my abilities, so when Ezra’s crimson spear appeared in his hand, glowing balefully, Regis manifested from my body and pounced on top of him, dragging him to the ground.


“What are you doing!” Kalon’s hand shot out toward me, but I grabbed his arm, standing firm.


Enveloping my body in aether, I squeezed down on the armored ascender’s wrist. His expression contorted in pain as he tried to pry free from my grasp.


“I feel responsible for what happened to your sister, which is why I’ve done nothing as your little brother continued to insult and hound me,” I said with an icy stare, keeping my grip on him firm. “But I hope you don’t mistake my inaction as fear.” After a pause I let out a sigh, softening my voice, “I have a sister as well, and I know what I’d do—what I have done—to keep her safe.”


Regis’s deep growl vibrated through the room like the low rumble of distant thunder as his shadowy maw drew closer to Ezra’s throat.


“Enough,” I warned my companion, who withdrew back into my form.


Ezra scrambled back onto his feet, trying to put some distance between us, and I loosened my grip around his older brother’s wrist.


“If what you said earlier is true, you should know that I’m your best bet at saving Ada and getting us out of here,” I said, turning to Kalon.


Kalon winced, rubbing his wrist. “I won’t pretend to understand what’s going on, and I won’t promise you that we aren’t going to settle things when we get out of the Relictombs, but I’m not stupid. Just save our sister, and get us the hell out of here, alright?”


“Brother!” Ezra burst out.


“Knock it off.” Kalon’s voice was tired, but commanding. Ezra ground his teeth but said no more.


Sensing an opportune moment, Haedrig coughed and said, “Perhaps you two could go find the mirror copies of Grey and yourselves? And Riah, if there is one.”


“And what are we supposed to do if we find them?” Ezra asked, glaring down at his nose at Haedrig.


“Destroy them,” I said. “Just like Haedrig did. Don’t touch them with any part of your body. Weapons only.”


Kalon nodded and led Ezra off into the shadowy depths of the hall, his hand on his younger brother’s shoulder. This didn’t stop Ezra from turning to shoot me an icy look before he was hidden within the gloom.


Haedrig was silent as I set to questioning the false-Ada. Now that I understood the parameters of the phantom’s answers, I was able to target my questions to gain insight into the mirror room and its rules.


Any ascender who entered this place would find a mirror with their own image, just as we had. Should the ascender touch his or her own mirror, a conduit would be created that would draw the ascender’s life energy into the mirror while releasing a mirror entity—I decided to call them phantoms—to live within the ascender’s body.


It was more difficult to discover how to reverse the process, but eventually I asked the right questions.


Like the hall of faces, the mirror room required knowledge of a specific edict of aether. It was difficult to determine exactly what this ability would do, or which branch of aether it was a part of, but what I could discern was that it would allow me to reverse the effects of the mirror, freeing Ada and trapping the phantom back within the relic.


The problem was, of course, that I didn’t know any such ability.


‘You have to know something, though,’ Regis argued. ‘This place can’t have brought us here by mistake.’


Why not? I asked bitterly. I was sitting on the ground several feet from the fountain, having left Haedrig to guard over Ada while I thought. The Relictombs are old. It’s been under constant assault by Agrona and the Alacryans for who knows how long. It’s failing.


‘I guess that would explain how all these other ascenders got here. Damn. What do we do then?’


The other ascenders…


Foolishly, it hadn’t even occurred to me to wonder about their presence. Theoretically, every one of the ascenders trapped within the mirrors around us should have been an aether user to be brought to this place.


If they weren’t, it was true that we might be trapped. If they were, though…


Thinking of the imprisoned ascender who had previously tried to get me to communicate with him by touching his mirror, I jumped up and began searching the reflections. He had been near the fountain, and I found him in moments.


Kalon and Ezra had been able to hear Ada by touching her mirror, and they hadn’t been hurt. Shouldn’t I be able to do the same with this imprisoned ascender, then? I thought. Hoping I was right, I pressed my hand to the mirror, watching as his tired, lined face light up as I did so.


“Hello?” I asked. “Can you hear me?”


‘Yes, yes!’


His voice rang in my mind, much the way Regis’s did, or Sylvie’s before him. His voice was all grit and gravel, as if it hadn’t been used in decades.


‘Oh, thank you, thank you. I can’t tell you how nice it is to talk to someone—anyone!’


“I can’t imagine,” I said honestly. The thought of being trapped within this glass prison, watching ascender after ascender walk by without realizing you could see them, knowing they would likely share your fate soon…it was too awful to consider. “I’m sorry for ignoring you earlier. I didn’t know what would happen if I touched the mirror. Can I ask you some questions?”


‘Of course! My knowledge is the only thing I have left. Though’ —the reflection shuffled self-consciously—‘I would ask for something in return.’


I nodded, my hand still pressed against the cool surface of the mirror. “If your request is something I can do, I’ll do it. Go on.”


‘I ask only that—should you find a way—that you release me from this prison.’


“I’ll do what I can. Now, when you were—before you became trapped, did you know anything about aether?”


The reflection sighed and shook his head. ‘No, I had a couple of mediocre crests for ice spells. I was never a particularly good ascender, if I’m being honest. No wonder I got trapped in here, I suppose.’


Though his answer was disheartening, I forged on with my questions.


“Were you ever able to do anything that was…a little bit different? Powers that didn’t line up with your marks?”


The man looked thoughtful for a moment, then smiled and pulled a thin dagger from his belt.


‘This is an old family heirloom. When it was given to me, it looked more like a rusty nail than a blade. I took it with me on my preliminary ascent, you know, for good luck.’ He tossed the dagger into the air and caught it with a flourish. ‘Well, I was talking to this girl—one of my teammates, real pretty—and I pulled it out to show her, and, well, a sort of vibration ran down my arm and all the rust fell off the blade, and it was shining and new as the day it was forged.’


“How?” I asked, though I already had an idea of the answer.


‘Not a clue. I just figured it was something to do with the Relictombs, honestly. Anyway, it all worked out, because that pretty girl married me and…’ The reflection trailed off, his gaze traveling from the dagger to a thick ring on one finger of his left hand.


“Thank you. That’s helpful, honestly. I’ll find a way to release you, I promise.” As I walked away from the mirror, leaving the ascender’s spirit to ponder the life he’d left behind, I hoped that my promise had been true.


***


I repeated this exercise with a couple of the other more sane ascenders with similar results. Though none had been aware of possessing any aetheric abilities, they each had similar stories in which strange and unexplained things happened around them, just like the first ascender and his knife.


Knowing that those trapped here had shown at least a potential for using aether gave me hope.


‘So what do you know…that you don’t know that you know?’ Regis asked without a hint of his usual glibness.


I don’t know, I thought, sitting on the hard floor while watching the others


Kalon and Ezra had returned, having found and destroyed a mirror containing each of our images. A part of me had hoped that destroying the mirrors would release us, but then, there was still Ada’s mirror to deal with.


While Kalon had gone to sit with Ada, keeping watch over her, Ezra had taken to listening to the ascenders in the mirrors. I watched him for a while, wondering what the trapped men and women around us were telling him. Ezra avoided the more sane reflections, preferring to listen to the most wild and lost. He never said anything to them, apparently content just to share their pain and their rage.


“Ezra,” I said, getting his attention, “you shouldn’t be listening to them. They don’t have anything to give you besides anger and hate.”


When the boy ignored me, I only shook my head and turned away.


Haedrig was lying on the bench opposite Riah’s body, his green hair pulled over his face, his chest rising and falling rhythmically. His reaction to my question earlier about aether was bothering me, but I’d been too occupied to give it much thought. I was confident that if the green-haired ascender had some key piece of knowledge that would help us escape, he would have divulged it by now.


A key piece of knowledge…


My mind thundered in realization as I shot up to my feet. “The keystone!”


*

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