Aetherius Saga #9: Tainted Aether

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Previously on Aetherius Saga…
Jon the Compassionate, Sage of Water, has journeyed to his ancestral home of the Colsana Archipelago alongside Storm the Red. There he receives the Neithan Mark, a traditional Mage tattoo that grows with the wear to tell their life story. But the process forces the receiver to relive their memories. Reminding Jon of his childhood as a slave and his awakening as the Sage of Water…

Jon’s thoughts and memories ran wild after being forced to relive them. He walked through Sego in a haze where even Storm’s words didn’t reach him. His concerns and innocent questions to try and learn what he saw forcing Jon to internalize more. Jon knew that getting a Neithan Mark would bring all his memories to the surface. He lived every day remembering them and thought to get it might help with closure. But he didn’t expect to feel everything again as clearly as if it just happened. Wanting time to process, Jon does the one thing he knows always helps. He left Sego and walked to the sea.

“So…um…are you still not talking to me? Because that’s just rude.” Storm says to try and prod Jon into talking.

“Could you watch Tella for me?” Jon asks with eyes still focused on the sea.

“It would be my honor!” his eagerness knew no bounds. Tella, on the other hand, didn’t share the same enthusiasm.

“Thanks, watch my stuff would you?” Jon says eyes never wavering from the sea. He removes his clothes and caligae before putting his glasses in his bag. Resting them on the ground next to Storm and Tella. He walks off into the water and swims off.

The ocean was always beautiful and peaceful to Jon. With Zeratal being 95% underwater there was always something new to be seen. The schools of colorful fish, the vast and near endless blue that sat before him, the reef that brought life to the seafloor, and the countless sea monsters who made it their home. One of the perks of being the Sage of Water was the saltwater not agitating his Neithan Mark. He could also see clearly underwater despite requiring glasses for anything on land. His natural Aether supply could also convert the water as it entered his lungs so he could breathe underwater. All of which were feats he could do without consciously thinking about it. He then stops his swimming when he comes across a deep green haired Mermaid. Her hair was long and flowing and matched her eyes. The scales on her tail shimmered vibrantly in the sunlight and her skin smooth and soft like a polished stone. The only article of clothing she had was a seashell necklace that rests floating above her cleavage. Truly, her beauty was worthy of paintings.

Unfortunately, one thing Jon still couldn’t do was talk underwater. A trait that’d be useful for talking with the Mermaid who called this her home. Merfolk didn’t have a particularly negative relationship with the Mages but they preferred to keep hidden within the coral or deep sea. Curiosity got the best of Jon and caused him to follow the lone Mermaid deeper into the reef. Her emerald hair shimmered in the light that reached down from above. Down into the depths, they swam. Her expression gradually becoming more confused as time passed. A little-known fact about Merfolk is that they have a history of luring wayward fishermen into the water. Seducing them with their looks and then drowning them in random acts of murder. Sometimes for pleasure and other times for food. The moment she realizes Jon has no need for oxygen and continually ignores her advances, her pleasant smile becomes a hateful scowl. If she couldn’t drown him normally she’d choke the life out of him herself. Jon’s eyes seemed depressed as he makes the water trap her in place. She fought against it with all her might like a wild beast but was no match for the Sage.

“I can’t even find peace underwater can I?” Jon thinks to himself. The Aether glows from his body and instills fear in the Mermaid. “It’d be so easy to just break her apart…Nobody would ever know or miss you. Not like they could stop me if they tried.” The pained memories clouding Jons thoughts and judgment. “No…It’s not worth it…” Releasing his grip on the water he lets the Mermaid swim for her life.

Wanting to avoid yet another attempt on his life, Jon swims back the way he came. But not before being drawn to one final place. Deep on the ocean floor sat a small peculiar idol. It appeared to be a strange four-legged bird creature with two horns on its forehead and a single long horn above its beak. It sat regal and proud. A strange Aether emanated from it and compelled Jon to bring it with him. Reaching the surface once more, he finds himself alone. His possessions remained where he left so he didn’t think much of it. Jon took a deep breath and lay down on the ground to look at the clouds. The sand warm against his bare skin. His memories were still fresh but he now felt calmer. After a few minutes rest and drying off in the sun, Jon puts his glasses on and begins to examine the idol.

“Wonder where you came from.” he thinks aloud. Jon pauses briefly sensing a presence watching him from a distance. “I know you’re there. Why not just come out? I won’t hurt you.” After a few minutes silence, a short silver haired young woman approaches. Dressed in a tropical Myurkyurian kimono, her yellow eyes were hypnotizing. She inches her way towards Jon slowly until she can sit by his side. “Hi, I’m Jon the Compassionate.” Despite being in his glasses blindspot, he was close enough to see her trying not to look at him. “Is something wrong?”

“Y-you’re indecent sir.” She innocently reminds him while hiding her face.

“Oh? I guess I am huh.” Having spent so much time around Elves and Trelza Jon was desensitized to his and others nudity. But to put his new visitor at ease he gets dressed once more. “Sorry about that. So who are you?”

“Isano of Sego. I saw your clothes just sitting there alone and didn’t want them getting taken. So I watched them.”

“Thanks a lot, Storm…” Jon sighs to himself.

“You’re one of the Seven Sages right?”

“Yeah, how’d you guess?”

“Everyone in the village is talking about you. The Aether sounded so sad when you were in town.” Isano puts her hand on Jons only for him to pull away quickly.

“Really? Guess I am a big deal. I’m a Sage and a Mage after all.” he nervously chuckles. “It was nice meeting you Isano but I gotta find my friends.” Putting the idol he found in his bag, he gets up and leaves.

Jon still wasn’t fully back to his normal self and really just wanted time alone. But he was somewhat concerned about Storm. Tella could take care of herself but Storm was another story entirely. He immediately returns to Sego Village and regrets it. The villagers all believed in and praised the Elementals and Sages and were excitable at his return. The adulation, praise, and gifts were nice but coming from everyone it was overwhelming. He jumped at the news they gave him a free room and hid. They meant well but now wasn’t the best time. Now he could sit, think, and attempt to relax without a crowd or surprise attempt on his life. A few hours pass when Storm returns with Tella.

“Thanks for watching my stuff Storm.” his passive aggressiveness on full display. His faux toughness being quickly undermined by Tella hoping onto his lap.

“Oh, it wasn’t a problem at all. It was child’s play for me!” Storm replies missing the passive aggressiveness entirely.

“That must be why you disappeared.” Jon says lowly.

“You’re the one who was giving me the cold shoulder since you got that tattoo and the first thing you say is to watch your things. I’m surprised you even knew I wasn’t there at all.” Storm rightfully complains. “With all due respect.” he tries to recover from his venting.

“You really don’t know what it does do you?”

“Looking good and honoring your family.”

Jon sighs. “Our boat leaves in tomorrow. If you have anything you wanna do while here you should take care of it.”

“Please, what do you think I was doing while you were swimming?”

“Do I want to know?”

“It will be an amazing surprise entirely worth the wait.”

“Uh huh…and worth potentially losing my things.”

“The townspeople love you! Wouldn’t it be blasphemy to rob you?”

“They wouldn’t love me if they knew more about me.” Jon thinks to himself. “I guess you’re right…never really thought about that. Usually, people don’t know who I am.”

“Amazing isn’t it?”

“I guess…”

Early next morning before the sun has risen, Jon sneaks out of his room. He wanted to explore Sego more but didn’t want to deal with the crowds. Heading to the northwest of the island where a group of Fishermen was hard at work. At first, he saw it as a rare opportunity to add them to his sketchbook but indecision kept his pencil from touching the page. Unable to come to a consensus on what to do, Jon begins to look at the previous pictures he’s drawn. This was Jon’s second sketchbook, his original being lost when he was first enslaved. Many of his favorite sketches were lost but he had new ones that he quite enjoyed. The lone oasis in Je’ Dal where even the most hardened pirates and Nomads would co-exist. The Southern Plains that shone gold as far as the eye could see. His fellow Sages who each got a page dedicated to them so he’d never forget. With all the battles going on he had no way of knowing if the next time he’d see any of them would be his last.

“Who’s that?” Isano asks putting her hand on Jon’s shoulder. Startling him in the process.

“Jeez, don’t sneak up on me like that!” his heart skipped a beat. “What are you doing up so early?”

“What are you doing up so early?” she echoes his question back at him.

“That’s not funny.”

“I wasn’t trying to be funny.”

“Will you…whatever…” Jon rubs his forehead in frustration. “How can I help you?”

“Who’s that?” She asks again pointing to his sketchbook. The page currently on the picture of a tall muscular man with wild hair down to his shoulders. He wore a pristine suit only found in the Kingdom of Celestia. The man stood overlooking a field of snow. His face had a toughness to it despite how peaceful he seemed.

“Ly’ Jug the Merciful. He’s a…well…he’s a good friend.”

“May I see?”

“Sure.” Jon lends his sketchbook to Isano who begins looking through its pages. “I think I know him.”

“Who?” Jon asks being shown the picture of Tsuyoshi the Emerald when he was still Sir Genji the Silent. After escaping slavery that was one of the first pictures he drew. He had complicated feelings involving him. While he was one of his jailers he was the only one who never showed him any ill will. “You know him?”

“Yeah, isn’t that him over there?” Isano points to the returning fishermen. One of which is Tsuyoshi who is still in good health and seemingly happy.

“Well look at that…” Jon mutters lowly.

“Maybe you should say hi. You are friends, right? Why else would you have drawn him?” she asks to no response.

“Hello Jon.” Tsuyoshi says telepathically from his boat.

“Hello Genji.”

“That’s not my name anymore, its Tsuyoshi the Emerald.”

“Changing your name doesn’t change the past.” Jon clenches his fist.

“I know. There’s nothing I could do that would.” Tsuyoshi continues to talk to Jon while still maintaining a conversation with his fellow fishermen. “I did horrible things in the name of youthful vengeance. Now I just want to live in peace.”

“What about everyone you killed?!” The water churns in response to Jon’s bubbling anger.

“I made sure their deaths were as painless as possible when I could.”

“That doesn’t make it better!” Jon shouts with Aether surged from his body. Tsuyoshi remains undeterred. His psychic abilities being the only thing keeping the boat steady.

“I already know that! Why do you think I ran away and came here? I’ve killed more than I can count and betrayed two kingdoms. Every day I live could be my last.”

“Am I supposed to feel bad for you now?”

“No, I want you to stop telling me shit I already know and do your job, Sage. Neither of us would’ve gone to Caldra if one of your friends did something in the first place.” Many of the issues in Zeratal started because of the Sages existence. Issues that the Sages rarely tried to actively deal with it. Including the war between the Kingdoms of Orion, Celestia, and Empire of Myurkyuria which started entirely because each wanted sole possession of their power. Yet all the Sages did was damage control after each battle rather than during it. Had they been more proactive in the world then neither Jon or Tsuyoshi would’ve suffered as they had.

Neither side would likely fully tolerate the other. So Jon took his leave to avoid doing something he’d regret. Tsuyoshi similarly broke their mind link rather than shutting Jon’s brain down. Several hours later; Jon, Storm, and Tella finally board their boat back to Poluyim.

“As nice as it was in Sego I can’t wait for our next stop. This air isn’t good for my armor.” Storm complains as he shines his breastplate.

“We’re just going back to the Eternals you know.”

“Seriously? Don’t tell me you just dragged me out on a roundtrip.”

“…I won’t say it but I will think it. Besides, you owe me your life remember?”

“Yes…and I intend to repay my debt. For Storm the Red repays all his debts! Both financially and metaphorically!” his head held high with chest outward.

“One day I’m going to meet someone normal.” Jon thinks to himself with a sigh. “Ogh…” his stomach begins to churn. The urge to throw up almost taking over.

As Jon tries to keep his stomach contents inside a shadow forms under the boat. A shadow that grows rapidly before tentacles burst from below the waves. The crew isn’t able to respond before they crash down on the boat, tearing it to pieces, and sending its crew and passengers into the abyss. Jon acts on instinct and surrounds each of the wayward travelers in bubbles. Giving them a breathable atmosphere and allowing him to navigate them around the debris. Being able to breathe without one, he makes sure everyone is accounted for. After which he follows the tentacles back to the culprit behind their plight…a Kraken…

A gargantuan beast, the Krakens tentacles were massive like tree trunks and as tough as a dragons hide. The beak hidden at the center of the tentacle mass was tough enough to crush even diamonds. Krakens were commonly found in the Uncharted Territory. For one to be within the Archipelago, a place where it’d have no predators and little that could stop it would only spell long-term disaster. At times like this Jon wished he knew combative spells. With the crew inside their bubbles, there was no way they or Storm could defend themselves without risking drowning. Everything now sat on Jon’s shoulders.

“What the hell?! Why is a Kraken here?” Jon thinks to himself. “Focus! Gotta protect everyone! Gotta…gotta…” he reels briefly from his stomach pain. He senses an intensely tainted Aether coming from the Kraken. Jon reaches out to the beast to pacify it but all it does is enrage it. “Gotta purify it somehow…”

With no other choice, Jon uses a fraction of his power to swim through the sea like a dolphin. Even then that wasn’t as fast as he could go. He rarely exerted himself and didn’t like having to without good reason. The Kraken swung as hard and fast as it could but never reached its mark. Jon was one with the water and nothing would be able to slow him. All he needed to do was get close enough to touch its main body. It was almost sad how easily he was able to accomplish this.

“So much pain…Please, be at peace and become pure.” Jon mouths through the water. The process of purification had begun. The tainted Aether coursing from the Kraken into Jon. Mixing their Aethers together while he attempted to cleanse it. “Aykpg hrq qpbvheg…Iblis ayc’pb ny qpbngyl pipglnserz…” His eyes turn stark white as if possessed. The words he spoke not his own. Releasing his hand his mind clears and the Kraken becomes pure. Sadly, the process was too much for the creature and it faded into a white light. Leaving only behind a black prism in its place. Retrieving the Prism, he swims the group back to Poluyim.

“Jon…I have a question…” Storm says embracing the sweet comfort of solid ground. “If you could move like that why do you even need a boat?”

“Because I like boats.”

“That…is a great answer. Boats are amazing and it’d surely save you on energy.” Storm easily dismisses his planned arguments.

Ignoring Storm Jon thinks about the last month and everything that transpired. The Black Prism never once leaving his gaze. “Change of plans Storm. We’re going to Elysium.”

For some reason, more and more beings were having their Aether tainted. Normally it could be attributed to negative emotions. But even so to come across so many sources in such a short frame of time wasn’t a good sign. Neither was finding two mystery relics in the ocean, one of which was inside a Kraken that shouldn’t have been there. Within Elysium’s borders was a single person who could help find answers. The Sage of Lightning, scholar, and archaeologist Zam the Persistent.

Next Issue

Aetherius Saga Chapter 10- Just Nature

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