116 The World's Greatest Illusion

 Bale had a nightmare.

He dreamed that he was transported to an extremely dark place, so dark that he could not even see his fingers. He also felt cold, a bitter and painful cold that penetrated through the thick fabric of his magic robe. He shivered uncontrollably. There was a howling blizzard all around him. This blizzard seemed to be alive, entering his body through his nose, ears and mouth, robbing him of his body heat.

Bale instinctively tried to create some sources of heat. However, he could not find his staff nor his magic equipment. When he attempted to cast spells using his bare hands, he realized that the Mana in his body had completely disappeared. It seemed that his magic had abandoned him.

"What exactly happened? Where am I?" Bale panicked.

In this desolate land, Bale resisted the pain of the bitter cold and braved the brewing snowstorm, losing track of time. It seemed like an eternity before Bale realized that he no longer felt the cold. The sinister aura continued to enter his body, though the uncomfortable sensation of cold air inside him seemed to have dissipated. He even felt more energetic than before.

"What happened? Am I going to die?" Bale was unable to understand the situation.

As time passed, Bale gradually realized that his state of vigor was not fading away and he was instead feeling more energetic by the minute. The piercing cold in his body now felt like a cool breeze. It had been a long time since he felt this level of energy.

How can it be? I am almost 70 years old, in my twilight years. Why do I feel like I am back in my twenties? Bale was puzzled. Suddenly, Bale was hit by a flashback.

Undead magic...immortality...Shade...I remember now, I was in Shade's Mage Tower and going through the transformation process in the pool. Does this mean that I have already succeeded? Bale thought with glee.

He slowly accustomed to his new body. His body was numb and far less sensitive than before, especially his sense of touch. The only thing that was clear was the cool breeze that surrounded him. Under the effect of this power, he became increasingly energetic.

Is this the power of darkness, it's not as scary as it seems, Bale thought.

Bale felt extremely comfortable in this state and relaxed his body as he waited for his transformation to be complete. However, things did not go as smoothly as he thought. Bale was rudely awakened by a loud bang.

What happened? Isn't Shade protecting the pool? What is the commotion about?

In an instant, Bale felt a tight squeeze on his body by a powerful force that pulled him out of the embrace of the cooling breeze.

What is going on! Bale felt his body being exposed to the air. When he tried to open his eyes, he realized that he could not see anything. He then heard the voice of a young man.

"Master Bale, you look even more revolting now than the rotting corpses I've seen along the way."

It was a familiar voice. Bale had definitely head this voice somewhere. He searched his memory frantically for the owner of the voice. At that moment, another voice appeared, "Bale, you still took this path in the end."

It was an extremely clear and pleasing female voice. In Bale's memory, there was only one woman he knew who possessed this voice-it was Anthony's most cherished disciple, Moira.

The moment he identified Moira, he could slowly piece the puzzle together. He spoke in shock, "Moira and Link? How is this possible? Where is Shade?"

A weak and raspy voice could be heard, "Bale, I have failed."

"Just how many Magicians did the East Cove Higher Magic Academy send? How long has it been since the transformation started?" Bale was bewildered.

Even if the six-man council was present, it was not possible to defeat Shade in a short time if he had utilized the power of his Mage Tower. He was a Level-5 Necromancer!

Shade smiled forcefully, "It's just the both of them, and it's only been 40 minutes."

"But you have the Mage Tower..." Bale could not believe his ears.

Shade was prepared to answer but was interrupted by Herrera, "That is enough, Bale. As a respected master of the academy, you chose to dabble in dark magic and even willingly transformed yourself into this hideous creature. You have betrayed the glorious tradition of our academy. You shall receive judgment for your actions."

As this involved the secret to Link's unimaginable power as the Chosen One, Herrera did not want to reveal more information to Bale.

Bale shook this head. "No, please don't. I did not harm anyone; I only want to live! Moira, please let me go. I promise to disappear from this world forever and not appear in front of anyone from the academy. I will stop my research into dark magic as well."

He would be finished if he was brought back to the academy. Even if he was spared the death sentence, he would lose his freedom forever or even have his magic sealed. He would rather be dead.

"I'm sorry but that is not a decision I can make," Herrera refused.

Bale was not going to give up easily, "Moira, please, I do not wish to die. There is still so much I want to know about magic and dying now will leave me with too many regrets. Let me go just this once, give me a second chance to make amendments."

Herrera was slightly moved and fell silent. Before she awakened as an Angel of Light, she was just an ordinary human. As her senior in magic, Bale had given assistance her when she was still learning magic. In fact, she was still wearing a magic bracelet that Bale had given her during her coming of age ceremony.

Herrera was aware of what would happen if she brought him back to the academy. The thought of her once caring and wise senior Magician suffering such punishments pained her. However, it was definitely not enough to change her decision, it simply made it harder for her to refuse Bale's request.

Bale seemed to see some hope in this silence, "Moira, we have known each other for 30 years. I even watched you grow up! You know what kind of person I am; I have never done something against my conscience. Even this time, I did not harm anyone in the process of my dark magic research. Please let me go."

Herrera was at a loss for words.

"Master Bale, I think you are mistaken," Link stepped in.

"Yes?" Bale replied respectfully. He knew that his freedom depended on both Herrera and Link. He had to get on both of their good sides.

Link smiled and continued, "Your mistake lies in the fact that you do not realize the impact the dark forces have already had on you. Those Magicians who fell to the dark side held the same beliefs as you in the beginning. Some were just curious, while others, like you, only sought to gain immortality so that they could continue their research into magic. The majority of them did not wish to cause harm to the world. Shade, didn't you also start your research into dark magic only out of curiosity?"

Even Link was curious about the mysteries of dark magic. He even kept Tarviss' Occultic Rune and planned to study it in secrecy. However, after this incident with Bale, Link clearly saw the corrosive effects dark magic had on humans and had come to a decision. When he returned to the academy, he would find a suitable time to hand over the Occultic Rune.

He might have been able to acquire precious knowledge from the Occultic Rune. However, once he was exposed, he would lose Herrera's trust in him as the Chosen One. Between an Angel of Light who was willing to sacrifice her soul for him and an Occultic Rune which could offer him some insights but at the same time tempt him to the dark side-it was a clear choice which was better. No other option would make any sense.

Shade wanted to rebut but fell silent. It was true that he started his research only out of curiosity, but when he finally realized his mistakes, he could no longer turn back.

Bale was still in denial, "So what? Those Magicians simply had no willpower. I am different! I am a Master Magician; I can do it!"

Link laughed. The legendary Magician Bryant once said, "A mortal's self-control is the world's greatest illusion!"

Mortals had always placed great faith in their willpower, believing that they could control not only their actions but even manipulate the consequences of such actions. But this was all just a rosy picture they painted for themselves. Even Link had unknowingly been absorbed into the alluring mysteries of magic. If not for Herrera, he would eventually end up on the wrong path as well.

The sight of Bale bursting with self-confidence irked Link. Link then revealed, "Let me tell you something. The potion that you used to complete your transformation was made from the souls of at least 100 humans! You can confirm this with Shade."

"Shade, is that true?" Bale was also startled.

Shade fell silent for a moment before admitting, "In order to balance out the corrosive powers of the darkness, I incorporated the essence of fresh blood into the potion. The blood essence requires at least a ton of fresh blood from humans. However, I only used the blood of slaves."

There were only about five liters of blood on average in a human's body. To extract a ton of blood would mean that 200 lives were taken. This number was way higher than what Link had estimated.

"Only from slaves? How moral and kind of you." Link laughed in disgust. "In order to achieve your immortality, 200 lives were sacrificed, and this was just the first step. Is this what you meant when you said you didn't want to harm anyone?"

"I was unaware of this!" Bale defended himself.

"Stop talking!" Herrera had enough. She looked at Bale in disappointment.

"Master Bale, when you heard that 200 lives were sacrificed for you, you did not show the slightest sense of guilt and remorse. Instead, all you could think of was to shirk your responsibility in the issue. You have already been corroded by the darkness, I will personally bring you back for your judgment!"

Bale knew that all his chances were lost. He finally unleashed the rage that had been building inside him, "Damn it! I am a member of the six-man council-I demand that you release me!" He was merely venting his emotions at this point.

Link stared at Herrera and said, "He has lost it."

"Link, who exactly are you? I am an established Magician, how dare you!" Bale growled in rage.

As an Angel of Light, Herrera felt the need to defend the Chosen One. She gravely commanded, "Bale, Link's true identity is something far beyond your imagination. Be tactful with your words!"

"Go to hell! All of you!" Bale lost all sense of reasoning.

"Let's bring him back."

Shade was seriously injured while Bale was under the effect of a Restricting spell. It was a simple task to transport them back to the academy. Herrera cast a flying spell and brought them back without any delay.

After they left, two dark figures appeared in front of the dark Mage Tower. One of them spoke, "To think that they could defeat Shade."

"It was indeed unexpected. But that might not necessarily be a bad thing. Am I right?"

"Indeed. Although now it seems like we have to find a way to get Bale out of this mess."