Eliard had been staying in his room all the time after coming back to the Mage Tower. He didn't eat or drink. He just sat there staring at Elena's body in a daze. No one knew what he was thinking about.
On the second day, Herrera searched Elena's body and found three scrolls containing the detailed map of the internal layout of the Master Magicians' Mage Towers.
Eliard looked on numbly throughout the entire process. He didn't stop Herrera from her search, but neither did he speak to her or make any movements at all. He just sat there motionless like an inanimate sculpture.
No one disturbed him after the discovery of the scrolls, because they had caused an uproar throughout the entire academy.
Even prominent Magicians in the Master Magicians' Mage Towers could be bought with gold coins, and it turned out that they had sold the secrets of three Mage Towers! The whole academy was shocked by this terrifying revelation.
The dean, Anthony was understandably furious when he got wind of this news. He was now afraid for the safety of the academy, which was why he presided over the operation to cleanse the academy of traitorous and corrupt Magicians once and for all. The Magicians who had sold the academy's secrets were naturally stripped off their magic powers, their memories of the Mage Towers wiped out of their minds and they were cast out of the academy.
All the merchants involved in the plot suddenly disappeared off the face of the earth. This wasn't the academy's doing, though, but was the work of the MI3. The East Cove Magic Academy was within the Norton Kingdom's territory after all, when something terrible happened there, rumors said that the king himself had taken special interest in this matter.
After the purge, Anthony and the other members of the academy's high council began to rectify the gaps in the security system of the academy and planned confidential measures to make sure that something like this could never happen again.
Link held no important position in the academy, so he had little to do with all these follow-up measures. Besides, he'd already received generous rewards from the dean, which was the pass to enter the dean's Mage Tower anytime he wished. Plus, he was allowed to use the Level-6 Elemental Pool in the dean's Mage Tower up to six hours per week and the permission to freely browse any books he liked in the dean's library.
It was just what he needed right now.
Although the traitors in the academy had all been rooted out and it seemed that the dark forces had been thwarted, Link still felt an indescribable uneasiness in his mind. This type of unease always drove Link to forget everything else and focus on learning magic and advancing his level.
With this obsessive determination, Link had made immense progress in a short time, but it was still not good enough for him. Once Link began to learn a Level-6 spell, he realized that he had far underestimated the difficulty in becoming a Master Magician.
Link now knew what a nonsense fantasy it was to try to reach Level-8 in three months. It would be a miracle if he could even master a Level-7 spell well enough to know how to use it in a real battle in that time.
This discovery caused Link to become quite exasperated.
Still, Link's true strength was in his unrelenting attitude towards something that he'd set out to do. No matter what kind of difficulties he faced, even if they seemed to be insuperable, he would never give up even though he might feel frustrated. He would just quickly adapt to the current situation then find the best solution in order to move on.
Thus, although he didn't know if he could achieve his goal, he never stopped working hard to try to advance his level to the highest point that he could muster.
Link slept for six hours a day and didn't drink or eat but depended on magic spells to maintain his body's health. He would cast the spell, Elemental Cure on his body once in the morning and once before he went to sleep at night, and that was enough to let him go through the day.
That was how his days went by for the past week. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Link had completely immersed himself in the world of magic spells and had completely given up the joy of life.
Late one night after the tiring week, Link was walking back to Herrera's Mage Tower in utter exhaustion from the Heaven's Thorn. Just as he was approaching the Mage Tower's entrance, he saw Eliard standing there waiting for him.
Within a week, the originally well-built Eliard had become emaciated and his dark blue eyes were now deep-set and dull. Even his skin had gotten grayish. He looked nothing like his former self.
"Eliard, why are you so...?" Link was at a loss for how to face this friend of his. Even with all things considered, Link was still the one to cause Elena's death. There was no way for him to avoid this fact. Admittedly part of the reason why Link had been obsessively learning magic all this while was to avoid meeting Eliard.
A faint smile appeared on Eliard's face. He looked at the tired face and bloodshot eyes of his friend's and shook his head gently.
"You don't have to blame yourself, Link," he said. "You did the right thing. I don't blame you for it at all."
It had been a week now and Eliard had given it much thought. He had resented Link for a time, but it only lasted for a few hours. He understood well that Link had done what he should do to protect the safety of the academy. The one at fault wasn't Link, it was Elena. Still, Eliard couldn't bring himself to blame Elena either. She's dead now anyway.
In the end, the only thing Eliard hated was his fate. He couldn't understand why fate had to torture him so. Fate had brought him to a woman he loved, yet it also snatched her away so quickly. Nothing could be crueler than that!
Meanwhile, Link felt no sense of relief at all after hearing what Eliard just said. He grew even more worried instead and felt he had to say something.
"I've decided to give up on magic," said Eliard suddenly.
"What did you say?!" Link's eyes opened wide in shock at Eliard's words. This was the Magician whose level of genius was one that the world hadn't seen in five hundred years! In the game when Link had reached the Legendary Pinnacle level and was about to fight against Nozama, Eliard had begun to prepare himself to ascend to the level of Archmage while he was only 36 years old!
But now this would-be earth-shattering genius was talking about giving up magic, all because of a woman? This is preposterous!
For what felt like hours, Link just stood there dumbstruck, hardly knowing what to do or how to respond.
Eliard then took out a pouch from his sleeve and used the Magician's Hand to hand it over to Link.
"Here are the 1300 gold coins that I owe you," said Eliard. "I'm paying it all back to you now. Thank you for your selfless help in the past, I...I'm very sorry!"
"..." Link stared at the coin pouch floating in front of him as all kinds of emotions began to stir up in him.
What was Eliard thinking? He's giving up magic and paying off his debts to Link because he wanted to completely sever the friendship between them? All because of a woman from a dark cult? So now that Eliard was heartbroken he was just going to abandon magic just like that?
Anger started to rise up in Link as well. He flung the pouch violently to the ground then rushed up towards Eliard and grabbed his collar.
"You're a coward, do you know that?" Link shouted in Eliard's face. "You're a motherf*cking coward!"
Eliard shoved Link away and his face turned stone cold.
"This is my decision; it's got nothing to do with you!" said Eliard. "If I didn't learn magic, then I wouldn't have met Elena. If it wasn't for magic, Elena wouldn't have died! Magic killed her!"
Those words were the last straw for Link. He was now desperately learning and practicing magic so he could gain enough strength to fight against the Level-8 demon, and he was ready to sacrifice all the joys in his life to achieve that. Still, there was a thread of hope in him that had got him through all the hardships he faced so far, and that hope had sprung from the fact that he knew he wasn't alone in this fight. He knew that apart from himself there was a genius Magician whose talents could one day save the world from the forces of darkness. He knew that once this young genius grew up and had developed his skills to its full potential, he would be a powerful ally who would fight against the Dark Army with him side-by-side.
And now that damned bastard actually thought of giving up magic?
The flame of anger in Link's heart had gotten to the such an untamable point that he no longer cared about Eliard's feelings.
"You're wrong! It wasn't magic that killed Elena, it was her evil cult!" Link shouted. "If she didn't get killed this time, then she would've died the next time! If she didn't die because of me, then someone else would've killed her once they found out her secret plot! Either way, she would've died anyway!"
As soon as Link finished his sentence he was seeing stars for a moment from the punch to his eye and his cheek was burning with pain from the hit as well.
"You wanna fight?!" Link lunged forward and punched Eliard on his nose till it was gushing out with blood.
Eliard had gotten furious by now. Not only did Link cause Elena's death, he'd even uttered such despicable words, and now he wanted to fight back? And so Eliard punched Link back one more time, this time making him completely punch-drunk with the brunt force of Eliard's fist.
Link wasn't about to just take the punches like a rag doll, though. He threw another hook to Eliard's chin, causing him to lose his balance and he fell to the ground. Then, he went down on the fallen Eliard and prepared to punch him some more.
To Link's surprise, Eliard's response was extremely quick. While he was still on the ground he managed to kick Link with both of his feet and knocked Link down as well. Then, as both of them were now on the ground, they started to fight like dogs with one person punching and the other kicking, then one socked the other with his elbow and the other responded with his knee. This went on for a few minutes, neither party was willing to be the first person to stop.
Link had been leading an easy life in the past few months, so although he was still not as strong and muscular as Eliard, he had gained considerable physical strength and was no longer the scrawny kid that he used to be. Eliard, on the other hand, had gotten much thinner and weaker in the past week, which meant that both of them were now fighting as equals. Neither of them had used magic, though, because they knew that once magic was involved the other party might get killed. Even though they were both angry at each other they still had no wish to kill each other yet.
Both of them had been storing much anger and frustration all this while, so now they treated each other as punching bags to release the pent-up emotions inside them.
After a few minutes, the entrance door of the Mage Tower was suddenly opened and the crystal lamp hanging over the door lit up as well. Then, Herrera's wrathful face emerged out from the inside of the Mage Tower.
She had rushed down here from her room in a flurry. She was still wearing her nightdress and her hair was messy as she just got out of bed. She reached the Mage Tower entrance only to see two of her proudest disciples brawling on the ground like common street dogs.
Link's face was swollen to the size of a pig's head, one of his eye sockets was black and blue and his lips were cracked and bloody while the Magician's robe on his body was torn to tatters. Eliard's conditions were even worse as his body had been weakening for the past week. When Herrera emerged from the door she saw Link sitting on Eliard and bashing into his face with his fists!
At this moment, Eliard's face was even more swollen than Link's, his nose was dripping with blood which stained the clothes on his chest red. One of his eyes had ballooned almost to the size of a peach and it was obvious that Eliard couldn't open it anymore. That strikingly handsome face of his was now such a mess that it wasn't even human-like!
Not only that, but all around them hundreds of gold coins scattered and rolled about. Three shoes were seen nearby - the last one was still on Link's left foot.
What a scene it was!
"Enough, both of you!" bellowed Herrera in rage.
Among both of them, one was already a genius Magician who had begun to attract fame and reputation in the outside world. Meanwhile, the other was a young Magician with nearly perfect innate talents in magic and limitless potential to develop in the future. The fact that two outstanding talents had emerged in the span of a few months was indeed a miracle, yet now both of them ended up wrestling each other in the dirt was such a shame! If rumors of this incident ever spread out they'd be the laughing stock of the whole kingdom!
Now that they saw their tutor, Link, who had long tired out his arms, stood up immediately. His strength by then had almost reached its limit and his fists could no longer throw any more punches. He was sure that if they persisted any longer he would be completely overwhelmed by the physically stronger Eliard.
Eliard was as worn out as a pair of old boots himself, so he clambered up onto his feet and stood in front of Herrera right beside Link. They both bent their heads down, staring at the ground like children who knew they were in trouble and were about to be punished.
Herrera was initially about to explode in anger, but when she saw how innocently child-like Link and Eliard looked, she suddenly found it all amusing instead. She must keep a stern appearance, though.
"Tidy up these things on the ground and get yourselves back to your rooms!" she said sternly.
At that moment Herrera felt as if she was a foster mother of two immature young boys.
Herrera was a respected tutor to both Link and Eliard, so they quickly and quietly obeyed her command and went about picking up their shoes and the gold coins that scattered about everywhere on the ground.
Link picked up his right shoe and tried to put it back on, but just then he happened to glance at Eliard who was squatting on the ground trying to put on his shoes as well. Link saw how the face that used to be the envy of men and the adoration of women now looked as swollen as a pig's! Link suddenly found it so hilarious that he erupted into uncontrollable laughter.
Eliard saw how Link's face was further disfigured with his laughter and couldn't hold back his laughter either. Soon enough the two friends were both laughing at each other's ridiculous faces.
But after a while, Eliard was reminded again of his own fate, which caused him to cry. He wept for the loss of his beloved Elena, he wept for the hard times he had to endure ever since his parents abandoned him on the streets when he was just a baby. He sat on the ground and wept and wept at his tragic fate until the initial sobs turned into howling wails.
Link and Herrera looked at each other then at Eliard in sympathy. Link then started to pick up all the gold coins with the Magician's Hand as he was too tired to do it himself. It only took a few seconds before all the gold coins were collected in the pouch. He then put the pouch into the storage bracelet he got from the Dark Elf Magician, Parson. This storage bracelet had been purged of all dark magic auras and had even been slightly modified by Link himself so no one could ever recognize its Dark Elven origins anymore.
All traces of anger in Link's heart had subsided after the brief fistfight.
"Here, take this," said Link as he slipped the storage bracelet onto Eliard's wrist.
"Take it with you and go outside and explore the world for a while. You'll feel better soon enough. But don't ever think about giving up on magic again."
Eliard said nothing in reply, he just nodded in agreement.
The fight just now had also cleansed Eliard's heart of all anger and resentment towards his friend. Looking back, he finally realized that things hadn't been so bad that he must give up everything in life and run away.
Elena was still the love of his life, of course, and he naturally still ached and grieved for her loss. But that didn't change the fact that she was dead now and will always stay in the past. Link was right, he should go out of the academy and explore the world and get a change of scenery for a while. He knew that it would certainly help him recover and feel better then.
As for magic, Eliard now realized that it was not the cause of Elena's death after all. Without magic, Elena would've died of the blade of swords or daggers or the arrows, or maybe even of the dark divine spells that Elena was involved with. Eliard knew more than anyone else how cruel this world could be.
Eliard understood clearly now that giving up magic would be tantamount to giving up his own life.
"Aren't you building your new estate, Link?" asked Eliard suddenly. "I could go there and help you out."
Link was momentarily stunned, but he recovered himself quickly and gave Eliard a firm nod. Once he'd put on his shoes, he stood up and walked towards Eliard then extended a hand out to him.
"It would be my pleasure," said Link.
Eliard reached out to catch Link's hand and got himself up to his feet. He suddenly realized that Elena wasn't as perfect as she had been in his imagination after all. Instead, it was this friend of his here who'd been like a brother to him all along who was the one person he could rely on whenever he's in trouble.
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