Following what Rui said, Leo focused all his attention to himself, eyes closed. Essence is like a flow of energy that exists everywhere and within. Recalling what he saw when Rui used her essence when it actually became visible to him, he visualized to himself the flow of energy within him. If I could just repeat what she did.
Eliminating all other thoughts, he threw his attention back to that single moment where he had seen the flow of energy—essence within Rui. How she moved as well as the aura that surrounded her body.
With his eyes closed, all he could see was pitch-black. Leo’s mind was centered down to one single thought. Thanks to his daily training, not only his body, but he had also developed his mind to be able to focus and think properly, more easily and efficiently.
Utter silence filled his own world.
Not even the noise outside could reach him.
—The sound of water.
It’s like he was within the depths of a mass body of water. Suddenly, he heard the sound of a single drop of water. The single drop caused a ripple as the sound it made reverberated through his silent world.
At that single moment, Leo opened his eyes. What he saw before him was the vast blue sky. Below was like a sea. It reflected what looked like a serene mirror.
Is this the world’s essence...?
It was so beautiful and quiet. Unlike the world he was familiar with.
No… is this perhaps my essence?
Essence is a part of life. The moment something exists, it forms its own essence. For people, it is the moment they are born in which a new essence in life is shaped. In other words, essence is a part of your own existence.
But what Leo saw wasn’t what he expected. It was extremely surreal. It’s like he had created his own world. Essence depended on how a person grew. While each and every existence living in this world has their own essence, each one of them was unique to themselves.
Was this how his essence grew? Or was it like this in the first place? If so...
Watching the world before him, he could only think of one thing.
It’s so peaceful.
Just then, he heard a small voice on the corner of his senses.
Pulled out from his thoughts, he was suddenly returned to the world he was familiar with.
Leo looked dumbfoundedly at Rui who was calling out to him. Leo then noticed that her face was wearing a look of surprise. Leo had no idea why she was looking at him like that.
That was when he realized something.
Rui pointed at him.
Prompted, he looked at himself then widened his eyes.
Leo’s body was faintly glowing. Although it was faint, he felt like something was surging within him.
“Is this... my essence?” he wondered, curiously.
Leo moved his body around to check the feel while Rui watched him with smiles.
“You can finally control your essence! That's a huge success, Leo!”
“R-right...!” Leo was also happy.
“Now, try making a fire!” Rui ordered with a smile.
“No, I don’t think I can do that so fast right after learning how to control my essence just now…”
“Nevermind that, just try it!” Rui insisted.
Leo couldn’t say anything but let out a wry smile. Regardless, he himself wanted to try using magic. So, he decided that he might as well do it.
“First, you have to imagine a fire! Like it's really hot then you make it fly!” explained Rui while gesturing her hands on how to do it.
Leo couldn’t help himself but let out an awkward smile. There’s no way I could understand that...
Even so, he did as what Rui said. Leo held out his hands, his essence still flowing on the outline of his body. He then closed his eyes. He thought that this way, he could focus his mind just like what he did when trying to draw out his essence.
Fire... How can you make a fire again? He visualized to himself what makes a fire. Burning… When something is burning, it makes fire, right? So it needs some kind of source...
He recalled the time when Rui made a fire herself. Copying what she did, he tried to focus his essence on his hands. After that, he imagined something was burning as he ingrained the image of the fire that Rui made when she was producing it.
At that moment, he felt a warm sensation on his palms. That was the first step. Without stopping, he continued to keep track of that feeling. He repeated in his mind what Rui said. Really hot and make it fly... Even though the explanation was lacking and hard to understand, he got the point.
Just then, the warm sensation he felt grew and the temperature steadily increased. Rui watched Leo in anticipation.
Leo’s hand was engulfed in a faint light until suddenly, a small crimson ball appeared and immediately after, it burned. A small fire was hovering over Leo’s palms.
Rui watched in awe. “Y-you did it, Leo!” she said as she clasped her hands in front of her face with sparkling eyes.
Leo opened his eyes and saw what he did with a surprised expression.
“I... did it!”
He had successfully produced magic.
But then, the fire on his palm suddenly disappeared. Leo was a bit disappointed that he could only hold it for mere seconds but still, he wore an understanding expression.
“I guess I still have a long way to go to use magic like you do, Rui.” Despite what he said, he was smiling as he scratched his head.
“No, no. That enough is amazing. That just means we are making progress!”
Rui said as she grasped Leo’s hand together.
Leo was embarrassed but was glad that he managed to make his first step in learning magic.
“Now, try making it fly like a bird!” Rui excitedly said.
Leo couldn’t help but laugh dryly. He wasn’t sure he could achieve something like that when all he could do was produce a small fire within an extremely short amount of time. And this was also his first time controlling his essence and producing magic. He still had a long way to go but surely he had made his progress.
After a while, Leo and Rui took a break. They were seated under the shade of the tree near the house.
Aron wasn’t together with them this time. He had said that he needed to run some errands for his parents. Well, actually, Rui was supposed to be helping with those errands but... It seems that Rui left his brother alone to do the work and went over to Leo’s house instead.
I feel bad for Aron...
In contrast to Leo’s sympathy towards Aron, Rui, the sister of said person, was sitting comfortably, without a care.
Rui tilted her head curiously when she noticed that Leo was staring at her with a dry expression. Leo simply sent an awkward smile.
Suddenly, Rui asked Leo a question.
“Hey, Leo, can I ask you a question?”
“Why are you training so hard even though you’re still young?” asked Rui.
It was a question he, himself, thought about not so long ago. Why was he working so hard to be strong?
He thought about his father.
His father was kind and strong. He had always thought that ever since he was young. Since he grew up with his father alone, he grew to admire him. Even though his father was always out for his work, he always spared time for him.
Back then, Leo thought that he wanted to be like his father. He wanted to help him and be strong like him. Even now, that hasn’t changed.
He already has his answer.
He simply wanted to get strong. That's all there is to it.
But instead of answering Rui’s question, he asked.
“Hey, Rui,” he said. “What do you think being strong means?”
This time, it was Rui’s turn. Her question was answered with another question. Rui tilted her head and placed her fingers against her cheeks in a cute manner.
Rui pondered for a moment.
After a while she opened her mouth.
“Maybe if you have courage or something?”
Leo widened his eyes, impressed.
“For example, like you have no fear even if it’s something that’s scary, you still face it? I’m not really sure though.”
Leo looked up in the sky. “Courage, huh?”
Leo shook his head.
“Nothing. I was just thinking about something.”
Rui wore a puzzled expression then asked.
“How about you, Leo?”
“Me?” Leo pointed to himself. “Let’s see... Honestly, I’m not sure myself.”
Rui tilted her head.
What did being strong mean for him? He simply wanted to be like his father. Someone strong and reliable. If for Rui, being strong means having courage then for him it was...
“You see, I want to be like my father,” said Leo with a warm smile. “I don’t know yet if I want to be an adventurer like him but still, I want to do something. I want to help like how my father helped me back then.”
He remembered a time when he was wounded. At that time, there was nothing he could do but cry. He was alone in the house that day. His father was away for work meaning there was no one around to help. He simply cried from the pain. Unexpectedly however, his father arrived. It could’ve just been a coincidence, but regardless, his father came for him.
“He was so reliable like a hero. I need to work hard to be able to become like him. I guess I also want to be of help to someone…”
Leo realized he was speaking so casually about a past story of him crying. He hurriedly looked back in embarrassment as his face grew red.
He scratched his cheeks while still looking away. “Well, that’s the gist of it…”
Unexpectedly, Rui stood up in excitement. Leo was surprised.
“That’s just admirable!” said Rui with sparkly eyes.
“I will help you, Leo! I also want to be strong along with you. We could be adventurers together! This is going to be fun!”
Leo didn’t know what to say nor react. He simply watched in awe at Rui’s cheerful actions.
Just then, Rui suddenly remembered something as she went closer to Leo.
“Ah, that’s right!”
“Let’s go outside together, Leo! You never got to go outside that often, right?”
“Then it’s decided! I’ll come back again tomorrow morning then we can go outside. We also need to take breaks like this sometimes, right?”
“You’re not wrong, but... ”
Leo hadn’t gone outside in quite a while so he wasn’t really familiar with some things. Rui realized that and smiled.
“No need to worry, we’ll be together after all!” Despite what she said, Leo was still worried. Nonetheless, he didn’t think anything wrong about going outside once in a while. It might as well be a good change of scenery.
“Then, I’ll be in your care tomorrow, Rui.”
The next day...
Leo, Rui, and Aron went outside together.
“Grrrrr... Why did this guy have to come? It was supposed to be me and Leo only…”
Leo simply listened with a dry smile.
“Why? Am I not allowed to come? Don’t forget, you still owe me for the errand we were supposed to do.”
Leo took a glance at the shops lined up in their village.
I didn’t expect to see a lot of people here.
While their village wasn’t exactly that big to begin with, it still didn’t neglect providing all sorts of businesses and goods. Because of that, the place was lively and bustling despite it being only a small but humble village.
As they were walking, something caught Leo’s eyes. It was a small stall with a clothed table in front of it. On top of that table was what looked like a ball made of crystal. Beside it were a bunch of unfamiliar books.
“Oh, are you perhaps interested in fortune-telling?” Aron said when he noticed where Leo was looking.
“You don’t know? You put your hands on that crystal ball then they will tell you some vague words which apparently describe your fate.” explained Aron.
Fate? Leo was a bit skeptical when he heard the explanation.
“How do they do that?”
“You see that ball? It seems that it has some kind of spell that scans a person’s essence. From that, they could describe your fate I guess. Well, I don’t know the specifics about how it works.”
“Nevermind that. Let’s just go and see for ourselves. Come on, Leo!” Rui pulled Leo’s arm and went to the fortune-telling stall. Aron followed as well.
The person behind the stall, who’s supposedly the fortune-teller, noticed them approaching. It was a woman wearing a cloak on her body.
“Excuse me, we would like to know our fortune.” Rui said without hesitation.
The woman fortune-teller didn’t see any reason to refuse and simply smiled while she readied the crystal ball.
“Of course. Who would like to go first?”
Rui stared at Leo without saying anything.
Leo looked to his other side and noticed Aron staring at him as well.
“Well, you see, we actually went here already some time ago,” said Aron.
It seemed that the woman fortune-teller was the same one who told them their fortune as she chuckled to herself. Leo watched with a wry smile.
“Come on Leo, put your hands on the ball.” Rui urged.
Leo nervously put his hand on the ball.
After a few seconds, the ball glows. A faint white light appeared within the ball. It was so small that it felt like it could disappear at any moment.
Leo stared at the light in surprise. Rui and Aron as well.
“It’s small…” muttered Rui.
By the sound of it, it seemed like it was different from what Rui saw when she had her fortune-telling. The same could also be said with Aron as he watched in wonder. Meanwhile, the woman fortune-teller was staring at the small light with a timid expression.
“This light... Please wait for a moment.”
The woman fortune-teller grabbed one of the books lying on the table and hurriedly spread it open. As she scanned the contents with her eyes moving so fast, she stopped at a certain page.
She silently read the contents on her mind and after a few seconds, she opened her mouth.
“According to this book, this light represents 3 words: Moon, light, and regret.” she said.
Leo tilted his head as he repeated the words the woman mentioned. “‘Moon, light, and regret’? What does that mean?”
That was really vague and somehow, it sounded ominous.
The woman fortune-teller looked down. “Honestly, I’m not sure myself... All I could say is live your life without regrets.”
“I don’t get it but it seems like you’ve got a confusing future ahead of you,” said Aron.
“Don’t let it get to you, Leo! How about we go somewhere else?” Rui suggested.
Leo was still confused but as Rui said, he probably shouldn’t think of it that much. After that, they went to various shops and stores. Unfortunately, they didn’t bring that much money, so the most they could do was sightsee.
Nonetheless, they all had fun walking together at the village. After a while, they decided to grab something to eat. They went to a food stall that they passed by earlier and bought some barbecue skewers. It wasn’t that expensive so it was ideal.
The stall was overflowing with the delicious smell of grilled meat. Thankfully, the line wasn’t that long and they were able to get their food in no time.
“Hm? This is... delicious.” Leo said, turning back at Rui and Aron as he took more bites from the skewer. Apparently, Leo had never eaten something like this before. It was his first time.
“Right?!” Rui said as she took a bite from her skewer as well.
“I never would’ve thought that this was your first time eating a barbecue skewer.” Aron commented.
Leo was a bit embarrassed about not being aware of such things. Not only this but for a while now, he had noticed that both Rui and Aron seemed knowledgeable about a lot of stuff that he didn’t know before.
Despite this, he was happy walking around the village. He never would’ve imagined he would be going outside playing around with friends. This is not bad. He thought to himself as he took a bite from his skewer.
Suddenly, they noticed something strange from the surroundings.
“What happened? All of the people seem to be talking about something.” Rui noticed the people who had suddenly gathered around with a mix of worry and serious expressions.
“Did you hear? It seems that an injured adventurer appeared in front of the village.”
“Apparently, he was gravely injured and barely managed to return... “
“I heard it was originally a group of adventurers who went to the forest then only one returned... This is worrying.”
Leo and the others overheard their conversation and their faces turned worried as well. Leo in particular.
Adventurers? Leo then stood up.
“Leo?” Rui asked, worried.
“Let’s go check.” But Leo didn’t wait for any response as he ran towards the village entrance where the said adventurer was.
“Leo! Wait a moment!” Both Rui and Aron run after him.
Upon arrival, Leo saw the crowd of people at the entrance. He squeezed through the crowd and checked what’s going on with a worried expression.
What he saw was an adventurer extremely wounded. His other arm was missing. Blood ran down his face. Leo watched, paled.
Just then, a man went to the injured adventurer.
“What happened? Where are the others?”
The injured adventurer struggled to lift his head towards the voice and weakly opened his mouth.
“They're... dead. I’m the only one who survived…”
The man gritted his teeth. The people who were listening gasped and wore a grim expression. Leo was the same. They’re dead...?
“Hermes... He left me with a message.”
“What’s the message?”
“...Demons.” the injured adventurer muttered quietly that only the man could hear. If anyone was to hear that a demon was involved, especially near their village, it would cause panic.
Just then, Leo came out from the crowd and ran towards the injured adventurer.
“Who are you? A boy like you shouldn’t be here.” the man said. However, Leo didn’t listen and instead asked the injured adventurer a question
“Hey, did you say Hermes? What happened to him?” Leo asked in a panic tone.
Rui and Aron just arrived at the scene. When they saw Leo run out of the crowd, they were about to follow after him but then stopped when they heard Leo talk to the injured adventurer.
“You... Ah, I see you’re Hermes’ son…”
“...Yes. Where’s my father?” Leo asked. He had already heard his answer a while ago yet he still asked. In his mind, he was refusing that fact.
“This is good timing. Hermes also specifically left a message for his son…”
Leo anxiously waited in silence.
Message? He could have just told it to me directly himself. Why isn’t he here?
The adventurer then opened his mouth, weakly.
Just then, he closed his eyes, and stopped moving. Leo stood there, motionless. The man who was watching beside him, tried to say something but then, suddenly, Leo ran outside the village. He was running towards the forest where the adventurer had come from.
“Hey! You can’t go there alone. It’s suicide!”
The man grabbed Leo and pulled him. From the difference of their size and strength, Leo couldn’t do anything but struggle to break free from the man’s hold.
“I want to go check for myself!”
“No. I can't let you. It’s too dangerous.”
“B-but! My father... please... I just want to see him…”
The man looked on with a grim face. If it were true that it was a demon that attacked the adventurers, then it was unlikely that anything was left there in the forest. Leo would see nothing but the demon that was possibly still around, roaming the forest.
“I’m sorry, boy. We can’t do anything now.”
Leo gripped his hands in frustration.
He felt someone behind him. Rui held Leo in her arms from his back. A dam of emotion broke within Leo, tears overflowing.
“Why…?” he murmured. “Why aren’t you coming back just like always…?”
Rui held him tightly so as to not let him go.
“Leo... Let’s go home…” she said softly.
That was the day...
Leo’s life had started to change.