Chapter 0:

A... Promise?

Irradiated World

The golden hues of a setting sun filled her vision, the sounds of the long grass rustling in the wind filled her ears, and the smell of the dirt she sat on overtook her nose. These were all sights, sounds, and smells that she had gotten used to; she did experience them every night after all. It was a dream she had every night. A dream so precious to her that it could never be replaced. At least, that’s how it should have been, even now, but she noticed important changes in the dream today.

The city in the distance, Sanum, looked eerily bigger tonight. Not that she could tell easily as the city was more than a two days journey on foot. She could barely make out the skyline of the central district of the town due to it being on the biggest mountain in the immediate area. But tonight that skyline looked… no it felt different to her. She couldn’t quite place why, but she knew that the skyline wasn’t the only different thing.

She looked down at her body, confirming her thoughts. Normally in this dream, she would appear as her younger self at the age of ten. She most definitely was usually in the body of a young girl. So why was she suddenly in a body that was more mature than her outside of the dream? Just looking down confirmed it as the body she was in currently was far more mature in certain areas than she was. Lean muscles built up areas she never thought to work on. Her clothes screamed religious piety, yet she didn't follow any religion.

As she was pondering why all of this was happening, the quiet sounds of someone walking up to her pulled her thoughts away from the body she was in. Having heard the sounds her father’s footsteps made when he walked up to her every night, she knew this wasn’t him. Who are you? She meant to say it out loud but her body refused to speak as she turned to face the newcomer.

He was tall. That was the first thing she thought when she saw him. He wasn’t the tallest person ever, but he was definitely taller than the average male.

He had the build of a fighter. The second thing she noticed about him. He wasn’t overly bulky like most town guards she had seen while she was little. Instead, he seemed to have a lean muscular look to him. His clothes did little to hide that fact, if they were even supposed to in the first place.

The scar. The third thing she noticed about him. He had a scar running up the left side of his face, cupping the outer edge of his murky blue eyes. Running from the cheek up to his brown hair, hiding its ending underneath the hair, away from her sight.

A few steps from her, the man stopped walking. She sat there, staring at his face, taking in every detail. His face was very… average to her. Maybe a bit above the standard male, but nothing to write home about outside of the aforementioned scar on the left side. But the thing she noticed most about his face was the look in his eyes. They were full of a flurry of emotions; anger, pain, guilt… but also relief and joy. It was like he was laying his eyes on someone who had come back from the dead.

She didn’t even have to see her face to know she probably looked the same way. Just looking at him made the body she was in simultaneously ache and feel utter joy at the same time. The body trembled, opening and closing its mouth trying to say something, but nothing came out. The rustling of the grass was deafening between them. Nothing could be heard except for it.

“Why…? How…? Why are you… here?” Suddenly, the shaking voice of the body she was in cut through that deafening grass. It posed a simple question for the man in front of her. But to her, the answer to the body’s question didn’t matter. What mattered to her was the voice. It was more mature and sounded a bit odd, but it was unmistakably her voice.

“Is this a dream of my future then? Maybe the hope within me that something like this would eventually happen to me? But then, who is this man? Is he someone I know right now? Someone in the village we live in? I mean, it would have to be, wouldn’t it? There’s no way a man from a city nation like Sanum would ever meet with someone who lived in a Rad-town like me.”

As she tried to figure out who this man was, he suddenly was by the side of her older body, slowly sitting down next to her. As he sat down, looking at the nearly set sun in the distance, his hand casually rested on top of hers. But her body didn’t pull away. Instead, it gripped the hand, silently vowing to never let go of it.

“I… I have a promise. A promise that I made to you, Aria, that I need-- no, that I want to keep. Thi---” He said her name. That was all Aria needed to know that this was some weird fever dream about her future that she was having. Surely she wasn’t seeing the actual future. Not even time-based mages could do that. The most they could ever do was vague predictions of something that would happen to the recipient in the next year. Something like this? A dream about her future? That is something that will never happen to anyone. So surely this is just some unconscious desire of hers that is manifesting itself in her dreams tonight.

By the time Aria focused on what was happening in the dream again, the two had stopped talking. Aria’s head was resting on his shoulder with his head propped up against hers. Slowly, Aria’s body began to close its eyes. There was nothing Aria could do about it. The end of this weird unconscious desire-filled dream was coming near. As her body's eyes closed, the last golden rays from the setting sun disappeared behind the horizon…

A small stream of light from the rising sun punctured its way through a small crack in her window covering, attacking her closed eyes. Her consciousness started to wake, annoyed by the constant attacks on her body. As she groggily opened her eyes, Aria waved her hand towards the window, causing the window covering to close fully. Her ability to control the air particles always came in handy during mornings like these.

Sitting up in her bed, Aria’s arms naturally stretched out over her head as she groggily thought about the dream that night. It had never changed like that before. Wondering why it had changed like that, she stood up and walked over to the cabinet in the corner of her room. Opening the cabinet door, she riffled through the clothes hanging within, pulling out her day's clothes after a few seconds. As she slipped them on, she heard the usual cries of the roosters that were being raised on the town’s single farm.

“It’s six in the morning already…?” Aria muttered as she walked over to the window and opened the covering fully. As bright sunlight poured into the room, she instinctively squinted and put her hand up to cover her eyes from the bright light.

The aroma of cooked eggs slowly made its way into her room, signaling that breakfast was done. Not wanting to get on her parent's bad side, Aria quickly made her way out to the dining table right as her mother was putting out three plates of eggs and toasted bread.

“Mama, do you want me to grab some forks?”

“Yes please, and be careful, your father is bringing out the water.”

Aria brushed past her mother and walked into the kitchen to grab three forks, barely dodging her dad as he walked by with three mugs of water in his hand. After grabbing the forks, Aria quickly walked back out to the table, setting a fork on each of her parent's plates before sitting in front of hers. She quickly ate her food in silence as her parents talked about things happening around the town. As soon as she had finished her breakfast, she quickly said thanks to her mother and got up to put the plate and mug in the cleaning area. Using the last of the water in the mug, she rinsed the remaining scraps of food off the plate before setting it out to dry.

“Aria, you will be at school all day today, right? I don’t want to hear that you skipped again today.” Aria’s father posed the question to her as her hand was on the front door, forcing her to stop.

“But Papa, everything they are teaching I already know. The school here is far behind where I was going to school back in Sanum.”

“We know that honey, but you can’t continue to stand out even more than you do already. Kids have been talking about you during school apparently, wondering why you are never there. Every time you do things like this, it’s tougher on us. We have to explain your actions for you.”

As her mother chimed in, Aria realized that they were double-teaming her. She knew it would be better for her to just agree for now. Letting out a silent sigh, Aria turned back and gave her parents a small smile.

“Alright, I’ll go to school today. I promise.”

As she left the house, Aria turned towards where the town’s school and started walking. While she had promised to go to school that day, she never said she would be there the entire time. She had to train in the morning after all. She would go after she was done training. She only had two more years before she became an adult and could go back to Sanum to apply for the Sanum Magic university. She had to train and practice using her magic as much as she could before then to guarantee her acceptance.

Aria trained every day in a small part of the forest that surrounded the town where she currently lived in. She chose that spot because it was just outside of the town’s borders. She chose it because she had found a small hole in the northern wooden fence.

She passed by the dirt road, if you could even call it a road, that separated the northern buildings and the southern buildings. The building that housed the school was in the northern section. She passed by the building, navigating past a few other children that were heading to the school. Eventually, Aria noticed that someone was following her. She was nearing the hole in the wall and didn’t want anyone else to know about it, so she took a quick turn past a building.

This turn took Aria into a small clearing in between some buildings. Seeing no one around and not hearing anything from the four buildings around her, Aria quickly turned on her pursuer.

“Why are you… following… me…” As soon as Aria saw the kid's face, the memory of the dream she had flashed across her vision. The kid looked very similar to the man that she had seen in her dream, minus a few years. He was a bit taller than her, though she thought he might be the same age as her, or around it. His shirt was dirty like he hadn’t washed it in a day or two. And his pants were a size too big and were held together by a band tied around his waist.

“I- um. You’re Aria, right? Aria Towsen?” His voice was quiet, meek, and quaking as if he wasn’t used to talking with people.

“I am. Why are you asking?”

“Will you teach me how to use magic? Please?”

Aria blinked a few times before her mind processed what the kid had asked. She barely understood how her magic worked by herself, she had no idea how she would teach something that she didn’t know.

“Please, you’re the only person I haven’t asked. All the other kids I’ve asked said “It’s too hard” and “Why should I teach you?”. And I can’t ask the adults, they absolutely can’t know I’m trying to learn magic.”

He had begun rambling. Aria had yet to get a word in because he didn’t stop talking. Aria almost felt a bit bad that she was going to turn him down. But there was no way she would be able to teach him, no matter what he said. That was a silly thought that would never happen.

“Sure, I’ll train you.”

“Huh?” Aria’s brain went into overdrive, trying to understand why it had said that. As she watched his face light up, she quickly tried to take back her words to no avail. His constant stream of thanks quickly drowned out any attempt she made. She had made a deal she could no longer take back.