114 Chapter 114 Elven King
After climbing an unholy number of stairs, which he unfortunately did count, 648, they finally arrived at the palace itself.
The room Joseph found himself in couldn't be called a throne room. There was no proper throne. Instead an ornate bird bath stood in the middle of the clearing before the elven king. He said something to an elf next to him, but Joseph couldn't catch it. His understanding of elven was just too poor. The queen was nowhere to be seen, but the edges of the room were filled with elves that were probably nobles or important officials, assuming they had those in this kingdom.
"I presume you are the one known as Joseph?" asked the king, turning towards him as they stopped before him.
"Yes, your…actually nobody has told me how I'm supposed to address you." Joseph tilted his head to the side.
He looked at him quizzically. "Are you really eight?"
"I am small for my age. And I may have accidentally made myself younger, during practice." He glanced at Stella as she looked off into the distance innocently. "Stella is almost nine. She is the right height for her age."
"Yes, she would be that tall for one of her kind, at almost nine."
"No, I meant that is the right height for a human at…never mind."
"Tell me, Joseph, are the stories I have heard about you true? The tales seem exaggerated."
"It would be difficult to exaggerate my tales too much." Joseph smiled wryly, spying Stella with the same expression. "Elves often understate the achievements of humans."
"What did you do then?"
"I'm sure your battalion of guests, have already reported that to you."
"They have, but I wish to hear it from you."
Joseph saw several elves frowning around him, but ignored them.
"I led a spell, with over a thousand people, and created a portal to bring 50,000 people from the north of the continent to the edge of the wastelands. We killed an avatar of an evil lesser god of ice and death. In the future it's only supposed to get more absurd."
"Like what?" the king asked, looking rather amused.
"According to the prophets among the barbarians, I am supposed to befriend at least one dragon and bring water to the central kingdom."
The king nodded. "Follow me."
Without another word, he turned and left. Joseph glanced at Stella, who shrugged, and they followed him. The elves that they left in the court, were talking loudly amongst themselves in elven.
The king led them down several hallways, with a small number of well-dressed elves bowing to the king. He paused outside a small door, and turned back to them.
"Is it true, that the forest is blocked from the mana of the rest of the world?"
"Just outside of the forest, all of the mana from the world swirls and moves. Even if the wasteland is completely dead and didn't produce any mana of its own, mana still flows through it. I cannot see what is blocking the mana, but it comes up to the forest and refuses to go any farther. The mana in the forest barely trickles into the runes activating the barrier and the rest comes here."
"And you wish access to the library."
"The rune META is kept in your library. It is the rune that governs the nature of magic itself. I can duplicate some of its effects with skills I have, but it is the rune I need to remove curses or even strip another mage of their powers. It can also affect how spells behave, allowing spells to be thrown, when they shouldn't be, and counter-spelled, or maintained, when they shouldn't be."
"How do you know it is in our library?"
"It is in your library and the ruins lost to the wasteland. I cannot tell you what it cost me, or to whom I had to pay a price, to learn what I needed."
"What do you intend to do with the knowledge you gain here?"
"I intend to cleanse the wasteland. I need to discover whatever has already been done by your people to investigate it. Also, I think you are idiots to hole up here, instead of sneaking around to learn to use mana properly. Even if you restore your forest, all the mages you have, will need centuries to retrain themselves to use mana. How can you stand the losses when it is so hard to have children to begin with?"
"You criticize us very strongly for one so young."
"I am young, but I have seen terrible things. Instead of building your power here, you hide and hope that the ones responsible for creating the wasteland, and attempting to kill the world tree, will go away. All they will do is kill everyone else first. Unless they can wipe out all life at once, and then you won't even outlive the humans.
"I've seen thousands of people who ducked their head and prayed every night that the terror would befall their neighbor instead of their own house. Bullies, rapists, sadists, psychopaths; ignoring them doesn't fix them. If I hadn't stopped the monster in the north, you certainly wouldn't have. By the time it reached here, it would be too late, and too few of you even study mana to know how to have stopped it. Life would have ended on the continent trapped in an eternal ice age, while you quietly hid down here awaiting death. Your whole city feels barely lived in, as if your people exist as a candle that could be snuffed out at any moment, and they know it."
The king looked at him. He didn't refute him, as if he silently agreed but couldn't say it. "If you can restore the mana in the forest, and remove the barrier that blocks mana from entering, I will give you access to the royal archives. Still, I'm surprised a human child can stand up to me like you have. The aura I possess, when in the palace, makes even elves almost cower before me."
"It is rather irritating, but I'm trying to ignore it."
The king laughed. "You describe it as irritating?"
"Yes, resisting it isn't difficult, but doing so constantly is irritating. May I kill any of the trees in the forest?"
"You are aware that the trees are old growth, and not producing much mana any more, correct?"
"The trees are resting because of the low mana, so they aren't growing currently."
"Are they…never mind. Can I blow a hole in the barrier to let mana in?"
"No. The barrier is tied to the life force of the royal family. If you make a giant hole in it, the barrier will try to heal itself by draining the entire royal family to death."
"The mage who designed that was the same mage that set the barrier?"
"Are you sure he was working for your people?"
"No, we are not."
"Shavist! So, you've already tried most of the things I suggested, didn't you?" asked Joseph, shaking his head in annoyance.
"Shavist?" asked the king, confused.
"Oh, that's a made-up word, that I use instead of cursing. My mom hates cursing," explained Joseph.
The king nodded, amused for a moment, before continuing, "Unfortunately, your father has been recovering the elves that were captured two centuries ago, when the elves left the forest to try and have children. Even if there is mana here, because of the mana being drawn in, it doesn't seem to be enough."
"The mana here is stale. It isn't cycling. It's like eating nothing but three-day old bread your whole life. Not bad enough to die outright, but certainly not healthy."
"Ah. That would make some of the old records more understandable. My son died defending his wife. They had wanted to have a healthy baby, but ended up being murdered by human slavers. They normally try to capture the women in order to sell them to nobles as sex slaves, so my son had fought them to his death. A few elven men, who were with him, were captured and sent to the coliseum in the human's middle kingdom. Our attack to free our captured kin burned the capital to the ground, along with the royal family at the time. We eventually called everyone back."
"You inherited this problem, didn't you?" asked Joseph as realization dawned on him.
"Yes," the king sighed. "We have tried everything you have already suggested, and hundreds of other things, to find out what was wrong. We were not aware the there was an area blocking magic from entering the forest, until you came, but over the centuries we have certainly noticed the weakening, and have been looking for solutions."
"I am sorry. I apologize."
"No, it's fine. To notice it within a day is both amazing and disturbing."
"No, I should apologize. I was preaching at you and looking down on your efforts. Your aura is crawling on my skin, and constantly resisting it is unpleasant, but it appears you can't control it, so I shouldn't be a jerk because I was disappointed. The strain of constantly fighting against your rune, that tries to pull my mana away, also isn't your fault. Neither is the fact, that the younger elves grew up in this environment and don't know of a better way. You need help, and I should offer it without being conceited about it."
Joseph bowed feeling awful. He was such an idiot! Now he really did have to help the elves!
"Being able to admit you are wrong, is good for one so gifted and young as you. I have seen many with talent destroy themselves."
"My willpower lets me control myself, but only if I actually want to. Stella normally keeps me from going off the rails, but I think she must have let me this time as a learning experience. Sometimes, despite my previous experiences, I'm reminded that she is much older than me. If I assume, that over a thousand years, every elf in existence wasn't an idiot, and the problem still hasn't been solved, then obviously I shouldn't expect to just walk in and hand wave it away."
The king looked at him, then turned and placed his hand on the door knob. "Ready?"
The king opened the door, and they walked in.