II. The Mana Flow of the Soul
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Mana is the blessing of those that came before us and the ones that will come after.”

Nikias is a sleepyhead, after falling asleep in the afternoon of the previous day, he wakes up at dawn the next day. The silver-haired man watches the sun rising through his curtains, lost in thoughts he doesn't hear the faint knock on his door. His life changed so much in a day, he died and woke up in a completely different world, with different dynamics and even with a different body. 

No one can deny that Nikias is a beauty, in the book he was described poorly because the protagonist hated him, but either way she couldn't deny that he was the prettiest man alive at that moment.

Even inside a coffin, lifeless, the second Prince manages to be mesmerizing. Long silver lashes, porcelain and smooth skin, even his pink lips were well prepared for the funeral. Most times the royal family uses closed caskets, but damn, they sure couldn't hide such beauty even after death. Evangelia knew that, even with the despicable personality of the second Prince, he was a sight to the eyes. Only if he stayed still like that forever, immovable, he would've been still alive. But even beauty can't hide a rotten heart.

It was a harsh description, in Nikias eyes, when he read the story he couldn't avoid but think how unbelievable that was. The beautiful people he met were all rotten, and they all got away with pretty much everything back in his world. Beauty rules the world, he thinks in a daze, and as far as he's seeing around him right now, the same seems to be true for this world. So why does the protagonist think that a pretty face can't hide a trash personality? His family loves him, everyone blushes at his sight, how can someone even go against him?

His gaze goes to the mirror close to the window, the light in the sunrise even makes him look more dazzling, his silver hair reflects the sun rays, and his golden eyes shine in a gorgeous tone this early in the morning. No wonder there are four mirrors in this room, even Nikias himself can't believe in his own beauty. It'll take a while to get used to. 

Again another knock on the door that Nikias doesn’t hear, the purple-ish colors of the sky in the early morning dance on the floor of the room, the man stares at it melancholic. ‘’I wonder if she’ll try to kill me again’’, he says to himself with a sigh. His fingers drums around the window frame, the morning wind messes with his hair but the man doesn’t mind. After Nikias death, what is the next thing happening…? His fingers stop. Oh right, the slave trade black market case, that happens a couple of weeks afterwards. He starts drumming his fingers again. So many worries but the silver-haired man is calm on the outside. Pretending to have amnesia is hard, he doesn’t know what he should know and what he shouldn’t, how far does his amnesia need to go to be believable? His family will buy it, of course, but the heroine might not, and she’s his main concern right now. After all, she’s the one that killed the old Nikias.

This time, Nikias hears the knock on the door. ‘’Enter’’, he says loud enough for the person on the other side to hear. One of his servants enters with a tray that has a tea set, they seem to understand Nikias orders the day prior, as the man doesn't have a flower pin, he's probably Lowe.

‘’Excuse me, your highness, but I wasn’t sure if we should keep serving your tea at dawn’’ his tone is cold and he doesn’t make eye contact while putting the tray on Nikias’ room table. ‘’This is the tea you usually drink every morning, it's a black tea with mana blend.’’

Oh right, Nikias didn’t have mana in the novel. That was one of the reasons why the second Prince was so jealous of his brother to the point of poisoning him, while the Crown Prince had enough mana to fill a football field, Nikias didn’t have a single drop in his body. In the novel, mana was bound to the soul, so even though the soul isn’t the same, he probably still doesn’t have the gift of mana, as he isn’t from this world. But it doesn’t hurt to check.

Nikias walks towards the table, sitting on the chair that has a view of the window. Lowe serves the tea to perfection, he doesn’t speak or make expressions that might anger the Prince, but he steals at glance at Nikias’ face, blushing as a result of it. Then again, who wouldn’t blush? The silver-haired man brings the teacup closer to his lips, the servant can’t avoid but to steal a glance at his lips.

Before drinking, Nikias stops and turns to Lowe. ‘’I would like to ask you a couple questions’’.

‘’Anything you desire, your highness’’ the servant says with a bow, but that isn’t what Nikias was talking about. What’s the point of the Prince asking something to the servant if he can just lie? Mana vow, a vow that forces the one making it to do the contents of the vow, otherwise their own mana will consume them ‘till their death, of course that’s only possible if the person has mana inside their body.

‘’Do you possess mana, Lowe?’’ The Prince asks, finally taking a sip of the tea that flows inside his chest warming him through. It tastes like wine, I wonder why. He thinks but doesn’t say a word, he only drinks it normally with a serious expression.

The servant answers right away. ‘’Yes, your highness’’.

“Then first make a mana pact to me”, the calm tone in the second Prince's voice makes Lowe take a step back. A mana pact is something bound to your soul, you can never lie, harm or even plan to go against the person who's your mana is bound to, it's usually reserved to knights and lovers. It's unheard of doing such a thing as a servant, servants come and go, but mana pacts can't be undone. It works like this: you open a wound in the person who you're going to be bound to, then you pour your mana inside the wound while reciting the enchantment. It's one of those things that every mana blessed person can do, but those without it can't.

Lowe bows on the floor. “I apologize, your highness, but I can't possibly…”, the servant avoids looking up at his employer, it's unreasonable to not be scared of royalty. Even if it is the second Prince who doesn't possess any talents or abilities, he still has the power to execute you with a mere word.

“How can I trust your words if you refuse to make a mana pact?” Nikias says, his tone is cold, and his hoarse voice brings shivers down Lowe's spine, and not the good kind of shivers. “If you wish to continue serving me together with your brother, I recommend you do the pact”. A threat. Do it or you and your brother will die. The man trembles but raises his head.

“I'll do it, your highness”, thankfully Lowe isn't dumb enough to ignore the warning in Nikias voice. The Prince smirks, he found a way to figure out more about the castle and himself without risking people finding out about his inquiries. I should make his brother do the pact as well.

“Bring your brother too, you have ten minutes”, Lowe's face contorts itself in pure horror. That wasn't what I agreed to, the servant thinks while cursing the man as much as he can inside his head. But he doesn't argue, Nikias does notice the displeasure in his face, though. Lowe gets up and bows before leaving the room.

When he’s left alone again, the silver-haired man returns to his own thoughts. It would be good if I could attend the slave trading auction before the female lead barges there… And there is a good reason why Nikias wishes so, of course getting involved with the slave traders is a bad thing, however there is a reason why it's such a popular pastime to a lot of nobles. They sell different species there. Not only dwarves, elves, fairies and other species with human-like features for cheap labor, but also monsters like dragons, goblins, wyverns etc, for not only people that wish to experiment with those monsters but also those who wish to control them like a pet.

There's also those crazy bastards that buy elven slaves to mix their bloodline. It's a rumor that if you have a half-elven as your blood descendant, you'll be blessed by the gods for life. But it's a rather doubtful rumor, as the elves' blood is known to be poisonous to humans, so any halfling would have difficulties even being born. There are only records of halflings of dwarves and dragons ever existing. Who the hell fucked a dragon? Nikias asks himself, well, but that isn't too relevant right now. The reason why he needs to go there before the female lead, it's because of a baby fairy that she'll find there. In her previous lives the baby ended up in Nikias hands, making it almost impossible to kill him afterwards.

And that's because when a baby fairy reaches two years old, they bond with their parents, casting a protective spell on them until they die of natural causes. That's why most fairies have children, so they can protect themselves against other creatures or even humans that hunt them to turn them into slaves. Of course, if the child dies, they also die with them. And that wasn't an option to Evangelia, she refused to kill an innocent fairy for the sake of killing Nikias.

The baby was mistreated, oh boy, how the little girl suffered at the hands of the original Nikias, she was malnourished, locked inside a birdcage in the middle of the palace and even used as an attraction to Nikias guests. She was tortured and neglected. But this time around, the new Nikias wouldn't do such a thing to a child. Right?

I should get her a nanny or something and send her to the west wing after she turns two. For a second it was almost thoughtful of the idea of the man saving the child. But it seems like his objective is the same as the old Nikias, just he won't mistreat the little girl. Well, that's better, for sure.

In Evangelia’s fourth life, she saved the fairy, but sent her to an orphanage, where she was mistreated just the same, but this time she died before completing five. At least Nikias didn't let her die. The silver-haired is mistaken if he thinks that just because she was alive she was better off.

His thoughts are interrupted by the room's door opening again, this time both of the twins enter the room, Raphael is using a flower brooch per instructed. Good. “Take a seat”, the Prince says and the servants oblige, sitting in front of the man at the table. “I expect that your brother already told you what you're doing here” Nikias says not waiting for the man to answer, he gets up and walks towards his work desk, grabs a letter opener and goes back to the table. He isn't a fan of pain, but as it's necessary the man doesn't wait another second. I need a place where people won't notice, with that thought he crosses his legs, making a deep cut closer to his ankle. If the cut is superficial, the mana doesn't flow properly and the pact might not succeed. “Begin”, he orders and the nervous servants obey.

I, Raphael/Lowe, swear upon my mana and my soul, to serve the second Prince of the Exos Empire, Nikias Gregor Chrysl with my life, and never betray him even in the last days of my mortal life” a faint glow leaves both of their hands towards the cut, Nikias can feel the strangers mana flowing inside the cut, and after the glow stops, the pact is done. It's a strange sensation, the Prince thinks, he can feel the brothers’ mana flowing inside him towards his own heart. So that's how having mana feels like.

He isn't mistaken, but he isn't right as well, but he'll realize so, soon enough.

“Now, let's start with the questions, remember that you can't lie after we made the pact.” Both men nod, and Nikias starts. “Since when have you worked for me?”

Is this a test or he really doesn't remember? Lowe asks himself but answers either way. “Four years”.

Nikias nods and thinks for a while before proceeding to the next question. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-two”, Raphael is the one that answers this time. Even their voice is similar, the silver-haired thinks. So they started working for Nikias when he was thirteen and they were eighteen. 

“Did Andreas and Conrad work here already when you started?” The Prince starts tapping his finger on his chair. He's quite the anxious lad.

“No, Andreas was your childhood playmate before his family lost their money to gambling debts. He started working here this year.” Lowe answers, tilting his head wondering what the Prince expects to gain when those are things he's already aware of. Is he though? Maybe he truly lost his memory, but if that's the case, how did he remember about the mana pact? Lowe wonders but tries not to transpire his worries. “Conrad started a bit prior, he used to be a talented magician but he lost his powers recently and ended up working here.”

So they both lost something and came here to work for me. Why? Nikias reflects. “What are your honest opinions about my relationship with them?” Both men are puzzled, they aren't sure if this is a test or if the Prince is genuine about his questions. However, even if they wanted to butter up to him, they can't, as the pact also forces you to always be honest to the subject of the pact.

“Honestly, they were manipulating you a lot”, Raphael sighs. “They started pinning you against the Crown Prince and saying that he would kill you when he rises to the throne”. That's… it makes sense, but why would Nikias fall for such obvious tricks?

“If I may, your highness, you always had low self-esteem”. Lowe is the one speaking now. Ha, that must be a joke, Nikias? Low self-esteem? Him? With that face? That body? Well, sure his personality was described as the worst in the Empire but low self-esteem? That's simply unbelievable.

“Did I never look in the mirror?” He chuckles, but he knows that the men can't lie.

“As you can see”, Lowe points to the various mirrors in the room. “You did, however we cannot say what was the reason for your self-doubt.”

“If I may speculate, it's probably because your highness isn't good at anything, differently from your brother”, Raphael speaks out of line but he doesn't lie. Nikias did feel an inferiority complex towards Alkaios, and maybe that escalated and became hatred and self loathing, that's actually quite possible.

“I see,” Nikias says, bringing his hand towards his chin. “Can you tell me, why did you start working at the palace?”.

The brothers gaze at each other, they seem a bit wary of telling Nikias the reason, but it’s not like they can avoid it. ‘’We were sold to the magician’s tower of the north, as…’’ Raphael speaks but trails off, seemingly unable to continue his words. 

Lowe speaks up to complete his brother’s words. It looks like Lowe is more controlling while Raphael is more emotional. ‘’Experiment subjects’’.

Nikias is a little taken aback by the brothers claim, he knows they aren’t lying, they can’t lie to him either way, however, the book never mentioned anything about the magicians experimenting with children gifted with mana. ‘’What exactly were those experiments?’’ The question seems to bother Raphael, but Lowe answers with an expressionless face.

‘’We were children of the slums, they offered our parents food and a home in exchange for our lives. They agreed’’ It seems like even the pure-hearted heroine doesn’t know all the evil in this Empire. The thoughts of the silver-haired isn’t too far off, since Evangelia had a strong moral during the novel it was to expect that she would persecute all the evil-doers in the Empire, especially since she becomes Empress by the end of the second book, but it seems like even she, doesn’t know all that happens inside the Empire she was supposed to rule with love. 

‘’Afterwards we were sent to the tower, that place…’’ Lowe’s words falter, even his cold exterior can’t hide the disgust he feels towards it. ‘’They experiment on mana gifted children like us, they steal us from our parents in the slums and do what their hearts desire with us.’’

‘’They’re disgusting’’, Raphael finally finds the courage to speak. ‘’We ran away when we were 16, we spent 10 years inside that hell’’.

‘’Later we decided to come to the capital and report it to the knights’’, Lowe laughs at their previous selves, at their naivety and their disgusting hope. ‘’But they drove us off because of our stench’’. The knights have sworn to protect those in need, but it seems that not all of them are truthful to their oath. Some even only obey the orders of the Emperor or the Crown Prince. Nikias was often the subject of the knights foul mouths.

‘’So, after we decided to work as mercenaries, there’s where we met you sir’’. Raphael seems calmer soon as the story doesn’t mention the tower anymore, it’s probably a subject they find hard to talk about. ‘’You were kidnaped by us, but the ransom never came’’.

Nikias was kidnapped at 13? Why? And if the royal family adores him so much, why did the ransom never come? Something isn’t right. However, even if the story doesn’t make sense, the men aren’t the ones lying. 

‘’Our boss pitied you and asked us to take you back’’, it sounds more like a joke, in order to survive, the youngest prince had to resort to the pity of a mercenary. ‘’When we were back you asked if we were up for hire’’.

‘’The money was good so we accepted’’. Their reason is quite free-spirited, it also seems that they were after money to survive more than the pride of lowering themselves to a foul-mouthed Prince. ‘’Don’t get us wrong, being a mercenary wasn't that bad but compared to the calm life as your servant, it’s considerably worse.’’

‘’Yeah, we have warm beds and warm food, that’s not something a kid from the slums can acquire easily’’ Lowe says with a weak smile, Nikias understands the men better now, they weren’t fortunate like him and they were grateful for the opportunity they couldn’t acquire otherwise. 

‘’I understand’’, the second Prince says with a sigh. Accepting the whims of a spoiled brat is better than starving, that's for sure. ‘’But what I don’t understand is, why no one paid for my ransom?’’

The brothers seem as confused as him. ‘’We don’t know’’, Raphael says.

‘’After we started working for you we saw how much the Emperor and Empress appreciate you, so we truly don’t understand why you were abandoned like that’’ Lowe continues. Abandoned… If Nikias felt like they abandoned him, they would be able to manipulate him easily. Yeah, that’s probably it, a mercenary would never let go of a good prisoner, unless someone told him to make it feel like Nikias was left alone and no one would come for him. 

‘’Did you guys ever observed someone really close to me, but they seemed suspicious in your eyes?’’ Nothing beats the observation skills of those who were always on guard, waiting for their deaths.

‘’Now that you mention it…’’ Raphael says with a contemplative expression. ‘’There was one of the Dukes that visited you quite often… what was his name again…’’

‘’Duke Sawdon’’ Lowe says with a disgusted expression. ‘’He always treats you like his servant, yet you seem to adore the man’’.

Sawdon, that name was never in the novel. It seems that knowing the novel doesn’t mean I’ll know all that will happen here on forward. Nikias nods, he’s out of questions for now, he acquired more knowledge about himself and his surroundings. The man has a great deduction skill, but that doesn’t help if you don’t have the facts to deduct the information from. When he lived as Vahe, the man was constantly praised by his wits and his capability to survive on his own.

‘’One last question,’’ Nikias says after some thought, ‘’How does one have their mana measured?’’ The question makes the brothers sigh, it seems that the old Nikias always talked about his own mana a lot, or better, the lack thereof.

‘’Your highness, it’s impossible for you to suddenly have mana, mana is bound to one’s soul’’ Lowe answers, annoyed. ‘’Unless your soul changes, there's nothing to measure’’. The pact seems to loosen their tongues as they don’t seem scared of speaking the truth, well, even if they wanted to appease the Prince with white lies, they wouldn’t be able to.

Their honesty is something Nikias likes.

‘’Just answer my question’’, just because he appreciates their honesty, doesn’t mean they’re allowed to go against him anyway. 

‘’There’s a device in the palace’’ Lowe sighs.

‘’Can you fetch it for me?’’ Nikias smiles, in the other men’s eyes, the smile is as creepy as it can be, almost mischievous, as if he’s planning something interesting. Of course the servants can’t read his mind, but the smile is enough to make them shiver. 

‘’Yes, your highness’’, the brothers answer at the same time. Nikias shakes his hands, signaling for the men to move at once.

He’s alone again, his gaze goes towards the window, the sun already arose completely and the room glows with the sun rays hitting the precious stones decorating the ambient. Compared to where Vahe used to live, the palace is quite beautiful and clean. He used to have a small apartment close to the slums, and as he ran away from home he worked here and there with cash in hand, since he couldn't be registered for being a minor.

But that didn't make Vahe give up, he was quite crafty with his hands, he worked with anything, from carrying metals to fixing machines. His biggest pay was for fixing knowledge machines, they were similar to pods where one enters, laying there for a couple hours, learning something, of course knowing the techniques doesn't mean they were good at that. Vahe enjoyed stealing moments inside the pod while working, he learnt a lot, from piano, history and languages to archery, embroidery and dancing. However he never managed to put his knowledge into practice. What's the point of knowing how to play the piano if you never touched one yourself?

Growing up he was quite poor, his parents didn't work as well, since the fourth technology revolution, humans stopped doing trivial works,  those were reserved to machines, cheap labor. Except that now billions were jobless and on the verge of starving to death, the 1% that monopolized the food and money of the world didn't even feel pity from stealing those people's livelihood. They were disgusting. What was left for humans were jobs regarding the fixing of machines and hard labor like construction. With that the population dropped from billions to millions.

Vahe’s life was gray, he never experienced the light or even warmth of the sun or even the coldness of a river. He lived to survive and survived to live. Maybe life will be different now that I'm a Prince… however things aren't so simple, Nikias isn't any Prince, he's a Prince that managed to be on the bad side of the protagonist of this world.

Did you ever have the feeling of living inside someone else's story? That's the feeling Nikias has right now.

The brothers come back with an artifact on their hands, it's a small wooden box. They place it in front of Nikias at the table. “Here, it's Nyx's artifact, the first Empress of the Exos Empire''. Lowe says sitting in front of Nikias without the man even asking him to. They're testing the boundaries, the second Prince thinks, but in reality they're just tired from running around in search of the artifact.

“How does it work?” Raphael glances weirdly at him for the question, but Nikias doesn't mind. If he was going to become upset if everyone looked at him wrong, he wouldn't leave his room out of depression. 

“You place your hand on top, like this”, Lowe demonstrates, he lays his hand on top of the wooden box and the artifact glows with a faint black light before opening itself to show a small black pearl. Impressive. “The color of your mana demonstrates your affinity, me and Raffe, we both have dark mana attributes”. Hence the curses and poison specialities. Nikias thinks but only nods at the brothers. “The size of the pearl shows how much mana your soul has, the size can't be changed, however the color can”. 

“If you don't have mana, the box won't open”, Raphael says, finally sitting as well, after noticing that Nikias didn't mind Lowe's actions. 

The silver-haired man stares at the box, there's inscriptions on the outside of the box. It doesn't seem to be in the language of the Empire, but the man seems able to read it. May the flow of mana inside your soul, guide you through your fate. There's also drawings of a moon made of gold, that's probably symbolism since the Empress is considered the moon of the Empire while the Emperor is the sun and the Princes are the stars. Nikias’ gaze drifts from the box towards his hands, his fingers are lean and his nails well trimmed, his hand has some salient veins that make him look mainly, while his skin is soft. It's so different from the harsh calluses he had as Vahe.

His hand touches the box softly, his heart beating loudly inside his chest. Nikias doesn't really expect to have mana, but he can't shut the little voice in his head yelling ‘what if’.

Lowe falls back from his chair once a bright golden light shines from the box, the light blinds the three men for a moment before fading and the box opens. A golden gem the size of a dragon's heart appears for a few moments before disappearing and the box closing again.

Nikias' pushes back his hair with his hand in disbelief. Ha, what just happened? He didn't expect to have mana, but he hoped he at least had a little, after all life is easier if you can cast magic in this world. But a stone the size of a dragon's heart? Golden mana? What did that all mean?

Perhaps the universe felt pity for the man, or perhaps the mana resided dormant inside his soul in a world that had no use for it. However, what good does it make to speculate the doings of the universe? 

“T-That’s impossible!” Raphael stares at the box with awe, how could someone that as far back as a week had no mana, to suddenly have the equivalent of a battalion worth of mana? It's not that there was never someone with mana equal to the size of a dragon's heart, there was, but those people were history, they resided in a time where mana was more prominent in the Empire.

“Your highness, it's an honor to serve you”, Lowe on the other hand snapped back quite well, kneeling in front of the Prince. His change in attitude is sizable, what does it change now that he has mana? The man seems to notice the question in Nikias' face. “Golden mana means the gods have smiled upon you, those with golden mana must be rulers of the world”, his words are serious but the second Prince can't avoid but laugh.

Rulers of the world? That does indeed sound like a joke. Nikias isn't someone who wishes for power, even if it was offered to him. “My brother, Crown Prince Alkaios will be the ruler of Exos, there isn't a discussion about that. I do not wish to be a ruler”.

“If you so wish, but fate tends to force the hands of those it choses”, Lowe gets up cleaning his pants. He looks to have calmed down but his eyes still glow with an admiration it didn't before. Golden mana, is it that special?

Before the three men can start talking again a knock on Nikias' room door makes the man jump on his chair. “Excuse me, Prince Nikias, your family requires your presence for breakfast”. 

The silver-haired man puts his hand on his chest, trying to calm his heart that started to beat crazily because of the sudden sound. “I'll be there shortly”, he says to the person on the other side, who seems to leave after his words. He then turns to his servants. “Raphael, I would like for you to go to an information guild and inquire about the next slave trading auction”, Nikias says as he gets up from the chair. “Lowe, could you find out how much I have left of my personal budget?” Both men nod, while Raphael seems confused about the order he doesn't question it. Their opinion of me must be quite low. Or maybe the previous Nikias already had a thing for buying slaves.

Whatever it is, the current Nikias don't seem to mind. “We'll have meetings at sunrise and at sundown everyday, understood?” The brothers nod. “Now leave, I must get ready for breakfast with my family”.

And for the third time just that morning, Nikias is left alone in his room.

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