“Abu must have given me vitality back then,” Eugene mused, reminiscing about the time when Abu had displayed such excitement before reaching the Anoti Mountains. This memory prompted Eugene to inquire about something that had perplexed her at the time.
“Hwansu is like a seed, isn’t it? Is the vitality Anika provides different from that?” she asked.
“Completely different,” came the reply.
Eugene probed further, “What’s the difference?”
Mara’s chatty demeanor vanished momentarily. After studying Eugene for a brief moment, he spoke decisively, “I believe I’ve shared sufficient information up to this point. I didn’t arrange this meeting to be a storyteller.”
Eugene nodded in understanding, acknowledging that Mara had indeed provided invaluable insights, assuming they were all accurate. It was akin to receiving a generous down payment.
“I don’t believe we need to reintroduce ourselves at this point. Let’s be straightforward about our desires,” Eugene proposed, pausing to glance at Kasser, seated beside her. Prior to the meeting, Kasser had delegated full authority to Eugene. Whether Eugene negotiated with Mara or not, he would not intervene.
“Sang-je and Mara both desire your support. As the linchpin of these events, your opinion holds the utmost significance,” he had declared.
At that moment, she had simply appreciated his trust. Yet, now that she found herself seated at the negotiation table, a sudden wave of anxiety washed over her. She yearned for the sole responsibility of decision-making. If she made a choice, it might ensnare him, and worse still, it could bring unforeseen consequences to the kingdom.
Kasser, whose gaze met hers, offered a subtle nod, his countenance resolute. Eugene sensed that he had more faith in her than she did in herself. A newfound surge of courage enveloped her, and she redirected her gaze ahead.
“Mara, we’re going to eliminate Sang-je.”
Before this meeting, certainty had been scarce. However, now, there was a resolute commitment to rid themselves of that formidable adversary. The situation had grown perilous, given the uncertainty surrounding Sang-je’s intentions.
“You and Sang-je pose the greatest threat to each other, so coexistence seems impossible, right? Is your objective to eliminate Sang-je, or are you exploring alternatives like an unbreakable treaty?” Eugene inquired.
“There are no alternatives like an unbreakable treaty,” replied Mara.
If Eugene hadn’t glimpsed fragments of the future, she might have agonized over Mara’s veracity. Without foresight, she might have worried that Mara would feign cooperation while secretly conspiring with Sang-je, leading all their plans to failure.
However, in the future she had witnessed, Sang-je and Mara clashed in a bid to eliminate each other. Though that future remained a mere possibility, given the cunning nature of the Sovereign, if even a slight chance for negotiation existed, she doubted he would permit such an extreme conflict to unfold.
However, Eugene harbored doubts and sought further clarification from Mara, asking, “Why is it impossible for you and Sang-je to coexist, given that you’re both of the same nature?”
Mara contemplated the question for a moment before responding, “Being of the same nature, well…”
“Yes, from a human perspective, you certainly are. But when humans face threats from entities other than humans, they often join forces, even with those they may dislike. I’d like to hear a more compelling reason,” Eugene pressed.
With a muttered complaint under her breath, Mara reluctantly explained, “It’s tied to the yearning for return. The yearning for return doesn’t materialize at the moment of awakening. After awakening, all that remains is the instinct to survive. To survive, one must grow stronger, and to grow stronger, one must replenish their vitality.”
Eugene nodded, recognizing the correlation with her previous question. She inquired further, “So, the vitality you can obtain through Anika’s Ramita is precisely that vitality?”
Mara let out a deep sigh before confirming, “That’s correct. There are two ways to replenish vitality: either by aging naturally or by consuming awakened larks. Both methods are acquired through experience.”
Curious, Eugene probed, “What are lark seeds?”
Mara explained, “They’re essentially the bare minimum sustenance required to prevent death.”
“If acquiring vitality means becoming a formidable Hwansu, then Sang-je discovered that Anika’s Ramita enhances the strength of Hwansu?” Eugene sought confirmation.
The small creature nodded in affirmation, explaining further, “When vitality reaches a certain level, you become aware of it. It’s a vague premonition that, one day, when your innate desire to return to my world aligns with your full vitality, you’ll uncover a path back. However, once you realize this, replenishing vitality by consuming other awakened larks becomes incredibly challenging. I’ve grown too formidable for such insignificant creatures.”
“You and Sang-je are each other’s sole sources of vitality… But there might be an alternative. It’s believed that you can grow stronger with the passage of time. So, you could choose to wait without resorting to aggression,” Eugene suggested.
Mara let out a chuckle, remarking, “That’s a very human perspective.”
On this topic, they’re speaking more like humans than anything else, Kasser thought, stealing a glance at the chuckling mouse.
Eugene continued, “What about Anika’s Ramita? It’s said to replenish vitality.”
“Whether Anika grants me vitality or chooses to harm me depends entirely on Anika’s will. It’s a gamble.”
Eugene interpreted this as a hint of positivity in Anika’s disposition.
So, this is why Sang-je is negotiating so fervently with Anika. To win her favor. To make her rely on him, Eugene thought. She also recalled Alber’s words, “He seems to be replenishing vitality somewhere… But even if that’s the case, I don’t know how to find out.”
Oh, I see now. He’s taking Ramita from Anika, who has become his disciple, to recharge his vitality.
The pieces of the puzzle were slowly falling into place. Sang-je was patiently awaiting Anika, who possessed a potent Ramita capable of providing him with formidable vitality.