༺ Ella’s Illusion ༻
Dean Heinkel said that if one gets lost in the Forest of Wandering, one would endlessly wander through the woods.
However, he didn’t say ‘why’ they would wander in the forest.
The answer was right in front of my eyes.
Ella was wearing the same white linen blouse and dark green skirt as she did before leaving the village. She looked exactly like the innkeeper’s daughter I often saw in our hometown.
I knew it was an illusion as soon as I saw her. If Ella was really alive and appeared in front of me, she wouldn’t look the same as she did 20 years ago.
Yet, I couldn’t take my eyes off Ella, who approached me with a smile.
An illusion that shows someone deeply missed in the heart. Even though I already knew the obvious fact that it was a trap that made one truly wander in the Forest of Wandering.
“Eon. I missed you.”
Ella’s smile always shone brightly like the Sun. And Ella’s illusion also gently took my hand with the same smile as before.
That smile reminded me of the happiest moments we shared together.
As well as the most horrifying memories.
I was a little late in shaking off Ella’s hand. Then, Ella’s illusion frowned briefly as if she couldn’t understand, and called my name affectionately again with a bright smile.
“Didn’t you miss me, Eon? I’ve missed you so much. I’m so happy to see you like this.”
I remained silent as if I hadn’t heard Ella’s words. I knew that talking to an illusion would only entangle me deeper into it.
I ignored her illusion and turned my back. Finding Ozinia, who is now gone, was my priority. I didn’t have time to care about such illusions.
However, despite turning my back, Ella had somehow changed her position and appeared in front of me.
As she was ignored, Ella’s large, transparent eyes filled with tears. Soon, she began to shed tears with a sorrowful and anguished face.
“Eon, please look at me. Is it because I’m an illusion? But even so, I’m still the Ella you remember. There’s no difference from the real one.”
Ella spread her arms wide towards me.
“Hurry up and hold me in your arms like before, Eon. You haven’t forgotten me until now.”
I closed my eyes for a moment as I listened to her words.
Memories of being with Ella flashed through my mind. Back then, we were purely in love, thinking of each other, and I could do anything for Ella.
I sighed with resignation.
“That’s right. I couldn’t forget you.”
“See? Eon still loves me.”
“Don’t delude yourself.”
I looked at Ella’s illusion with determined eyes.
“Just because I haven’t forgotten you doesn’t mean I still love you.”
Upon hearing my words, Ella’s face expressed great shock as if her world had crumbled. Her eyes began to fill with deep sadness.
“You have no feelings for me anymore? That’s impossible. Think about all the time we spent together, Eon. There’s no way you could forget that!”
The illusory Ella approached me with teary eyes, tightly holding my hand. Her voice was trembling with desperation.
“Think about it. You still love me. …The me from the time that can’t be recovered.”
Even though I knew it was just the whisper of a simple illusion, I was taken aback by those words, as if they had struck a chord.
Ella lowered her frail face, shaking her head weakly. Her tears dropped onto the back of my hand.
Then, she lifted her head again, gazing at me with a pleading look in her eyes.
“I want you, Eon, now. Don’t miss this chance. Don’t abandon me, please.”
It’s a truly cruel illusion.
I realized that I couldn’t break free from this illusion by simply ignoring it.
Even if I let go of Ella, as long as I’m in this forest, her illusion will relentlessly chase me. Whispering sweet words and constantly reminding me of my memories with Ella.
But I’ve had enough of that already.
I gently brushed Ella’s cheek. She seemed to think I had accepted her, and smiled faintly. My hand stroked her cheek and slowly moved downward.
And then, I snapped Ella’s thin neck in one quick motion.
Without even a chance to scream, her neck was completely broken. I tried to give her a quick and painless death, so if she were an ordinary person, she might not even have known what happened.
I hoped that Ella’s illusion would disappear with this.
However, Ella still didn’t disappear, and despite her broken neck, she slowly blinked her eyelids.
She looked at me with disbelief in her eyes.
The moment the gentle smile disappeared from Ella’s face, I felt the atmosphere around us change instantly.
“Eon, why didn’t you look for me?”
Her eyes were filled with pain and resentment, and that resentment was directed straight at me.
Finally, Ella began to scream at me.
“You knew something was wrong the day I left! I was kidnapped and died miserably! It’s all because you couldn’t protect me! And you still say you loved me?”
Her face suddenly began to rot like a corpse. Bloody tears streamed down from her eyes. With her flesh falling off her body, Ella smiled horribly and said,
“Look at me, look at me straight, Eon! This was my end! I was offered as a sacrifice to a mad wizard in a distant land and died horribly! Because you didn’t save me!”
Trembling, I let go of Ella.
She lay on the ground like a broken doll, looking up at me with bloody tears streaming down her face.
“Eon, why didn’t you look for me more? I called out for you as I was dying. Desperately calling, calling, and calling! I desperately needed your help! Where were you all this time? Where were you, laughing and playing with other women?”
Ella cried for a while, then suddenly laughed like a madwoman.
“Ha, hahaha, ha…! Eon Graham, a coward, a fool, an idiot who can’t even protect his own woman!”
I couldn’t find the words to continue at the sight of her cruel and bizarre appearance.
But my surprise lasted only a brief moment. As I caught my breath, my heart quickly settled, and I regained my composure. Then, I could see the situation objectively.
The being that created this illusion must be reading my memories.
During the war, I experienced even more terrible mental attacks. However, my mind, which had never been violated by any evil spirits or nightmares, couldn’t be shaken by such an illusion.
It wasn’t yet a proven fact that Ella had been kidnapped or offered as a sacrifice to a wizard. I had only thought that it might have happened somewhere in my heart.
This illusion was showing me the worst possible scenario, packaged as if it were the truth.
The reason Ella’s illusion was cursing at me was clear. It wanted to keep me here, and since neither temptation nor pleading worked, it changed its approach to resentment.
It was telling me to look at her and not leave her side.
It was just using Ella’s image to convey that message.
From the beginning, the intention of the being showing me the illusion was clear, and there was no reason to simply follow it.
At least part of what Ella’s illusion had said was true.
I knew something was wrong the day Ella left my side.
No matter how much she longed for a life within the capital, she wasn’t so naive as to follow a stranger without any support. Moreover, our relationship wasn’t such that she would leave without saying a word to me.
If it were, she wouldn’t have come looking for me like that the night before.
So I thought that perhaps she had been kidnapped. No, otherwise, I couldn’t accept that reality.
That’s why I tried to follow Ella. I wanted to hear the truth from her mouth. But the mercenaries were on horseback, and even their footprints were almost erased by the rain that had fallen the day before.
Back then, I couldn’t run faster than a horse, and I hadn’t learned tracking skills to find footprints after the rain.
Moreover, even if I had managed to do all that and find Ella, I didn’t have the ability to protect her and defeat the mercenaries.
Despite that, my younger self didn’t know how to give up. Not knowing where Ella had gone, I frantically wandered through the forest until I eventually fell on a rugged path and broke my leg. If it weren’t for a passing hunter, I would have died there.
Ella couldn’t rely on me.
I couldn’t even follow her.
It was all because I was so weak.
So, it wasn’t that Ella abandoned me; it was that I couldn’t protect her.
That’s why I couldn’t forget. The thought of what might have happened to Ella after she left the village was unbearable. So, I wanted to naively believe Ella’s letter.
She said she left to find her dream. That she would be living happily in the capital.
If I didn’t think that way, my heart wouldn’t be able to bear it.
I didn’t want to feel this helplessness again.
I wanted to become stronger. If I couldn’t, I’d rather die.
The result was this moment.
I reached my arm into the empty air and pulled out a spear with color deeper than blood.
Ella’s expression hardened, as if she knew what this was. Even though the real Ella wouldn’t have known about this spear.
“That’s right. You’re right. I still haven’t forgotten Ella. Maybe I’ll never be able to forget her for the rest of my life.”
I slowly moved forward, gripping Ajetus.
“But, it’s not an illusion like you.”
Ella’s illusion pleaded with a desperate voice.
But I didn’t want to hear whatever it was going to say.
The blade of Ajetus pierced Ella’s forehead.
Ajetus, which could cut through things without substance, easily sliced through the forest’s illusion as well.
However, Ajetus was a weapon that inflicted extreme pain on those it stabbed. I didn’t want to use it, even on an illusion-wearing Ella’s shell, but I had no choice.
Ella’s illusion, with its forehead pierced, seemed to feel terrible pain, distorting its face, and finally disappeared like dust scattering in the wind.
In the now-empty forest, I let out a breath as if releasing deep emotions.
My reason was cold, but my heart couldn’t help but waver. However, I soon composed myself. There was still something I had to do.
The illusion was gone, but I still couldn’t sense Oznia’s presence. This forest was disrupting my senses, so I couldn’t hear or see anything.
Then the solution was simple.
If I completely cleared the area around me, my senses would surely return.
I gripped Ajetus with both hands and thrust it into the ground with all my strength.
At that moment, an intense shockwave erupted, as if the world was turning upside down.
The powerful shockwave caused the ground to split into pieces, as if an earthquake had occurred, and the surrounding trees were blown away by a fierce storm, as if swept up in a typhoon.
Then, I could feel the strange magic that filled the forest dissipate and disappear.
Focusing my senses, I could immediately tell where Oznia was. She had somehow walked to the center of the forest.
To prevent my senses from being disrupted again, I swung my spear towards the center of the forest, clearing a path.
The force powerful enough to overturn a mountain was changing the terrain around me.
Oznia lay in her parents’ embrace as if she had returned to her childhood, her eyes closed in comfort.
“Our daughter. We love you.”
A gentle touch stroking her head. A warm smile.
A time spent in a happy family that she had never experienced in her life.
Before she knew it, Oznia had forgotten that this was an illusion. Deeply asleep, as if she was having a pleasant dream, she couldn’t think of escaping the illusion.
Who could consider this a trap? If there is such a sweet poison, one might even want to be addicted to it.
At that moment, a loud noise echoed in the distance, as if an earthquake had occurred.
Oznia’s parents looked at each other with worried eyes.
“Honey, what’s that noise?”
“I don’t know, maybe a monster is rampaging somewhere…?”
Young Oznia felt anxious at her parents’ worried voices.
Seeing her like that, her parents gave her a reassuring smile and embraced her warmly once again.
In the arms of her loving parents, Oznia slowly felt the vibrations coming closer.
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