Chapter 297 Do You Believe in Fate?
The moon climbed up the horizon once more. Cold and desolate moonlight pierced through layers of mist and shone into the Mushroom Cottage.
Alice leaned against the cauldron, which was glowing scarlet from the fire beneath it. Despair, sorrow, and numbness were the only things that filled her bloodshot eyes!
Crying, begging, cursing, swearing…
She had already done everything within her abilities over these past few days.
However, it didn't matter whether she put on a facade or wore her heart on her sleeve. The old witch remained as resolute and stubborn as before and completely ignored Alice's pleas. The only thing that the old witch would do was stand upon her tall stool as she stirred the mixture in the cauldron with a massive wooden spoon. She would mumble and mutter some nonsensical stories under her breath as she did so.
The accursed python was still waiting above the lid of the cauldron. Every time Alice tried to escape, it would appear in a timely manner and force her back into the cauldron.
A gloomy swamp, a scary cottage, an ugly witch, and a chilling python…
All of this sounded like a dark and fantastical fairy tale!
However, to Alice, these things only meant an intolerable amount of suffering and torture.
She couldn't sleep, nor did she dare try.
Every time she fell asleep, the spatial barrier around the surface of her body would vanish and the only thing that awaited her was the boiling brew. The pale, smooth skin on her small body would be scalded. Blisters and wounds would instantly cover her body.
And when she screamed and writhed inside the cauldron, the old witch would hurry over in excitement, regardless of where she was. The witch would then ladle out a spoonful of the blood-red brew and drink it immediately. In her own words, brew soaked in Alice's blood always had a taste of fate mixed within!
The only thing Alice could do was stay awake. She used every fiber of strength in her body to resist the weariness she felt. When she felt like she was no longer able to carry on, she would silently dispel the spatial barrier around her left hand and allow the heart-piercing pain to wash over her skin. It was only through such action that she was able to stop the weariness from consuming her.
After the last couple of days, her left hand had been completely scalded. Not an inch of it was left untouched. Thick purple-black scars and bruises were layered upon her skin. New burns kept being inflicted before old wounds could be healed.
Alice barely managed to hold out during the last two days by doing so.
When Greem's tall figure finally appeared at the cottage, her Spirit was already on the verge of breaking! She was nearly unconscious and completely numb to all external stimuli. Surprisingly, even under such circumstances, she still maintained a thin layer of spatial barrier around her to protect her body from the boiling brew.
Greem's Flame Fiend Heart jumped intensely when he saw the terrible state Alice was in. For a moment, the seal was almost undone as the flames of anger spread across his body.
"Ten days have passed; I will be leaving with Alice!" Greem coldly spat out these words. He reached into the boiling cauldron and quickly carried Alice out of the water.
Two clusters of flame burned in Greem's pitch-black eyes when he saw Alice's wounded left hand, and the blisters left all over her body. He used the last vestiges of his rationality to suppress his anger and marched out of the cottage with Alice in his arms.
Oddly enough, the short old witch only smiled as she looked upon all this. She did not interfere or interrupt Greem's actions.
It wasn't until Greem's tall figure had been completely obscured by the mist that she put dropped the smile and let out a haunting shriek, reminiscent of a nightingale.
"Fate! Fate! Fate… "
When Alice finally woke up, she found herself in a clean and neat room.
The decoration was simple and basic.
A single bed, a chair, a brown desk; this was all the furniture there was.
A towering figure sat before the wooden desk, silently reading his books.
Alice turned under the soft sheets. She could feel that she was naked from the smooth feeling of the cloth against her skin. A cooling sensation came from the wounds all over her body. It mixed with the stinging pain and caused unbearable itches on her skin.
Alice raised her left hand. The several layers of white cloth wrapped around it had practically turned it into a dumpling. She put her hand against her nose and sniffed. She could smell styptic cream and skin regenerating ointment.
Her tongue was bitter and numb. She opened her mouth and found a Leaf of Life in it.
Hmph! Throwing me to that old witch without a second word. Now you want to use these little tricks to gain my favor back? You wish!
For some reason, Alice's tears streaked down her cheek uncontrollably, even though she was being dismissive of Greem's care.
With the sharp senses of an adept, not a single bit of commotion, no matter how minor, would escape his notice.
Greem's tall figure had already appeared at the bedside when Alice started crying. He bent down and looked at her.
“Do your wounds still hurt?"
"I have already applied ointments for you. You should be able to completely recover in two or three days with your Physique. There won't be any obvious scars!"
An awkward silence fell over the two after the simple conversation.
They had both been apprentice adepts once. They had both crawled and clawed their way up from the very bottom. They had experienced all manner of fearsome suffering. In comparison, the torture this time wasn't necessarily the worst. It didn't matter which apprentice adept they were. All of them had to shoulder this pain on their own. No one would share the agony with them, even if their blood ran dry and their tears were exhausted.
This was why all adepts and apprentices developed a cold and uncaring personality.
This was also why Greem, who tried to be caring, and Alice, who was the one being care for, had no idea how to continue the conversation.
"Alice, you were there for ten days. Do you know why the old witch treated you like that?" The question popped into Greem's mind, and he couldn't help but ask.
"What reason could it be for? It must be because she's gone insane! She's a crazy hag… " Alice clenched her teeth in hatred when she recalled the torture she had endured.
"I have an odd feeling… " Greem frowned and hesitated.
"It seemed like she was trying to help you!" Greem paused for a moment before confessing his thoughts on the issue.
"Help me!" Alice's eyes were opened wide. They almost popped out of her skull from the ludicrous suggestion. She waved her dumpling-hand around angrily as she roared, "After everything she did to me, and you say she's trying to help me? Have you gone mad as well?"
Greem wasn't daunted by Alice's tantrum. A thoughtful expression appeared on his face.
"You and I both know very well what the Northern Witches are like. They are an isolationist group of individuals who are extremely particular about their traditions and legacies. You and Liana belong to two different branches of witches. She wouldn't easily harm you in fear of interfering in the selection of the Witch of Fate."
"What about that?"
"If the two of us aren't mistaken in that manner, don't you find her actions odd?"
"Of course her actions are odd, she's gone completely mad!"
"Alice, calm down. Don't let anger blind you. Try and think. In doing what she did, what message did she want to send you?!"
Alice still shook her head in confusion.
"Her actions clearly angered you. But it also made you feel your own weakness and helplessness in that situation. What did you want the most when your emotions were at their peak?"
"Yes! Power! You need the power to strengthen yourself. You need the power to exact revenge. If that's the case, where does your power come from?"
"Where does power come from?" Alice repeated in a daze.
"You awakened the talent to be a Witch of Fate! Even though numerous other Witches of Fate awakened at the same time, you must know the source of your power if you trace it to its origins!"
Alice shook her head as if she still didn't fully understand.
Even though she was extremely talented and smart, her lack of experience made it difficult for her to keep up with Greem.
"You must always remember the source of your power." Greem patiently taught her, "You awakened the talent of the Witch of Fate. The source of your power can only come from a single thing– fate. Alice, let me ask you; do you believe in fate?"
Alice lifted her head and locked eyes with Greem. For the first time, she started to consider the true meaning of her talent as a Witch of Fate.
Believe in fate? Do I believe in fate?
Again and again, Alice repeated the question to herself. She fell into a stupor for a moment.
Indeed, ever since she awakened to her spatial affinity, manipulating space became second nature. She could command and control space as she willed. It was thanks to this powerful talent that she was able to dominate all opponents of the same level.
Her powerful strength caused her to be lost.
Everyone's fear and respect made her arrogant.
One by one, they succeeded in causing her to get drunk on her power, and she forgot the origins of her true power!
Alice recalled her time so far as an apprentice adept. She had never seemed to have consciously tried to understand or master the concept of fate.
She was at ease with enjoying the glory brought about by her talent in fate without ever trying to understand it.
What now then? At this moment, when she finally felt the humiliation of the weak, and once again desired for power, what should she do? Meditate day after day like those other adepts? Accumulate resources to strengthen herself? Or…
Alice suddenly felt even more lost.
Even if she had a clear idea of her path forward, and understood the true nature of her strength, how was she to experience that intangible and illusory fate?
Would shouting 'Fate, I believe in you!' into the sky allow her to gain power?
Her thoughts were all over the place, but she couldn't find a correct path out of the labyrinth. Alice raised her head and looked hopefully at Greem.
"What should I do? Teach me!" Alice, for the first time, requested with all her sincerity.
"Do you believe in fate?" Greem asked once more, his tone heavy and serious.
This was both a question and an answer!