Thomas picked up the mug of beer and took a long whiff of it. He was pleasantly surprised to detect a hint of hops in the scent of the beer. He sighed happily and took a swig of the beer. It had the slightly bitter taste of hops with a hint of something sweet, honey perhaps. Whatever it was made with it was absolutely delicious. Thinking about it, he hadn't actually eaten anything that tasted bad since he started playing. Not that he was complaining, of course, no one wanted to eat something that tasted bad!
Thomas enjoyed his meal, and a few extra mugs of beer, before heading up the stairs to find his room. The room was a little smaller than the one he'd had at The Swans Nest, but it was nicely furnished with a decent sized bed, a dresser, and even a closet. It looked like it would be pretty good for a multi-day stay. He made his way over to the bed and sat on it. The mattress was a lot softer and more comfortable than the one available at The Swans Nest. He kicked off his boots and rolled into the center of the bed to relax.
He opened his character sheet and browsed through it for a bit. He didn't have any experience to spend and his skills hadn't grown at all since the last time he looked. He'd been skipping his grinding sessions for his 'All Seeing Eyes' innate ability lately and it was showing. He glanced at the time and since there were still a couple of hours before he should go to sleep, he decided to cycle through using 'All Seeing Eyes' and 'Serenity' for the next few hours to rank up both of them.
The following morning, Thomas blazed through his breakfast without even really tasting it. He was feeling excited beyond belief. He was finally taking his first step forward in learning about magic and he was extremely excited about it. In all fantasy games, magic was one of the most powerful forces that players could have access to. It was also one of the most fun to employ and use in combat. Who doesn't want to see huge blasts of fire or massive spears of ice destroying their enemies in a visually appealing way? Of course, that didn't mean weapons couldn't have flashy and amazing attacks and techniques, they were just less appealing to him on a personal level.
After devouring his breakfast and turning in his room key, Thomas left The Crooked Knuckle and made his way toward the academy once again. As he approached the academy he noticed a marked increase in foot traffic, horse-drawn carriages, and horse riders. It seemed like it would be a very busy morning at the academy. As he got closer to the academy and saw more and more people he started to feel a little nervous. He'd not been in a crowd in a long time and it was disconcerting to him.
At the gates to the academy, there was a long line of young looking people heading inside while the people escorting them were left waiting outside. He could easily see that some of the people entering the academy were from affluent families, likely nobles, as well as people dressed like him in plain clothing that could either be commoners, adventurers, or fellow players.
As he stepped into the line filled with younger people, he started to wonder if he should have taken the time to find a clothing store and pick out a fancier outfit. After thinking about it though, he decided it didn't matter. He didn't need to dress like a noble or pretend to be one. He was who he was and that's all that mattered to him. He'd rather be dressed comfortably than dressed to impress.
The line moved quickly and funneled the potential students into the courtyard of the academy. Thomas finally got his first full look at the academy and was blown away instantly. The place was massive! There were dozens of buildings of various shapes and sizes, but they were all well constructed to be sturdy and beautiful. There was marble everywhere. He looked around for a bit before his attention was drawn to where all the potential new students were being led.
In front of the parade of students was a group of older men and women dressed in various robes and other outfits. They gave off a feeling of dignity that Thomas immediately associated with powerful individuals. They were likely the teachers. In front of the teachers was a row of tables with aides sitting at them. Every time a student finished speaking to an aide they would either head further into the school or back towards the gates. Those heading further inside looked excited or pleased with themselves while everyone exiting looked deeply disappointed.
When Thomas arrived in front of one of the aides, the man looked at him and asked, "Do you have a recommendation letter or will you be taking the entrance examination?"
Thomas quickly pulled out his recommendation letter and held it out to the aide. The letter was still sealed so the aide looked it over and seeing the name written on it his eyes widened. After he recovered from his surprise he looked up at Thomas and squinted his eyes as his surprise turned into suspicion, "I hope you are aware that presenting a fake letter of introduction comes with a very stiff penalty."
Thomas was a little surprised at the warning at first, but then thinking about it he kind of understood. Hekrin was probably a notorious asshole and seemed to have connections in the capital. So it was likely that the aide knew about Hekrin's reputation and probably assumed someone like Hekrin would never give a recommendation letter out. Since it was a legitimate letter, Thomas didn't feel worried in the least. He smiled at the aide and said, "It's real, so there will be no issues."
The aide continued to eye Thomas with suspicion before nodding and handing the letter back to him, "Head towards building C." The aide turned and pointed to one of the buildings that potential students were walking towards, "There your recommendation letter will be reviewed for legitimacy, you will be tested, and you will be required to pay your entrance fee." The aide looked at Thomas again, "You are aware of the entrance fee, yes?"
"Master Hekrin informed me of the thousand gold fee, yes."
The aide smirked like he'd proven to himself that Thomas was a fake, "The fee is actually 1,500 gold. It was raised years ago."
Thomas's only reaction was to shrug his shoulders, "No problem."
He turned and left the aides section and followed a few other potential new students towards building C. The interior of the building looked like a large auditorium with rows of seats all facing a large stage. Standing on the stage was a man that looked like a quintessential wizard. He wore a long flowing robe, a tall pointy hat, and even had a long white beard that hung down to his waist. Seeing the man, Thomas felt the urge to facepalm at the blatant stereotype. From the stage, the wizardly looking man was speaking calmly while his voice resonated through the room. He repeated every now and then, "Potential students. Please find a seat. Once enough students have arrived we will begin the process of reviewing your recommendation letters and testing you for your primary element."
While Thomas made his way to a random seat in the third row, more aides came out and began setting up tables and chairs on the stage. Once they were done, they left. Thomas relaxed in his seat and spent the next hour waiting as more and more potential students filed into the auditorium. Finally, the bustle began to die down. Once the final person stepped into the auditorium the doors creaked closed.
The wizardly looking man on the stage got to change what he was saying after repeating it so long, "We will now begin the final selection process and testing. As everyone here is here with a recommendation letter, the first step will be verifying the legitimacy of the letter. If we find your letter to be fake you will face the consequences. If your letter is legitimate we will move on to testing your Magic attribute and finding out which element you have the most affinity with."
He took a breath before he continued, "As long as your Magic attribute isn't too low you will pass and be required to pay your entry fee of 1,500 gold immediately. If you cannot afford the entry fee or did not bring it with you, you can go ahead and leave now and save us from wasting precious time."
No one stood up to leave, it seemed like everyone had been well prepared. If Thomas hadn't been carrying over two thousand gold in his storage ring he would have had to leave at this point. Perhaps it really was a good thing he didn't go shopping at all yesterday. The man on the stage waited in silence for a bit to see if anyone would leave, when no one did he spoke again, "We will begin in a few minutes."
He left the stage and true to his words he returned a few minutes later with an entourage of people in robes behind him. The wizardly man guided two aides carrying a stand that had a massive glass orb sitting in a stand atop it. Thomas sighed and shook his head. Why did it always come down to an orb of some sort?! The aides set the orb stand down in the middle of the stage and left while the others that had arrived sat down behind the tables that had been set out. The wizard spoke again, "We will now begin testing. We will be starting with the front row while moving from right to left. When you are pointed to you will join us on the stage."
After he finished speaking he pointed to the first potential student. The young woman climbed up onto the stage and presented her recommendation letter to the panel of teachers. They opened it, read it, did something to test it and after coming to a mutual agreement they all nodded before one of the women spoke, "We recognize that your recommendation letter from Count Tressan is legitimate. Please place your hand on the orb and channel your mana into it so we can see your Magic attribute and primary element."
The young woman nodded and did as she had been instructed. A short moment after she placed her hand on the orb it began to glow a bright blue while displaying the number 77. The panel of teachers nodded and announced, "Your primary element is water with a Magic attribute of 77. Not bad, you pass. Pay your entrance fee and you will be guided to your dorm."
After the young woman handed over her entrance fee one of the aides guided her away. Thomas sighed and leaned back in his seat. He was sitting in the third row and there were quite a few people in front of him. If he'd known the order they would be doing things in he would have sat closer to the front to get it over with quicker. On the flip side, he felt like his introduction letter from Hekrin would cause a stir so the fewer witnesses the better.
The only thing that Thomas found interesting were the various different elements that people had as their primary attributes. Starting with the first woman there was water, fire, wind, lightning, ice, and earth. However, one student did catch his attention when the orb glowed a silver color and his attribute was announced to be metal. While the man with the metal attribute seemed disappointed, Thomas thought it was intriguing and would have been rather happy to have it himself.
After nearly an hour it was Thomas's turn to climb onto the stage where he presented the recommendation letter from Hekrin. After seeing Hekrin's name on the front of the letter, every teacher sitting there eyed Thomas up and down with disbelief. The woman he'd handed his letter to spoke in an incredulous voice, "You honestly expect us to believe that Grandmaster Hekrin actually wrote a recommendation letter for an otherworlder?"
Thomas frowned and answered curtly, "Perhaps you should read and check the letter before questioning its integrity."
No one else had been questioned about their letters and what did him being an otherworlder have to do with anything at all? Were the teachers here racist? Hearing his reply the woman frowned, but said no more as she opened the letter and read the contents. After she was done she passed it to the others who all read it. Once everyone read it they set it down on the table and all placed a single finger on it. Thomas hadn't seen them do this with anyone else's recommendation letter. After they touched it for a moment it glowed brightly while a hologram-like vision of Hekrins head appeared floating in the air.
Thomas was shocked by this because, again, this had not happened with any of the other students or their letters. The floating head of Hekrin scowled fiercely while glaring into space. When it spoke it was clear that Hekrin had been really pissed off when recording this as he roared, "HOW DARE YOU ORC SACKS DOUBT THE INTEGRITY OF MY APPRENTICE!"
Hekrin's roaring voice shook the air and clearly shocked the teachers who had activated it. For his part, Thomas felt a bit of warmth in his heart. It seemed Hekrin had anticipated that the people in the academy would doubt him and had been well prepared ahead of time. The floating head of Hekrin roared again, "IF ANY OF YOU STILL DARE TO DOUBT THAT THOMAS IS MY APPRENTICE YOU'RE WELCOME TO COME AND FIND ME! BE PREPARED TO PAY A HIGH PRICE FOR YOUR INSOLENCE!"
The floating head turned around to look at Thomas while giving a warm smile. When it spoke again the voice was softer, "I am sorry that I couldn't prepare you more for the academy, but it is a teachers job to show their student the truth of the world. These people were too petty and narrow minded to believe my letter alone and activated this message. I suggest you memorize their faces and not accept any of them as a teacher in the future, clearly they will not be of any help to you. I'm sorry that my personal baggage has caused you problems already. Good luck, I am awaiting your return."
After it finished speaking the floating head of Hekrin vanished and let Thomas see the absolutely flabbergasted looks on the faces of the teachers and remaining students in the auditorium. It took a few moments for the teachers to recover and to their credit, or detriment depending on your point of view, they all looked contrite like they'd just been scolded by their parents. The woman that had been speaking for the group of teachers swallowed before saying, "Go ahead and channel your mana into the orb so we can test your Magic attribute and primary element."