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Chapter 14 – Prestige Academy

Prestige, located at the edge of New Vox and near the ocean coast, was broken off into sections—like a five-leaf clover or a pentagon. Four of them were housed by the "main" elements: fire, water, air, earth, with each one protected by a barrier of its respective element. The fifth and final House was not a "main" element, however, so it was treated separately from the other four.

The Aer House had something akin to a tornado-dome which never stopped spinning. It used to be that any aeromancer wishing to pass would need to use their mancy to enter and exit each time. But times have changed, and now the aeromancy students were somehow keyed to allow passage, or else they would be whisked away alongside a gust of wind to the entrance.

The Ignis House had a pillar of flame. Spinning inside the vortex was several small fire mines that exploded when it came into contact with a student. As dangerous as all that sounded, the fire didn't act as a normal flame, meaning a student without a key could never be burnt to a crisp as the heat was controlled, though their clothes could still become damaged. We aren't savages, Seti remembered reading a professor once saying to a concerned parent.

The Aqua House had something like a mix between a fountain and a sprinkler—except it was big enough to be mistaken for a waterfall. It stood in the center of the House and surrounded the area with a constant stream of water. The pressure was powerful enough that if a student tried to walk into it, they would be repelled from entering and thrown back into the strangely, uncomfortably cold surrounding water. A current would bring them back to the area near the entrance.

The Terra House was surrounded by a mud swamp. Because its defenses weren't as impressive as the other two, Geomancers had wanted to put spikes at the bottom, but that suggestion was quickly dismissed. Anybody foolish enough to enter without being keyed would wander into the swamp and end up being pulled downwards (almost like quicksand), then swallowed by the earth itself and spat out just outside the entrance. If that wasn't enough, the House was also protected by a mud-dome, in case any sly students would want to try entering from above.

Often times, when people heard about all of the defenses present at each house, they wondered what purpose they served. Most thought that it was to protect students in the event of an attack, but the real reason was because student mancers could "assault" each element's respective House. If they succeeded in penetrating any House's defenses and made it inside, they would become keyed to that house, effectively letting them come and go without the barriers hindering them.

"And if someone could break into all of the Houses, they would be granted a unique title," Seti said. "The current headmaster managed to do it, so he's known as both the Headmaster and as an Arch Mage, which is an impressive title in a world where the word "mage" is frowned upon. That's pretty cool, I think."

Tyronn nodded while looking out the train window. He wasn't as interested in some of the fun activities Prestige had to offer. Seti didn't mind; these types of things always excited him. Someone else might ask: what was the purpose to assaulting the Houses, and he would answer gleefully, as it was so simple:

For the prestige.

Though, now that he thought about it for the first time since he entered the mancer world, how did those barriers work? Who was responsible for their upkeep cost? Where did the mana come from?

The train rode smoothly on the bridge to the academy.

The fifth section of the pentagon was known as the Animus House, which meant mind, soul, and spirit. The remaining three mancy types resided there—the electromancers, crafters, and vivamancers. Unlike the other four Houses, no barrier protected the Animus House. It was open to anyone and also doubled as a recreational area with many activities for students and guests to use. There were all manner of game tables and other activities for anyone interested to relax or to blow off some steam.

Sharing the Animus House section and overlooking the ocean view was a stadium, where people could play Astral Ball—the sport of mancers.

Seti wasn't accustomed to the rules of Astral Ball, as he didn't watch it much. He did know a few things that made it appealing to the masses. The game had to be flexible enough to allow a team to have different composition of mancers and still be competitive. This didn't stop meta teams from forming—meta meaning Most Effective Tactic Available. The meta teams would dominate the league and people would cry for new rules to be established to make the sport fun again. But naturally, anti-meta teams would form and quiet that crowd.

Like most sports, one could get quite in-depth about them, as they could get complicated. The goal of this sport was simply to try to make the ball explode on the enemy's goalpost. "Explode" was meant in the most literal of ways, in this case. What was interesting was how each mancy and sometimes each mancers niche could be used in unique and expressive ways.

If he remembered correctly, Prestige has their own tournament during the school year. While Seti has no interest in playing the actual sport, maybe he could learn a few aeromancy tricks while watching.

Then, at the very center of the pentagon-shaped campus was the Main House, which was where classes took place. It was one of the few places where students of all elements and Houses gathered, as there were quite a few classes that all mancers took together, given the overlap between all mancy disciplines. Other than its numerous classrooms, the Main House also had a massive library that grew from the contributions and donations of alumni and other donors over time. Additionally, many former secrets of the magical world were made public there; it was only a matter of getting access into Prestige Academy and reading it.

It was important to provide students a place to practice and hone their skills. The Main House also had crafter-built battle rooms for this purpose. Specifically, the crafter-rooms were phasm based, and the strength of the phasm walls could be adjusted. Mancers could test their strength against a measly tier one wall, or see how they would fare against the might of the sixth tier.

Most importantly, and usually the first question asked by students on their first day, was that the Main House served lunch. The other Houses would serve breakfast and dinner, making it imperative that students knew where to go when it was time to eat.

The train stuttered to a stop. They had arrived.

Seti and Tyronn left together. They collected their belongings and made their way to the train platform. Tyronn, who had appeared uninterested in Seti's words, was now looking at each elemental House in the distance. It would be a sight to see—if Seti's sight could see.

The other passengers got off the train and gawked in amazement at the surrounding view. Seti noticed that a few people didn't even stop to look as they walked past a large bulletin board, marking them as those that had most likely seen everything already.

As it turned out, this was indeed accurate. The bulletin board in question had instructions for the new students. It stated that they were to go to the Main House for orientation. Seti was secretly grateful that Tyronn took the lead (as the blind adept couldn't read what the board said), and suspected the crafter was secretly grateful that the one who defeated him in a holmgang was following him. An alpha-type personality, that.

Thin roads and sidewalks dotted the area. Seti wondered why these roads existed, considering that vehicles weren't allowed to cross the bridge into Prestige. Then, he got his answer. A person rode a crafter-made bicycle past them—without needing to peddle. Someone else was atop a phasm scooter that drove itself. Seti knew phasm vehicles were a thing, but never saw very many in person.

Girls walked past on the sidewalk wearing different variations of the Prestige uniform. Some had blazers and ties combined with skirts and long socks or stockings, while others had a simple button up shirt with trousers. Regardless of the type of uniform they wore, they all had similar designs that represented Prestige Academy.

As Seti and Tyronn moved towards the Main House, they stopped before the entrance gate. Students were entering and exiting in and out of the large castle-like gates. Some had luggage, whereas others seemed to have already been settled in and were now just wandering aimlessly.

An older lady in a blouse stood by the gates. She made eye contact with them and gestured them forward.

"I am Professor Dawn. I will direct you to where you need to go. Names and Mancy type?" She held up a clipboard and pushed a small pair of glasses up the bridge of her nose.

"Tyronn Zhwan. Craft," Tyronn grunted.

"Seti Serio. Air," Seti replied.

"Serio?" She looked over her glasses and gave him a strange look. The look vanished after a brief moment. "Both of you will be at the Animus House to the north. A schedule has been posted in each room to let you know where to get your keys, obtain your uniform, and pick up your individual class schedules."

"There's a mistake with my rooming," Seti said. "I'm an air adept; I should be with the Aer House."

"Exception students are all at the Animus House," she said with a bit of annoyance in her voice.

Seti furrowed his brows. "Why am I being split from the aeromancers?" He asked.

Professor Dawn closed her eyes and kept them closed for a few seconds. "When the Exceptions program started, mancers complained about lower echelon tiers staying with them...let's call it pride."

That irritated Seti to no end. It was misplaced pride and discrimination that was rooted in a sense of superiority from having a higher tier. It seemed that aeromancers went to great lengths to be distinct from the wind adepts, and he suspected that the other mancers in every other House felt the same way; elitism between higher tier mancers and adepts was the harsh reality at Prestige.

Tyronn and Seti left and made their way to a trolley stop. Seti figured it would be a good way to get around while he was still blind, something he hoped he could figure out and resolve sooner rather than later.

The trolley itself was crafted, making it a phasm trolley. It was likely made by the student who drove it. It had no walls, so the passengers could easily step inside and sit down into a seat quickly and easily. Since phasm was a see-through material, most students with perfectly functional vision would be capable of seeing the ground pass underneath. What stumped Seti was that this trolley had no engine or other means of propulsion like a real one would require. The wheels seemingly spun without cause, so it was probably mana that functioned as a source of power.

They drove past neatly trimmed grass, some flowerbeds, and even a pair of students having a picnic. It was a serene atmosphere.

After a few stops, they finally arrived at the Animus House. Two towering pillars stood tall and upright beside them as they passed the entranceway. It almost felt like entering the capitol building of a major world power. The two of them lugged their baggage up a flight of stairs and stepped inside their new dorm room building.

"Elliot!" Someone shouted as they walked in. "Two more people—it's your turn!"

A student hopped down the spiral staircase, skipping every other step and landed before them.

"Sup, my dudes! The name's Elliot." He had short hair and wore a polo shirt with jeans, rather than a Prestige uniform. He held out his hand. Just as Seti was about to shake it, Elliot reached out beyond the hand and gripped his arm. "I prefer armshakes over handshakes."

Tyronn didn't entertain the man and kept his hands to himself. He gave a glare to Elliot, who didn't seem bothered and kept his upbeat attitude.

"If you're a crafter, this is the right place! Electromancers are on the floor above us, and the viva rooms are on the third floor." He pointed at the stairway as he spoke.

"What about Exception students?" Seti asked.

"Oh." Elliot gave a surprise nod. "Yeah, that's this building, too. While upper tiers can pick any available room, you guys have yours assigned to you. Come on, I'll show you."

Elliot led them to the left wing, where the male dormitories resided. He explained the layout of the Animus House and provided directions as they walked, making sure to let them know where the cafeteria, the lounge, the gaming and workout rooms, and the swimming pool were. Of course, only Prestige swimwear was allowed at the pool.

They finally arrived to a hallway full of rooms on the third floor.

"This one belongs to a guy who came last week—Aiden was his name, an Exception like both of you," Elliot said. "Yep, it looks like those two rooms are free. There's a schedule on the door inside. By the way, the opening on the door there is to let letters and package receipts through—trade the receipts at the Main House to get any parcels addressed to you." He turned to leave when he stopped. "Oh! Before I forget. Don't enter the right wing, which is where the girls' dorms are. They'll slice you in half if they get the chance."

Seti went to the room that Tyronn didn't pick and set his bags on the single bed. It was similar to his old dorm room back at Lambsgard University. There wasn't a TV (not that it mattered to Seti), but it had its own toilet and shower. A piece of paper was taped to the back of the door, so he took out his phone to take a picture of it with his app.

As Professor Dawn had said at the Main House, the paper contained the pre-term schedule for the week. It was the same all week, allowing students to take care of each matter when and how they saw fit.

The schedule had the location of where to get his uniform (after getting measured, of course), and the place where "keying" would happen. Seti wondered what they meant by that. Lastly, it mentioned where he could pick and confirm his classes.

With some alone time, Seti unpacked and made the room feel as homely as possible. Once done, he felt the urge to surf the net with his phone. This was something he had done habitually in the past, but recent life changing events kept him preoccupied. He started to look up information. The first topic was Tyronn.

Tyronn Zhwan was the full name, as Seti remembered when the crafter had introduced himself. Originally, he was born in the country of Keldorn—which was ruled by the Paladins, but grew up in Kemet, which was nearly half the world away. Given that he's been all over the place, it made sense why he had such a unique speech pattern.

Seti was also surprised to learn that Tyronn was an accomplished Astral Ball player and that he made it to the nationals several times with his high school. His drill was great for something called the Offensive Flank position, making it rather easy for him to overcome the enemy guards.

Seti wondered why an Astral Ball player would join the Sentinel guild. The two were almost exact opposites and couldn't be any more different in that Astral Ball was an entertaining and leisurely sport that people could enjoy, while the Sentinel guild placed their lives on the line to do battle against primals.

The second topic Seti looked up was Dora Serio. The events at Benediction made the young girl appear to be something of a prodigy. Information about her was scarce, except for one tidbit: she was known as the Fourth Immortal.

Huh.

The Immortal titles were only something used in his country, and currently there were four in existence. As one might expect given the definition of the word, Immortals couldn't die by conventional means. Cyrus Everstone, the Second Immortal, had a powerful barrier that supposedly couldn't be destroyed—exceptions included the Dragons and those of that level of power. But with Dora as the Fourth Immortal, exactly how was she…immortal? She was a vivamancer, not a crafter that could create a barrier around herself. The site didn't provide any information on that regard, but he figured it might be something like super regeneration.

Curious to see who beat out Cyrus, Seti searched who held the First Immortal title, but the answer was anticlimactic. Aegis, the Octet's fifth seat.

Seti looked up whatever else he could find on the Serio family. Melvin Serio, known as Blade, had a rivalry against a man titled as the Reaper—though he hated that title and wanted people to use his real name: Eustuss, the Octet's sixth seat. Eustuss used to preside over another city where Melvin lived (prior to the exile), and the Serio crafter would pick a fight any time he saw Eustuss. Since Eustuss was an eighth tiered mancer, Melvin could never win in a fight. Whatever other problems they had wasn't revealed to the public, and the Octet's sixth seat was relocated to New Vox, where Seti now resided.

Next up was Faulkner. Reading about him brought a smile to Seti's face. The Wind Dragon had made a comment about how one Dragon was worth two Octet seats. So, whenever Faulkner and Shanna showed up anywhere and wanted to "play-fight", as the website put it, the Octet would have to send half of their forces just to equalize the match.

Seti didn't think Faulkner was being literal. All members of the Octet were tier eight, and every Dragon was also tier eight. He had a hard time picturing how one tier eight could consistently do well against two eights.

Other Serio facts included how some prominent members left the family. Edgar Serio (who Seti knew was Henry Adams) was an intelligent theorycrafter. Also, there used to be five elders (and not the four Seti knew about), but one of them left around the same time as Henry. Speculation arose that it was because of a disagreement on how the Serio and the Vescio family handled one particular affair:

The annihilation of the Asani family.

"That got dark rather quickly," Seti mumbled. Annihilation was an interesting word choice.

Before Seti could listen to any more information about the Asani family, he heard a banging on the door over at the room next to his. A few footsteps later and then he heard banging on his door as well.

"Wakey, wakey!" Elliot shouted. "Settled in? Let's go play some pool."

Seti figured he may as well go and try to have maintain good relations with some of his dorm mates. Tyronn didn't join them. A moment later and they were in the game room. The place was long and contained several activities, including a pool table, ping pong table, throwing darts board, and other table games. A TV hung on the wall and played some movie. About half a dozen people were in the room, doing their own thing. Elliot led him to a man next to the pool table.

Elliot gestured to Seti. "Trevor, meet…uhm…"

"Seti."

Trevor and Seti shook hands. The pool table was set up and ready for a new game. Trevor had a pool stick in his hand, but Seti couldn't find the rack to get more.

"Five or six?" Trevor asked.

"Hm?" Seti asked.

"Your tier," he clarified.

"Oh, Seti isn't a crafter," Elliot said. "He's with the Exceptions."

"Ah, so a four," Trevor said. Seti didn't correct him. "Then get him a stick."

Elliot walked over to an open window. On the window ledge was what looked like a piece of rectangular chalk. He took it and held it before him. It grew and expanded into a cue stick. He held out the second chalk to Seti.

"Just pump your mana into it and it'll become a cue," Elliot instructed.

Seti hesitated. He didn't know how much mana it would take to grow the pool cue, and at tier one, the little amount it took might take more than he desired.

Elliot seemed to sense his reluctance, so he traded his stick for the one that Seti held. He grew it as well so that they all had their phasm pool cue sticks.

Seti examined the one in hand. "That's interesting. A self-contained phasm item that allows anyone to use it?"

"Better believe it," Elliot said. "We call 'em Seeds, since they grow with mana. People from other houses come here, so we need to give them a way to make game items. Problem is…they start deteriorating after a few days if they're left unused, so we have to keep renewing them."

Since Tyronn wasn't there to make it a two-on-two match, they decided to have Trevor and Elliot play the first game, and then take turns after that. The table was set and the game began with Elliot taking the first shot.

"Why not just have actual physical items, then?" Seti asked.

Trevor clicked his tongue when he missed his shot, though Seti figured the frustration came from the comment.

"Careful," Elliot playfully warned by wiggling his finger. "This is a sensitive topic for him."

They noticed Seti's confused look, so they took turns explaining.

Seti could follow what they said because he had a basic understanding of what crafters could do. While elemental mancers used their mana to weave elements, crafters used their mana to create an object called phasm—a tiny see-through material, which could take different shapes, such as a sphere or a cube. Some say it was the physical representation of mana, because it had a random colored hue unique to the mancer doing the crafting. Crafters could combine this material into simple objects, like a pole or a sword, and then summon it on command.

The problem that Trevor had was that crafter stuff wasn't mainstream. It was possible for some upper tiered crafters to create their own vehicles that could drive on city roads, but that was illegal. The legal ruling could be summed up as follows: if everyone couldn't do it, then it shouldn't be done. Crafters, like everyone else, should thus have to purchase a vehicle.

"Which is a bit hypocritical," Trevor said as he knocked down another ball into the hole. "The Rescue Guilds use phasm trains to evacuate people during a big primal attack."

Seti understood why the word of the law was the way it was. Vehicle prices were in the tens of thousands, and to have that negated by simply being a crafter could change how society as a whole functioned, not to mention the economic ramifications.

"If that's the case, then why are there so many phasm made things around here?" Seti asked. "Prestige seems to allow it."

"Two reasons," Elliot explained while holding up two fingers. "One: with the abyss gate in the area, all spells and mana activity is cheaper. There is no better time to learn how to do these things than now, especially since not all students have gates at home."

While the abyss gate lowered mana costs, it did not lower the grit cost of the spell. Since Seti was left wanting in the grit department, he still wouldn't be able to cast real spells outside of his divine mode. Speaking of his divine mode, he intended to see how much cheaper Air Step and Aerial Slash would be with the abyss gate in this city. He would do that when he visited the battle halls.

Why an abyss gate lowered mana costs was not definitively known. To understand why would be to understand the gate itself. But because it had this effect, it made places with an abyss gate present a kind of gathering place for mancers.

"Two: we're a closed system," Elliot continued. "The goal's to teach people how to get good, except we eventually become too good for society and therefore can't be too creative. On that note, I feel a bit bad for our Electromancers."

He knew that much about electromancers. Electromancy affected the progress of technology and helped invent new things, but there was a law that stated that if any electromancy item was to exist, there had to be a non-mancer version of it. The Guild Association didn't want mancers to have a monopoly on anything—except, of course, defending the nation against primals.

"Heck, if it wasn't for primals, I bet they'd try to shut down all mancers if they could," Trevor said.

"Yeah," Seti agreed.

It all started when they "uninvented" mages. The people wanted something they could understand and something they could control. Which meant everything outside the known spheres were shunned. That fear might have originated from the Second Age ending. It only took a few people going all out to change the global map.

"What I absolutely hate," Elliot started, "is how they suffocate the creativity we have."

That word grabbed Seti's attention. Suffocation. It reminded him of Libby and Ivan from the Exceptions exam.

"Why should we specialize Clay with our mancy if it can't really be used to its full potential? It's no wonder everyone goes Solid."

"Clay? Solid?" Seti asked Elliot.

Their game finished (Trevor won) so Seti was up next. He had to make sure he got the striped balls, since the stripes allowed him to almost make out the balls with his omniview. The solid colored balls were mixed in with the black ball and he couldn't differentiate between them. Seti played with the idea of claiming a version of color blindness if he got solids, but dismissed the idea as foolhardy. An excuse wasn't necessary in the end, as stripes became his.

Elliot explained the routes. Crafters, once they reach the upper echelon tiers, would have to choose what "spec" they wanted to go: Clay or Solid.

"It actually takes a while to make an object from scratch," Elliot said. He held out his palm and a small box appeared on it. "Once it's made, we can store it within our mana, kinda like an inventory!"

Trevor laughed. "Be careful not to say 'inventory' to any professor here. They get mad if you oversimplify it. Eli started to use the term during his gaming days."

"How would they describe it, then?" Seti asked.

What really happened was that the mana "remembered" the craft it made, and thus couldn't be used for anything else. The routes that Elliot described were in regards to how the unused mana treated a particular stored craft. The Clay route could use mana to alter the stored item before bringing it out. In that case, a crafted knife could be altered to become a sword, but not so much that it could be made into a shield.

To demonstrate, Elliot pulled out the same small box he had before, except now it was twice as big. Clay specced mancers could change the shape of the stored object slightly at a near-instant rate, but it would cost significantly more mana to do that rather than crafting the object beforehand.

The reason why it was called a route was due to it closing the other option: Solid. The more times mana was used for one route, the more efficient it would be at it at the expense of the other side.

If the Clay route used mana to alter the object, then the Solid route would consume that mana to strengthen the phasm item. Seti realized that this was really just grit as he heard them both describe it. Even so, they made sure to note that no crafter is purely one or the other, but a mix of both while concentrating deeply on one.

This explained quite a few things. Shepherd Christella had said she could only make polearm-styled weapons on demand. Obviously, she had chosen the Solid route. Melvin Serio was titled as Blade because he could bring out all shapes of bladed weapons, but no other weapon types.

"So then someone like the Second Immortal," Seti thought out loud, "would be close to the pinnacle of the grit route—er, Solid route."

This time it was Elliot's turn to click his tongue.

"Don't mention Cyrus around him," Trevor said. "It's a sensitive topic."

"You don't like Cyrus?" Seti asked.

"Eh," Elliot shrugged. "You'll understand better if I introduce myself again: I am Elliot Everstone."

"Ah. He's your older brother?"

Elliot nodded. Some similarities existed now that Seti took a closer look, like cheekbones and the ears. But Cyrus had a bulkier upper body, where Elliot was less so. Elliot flicked his hand forward quickly, which created a giant wall that split them off from the rest of the room. A large phasm barrier.

"Everyone keeps talking as if I'm going to make these types of barriers at the same level as Cyrus. It gets annoying being compared to him constantly. I don't want to be the Barrier King—I want to be creative."

Seti hummed to himself as he knocked on the rectangle barrier. It disappeared when Elliot waved his hand.

"Cyrus isn't all that," Seti said. He recalled how the Second Immortal turned off his barrier in response to the Wind Dragon and the Earth Dragon. It was an admission of defeat.

Elliot scoffed. "You'd be the first one to think that. It's always Cyrus this or Cyrus that…a shadow I can't escape."

"Except when you game," Trevor said, hitting his ball into a pocket.

"Yeah," Elliot sighed. "I want to break free, but you know how it is. Even if I reach Cyrus' level, I still lose because he did it first."

"Well…don't make living in Cyrus' shadow your goal," Seti suggested. "Aim higher."

"And what would be higher?" Elliot asked.

"There's a First Immortal, isn't there? Cyrus isn't the best in that category... Aegis is. Don't become the Barrier King to meet everyone's expectations. Go crazy! Aegis can make phasm golems. Maybe do something like that? It's both creative and powerful."

Elliot looked off into space and was quiet. The wheels were turning in his head.

**Break**

Getting keyed was the next thing they did. Seti and Elliot tried to bring Tyronn with them, but the man wanted to do things himself. The pair made their way to the Main House, past the receptionist desk, and into a great hall. Tables were lined along one wall where the students were gathered. Many of them were still carrying their luggage.

Seti learned that, unlike him, elemental mancers had to get their keys first before settling in. Even then, the mancer still had to break through their own elemental barrier at least once before being keyed to their House.

"Which wouldn't be hard for them," Elliot explained. They stood in line for one of the tables. "There's no student resistance for them."

"Student resistance?" Seti repeated.

"Yeah. When attacking a House, a student is able to take control of the barrier to counter you. So, in reality, it's you versus the House's defense and the student controlling it—usually a Prefect. Since school didn't start yet, no resistance is allowed."

"So if I want to get keyed to one of the Houses, I should do it now, then."

"Nah." Elliot shook his head. "You'll learn in a bit."

When it was finally their turn to get their key, Seti realized that "key" really meant a pin, which could clip onto their uniform.

A special pin was presented to them, wrapped in paper. Elliot's pin had a large C on it, whereas Seti's had the letter X. He suspected it meant Crafter and Exceptions in turn. It felt slightly heavier than the common plastic pins, but he couldn't guess what it was made out of.

To be "keyed" simply meant having the pin on them at all times. It would somehow register their ambient mana signature and let them pass through barriers and defensive mechanisms. How many people could register to a single pin depended on the pin, among several other factors. For the vast majority of the pins (save some of the ones the teachers used), only the first person that was exposed to the key could be keyed to it.

Since the school season hadn't started yet, the pin would not key to any House except for its default one (which didn't apply to him). Therefore, even if Seti assaulted the Aer House and made it past the barrier, his pin wouldn't recognize his victory.

Seti was reminded of the Serio coin that Faulkner had given him. He wondered if it was meant to grant access to something, just as his new "key" did, as both his key and the coin were to be on his person at all times.

As the day drew to a close, it was clear that the guys would get class scheduling and uniform fitting done on another day. They returned to the Animus House and made their way to the workout room. Trevor was waiting for them.

"You guys hear the news?" Trevor asked. He continued when they shook their heads. "Apparently, three Dragonspawns will be attending school this year."

"Three?" Elliot was surprised.

"The Pyro, Hydro, and the new one: Aero."

Seti nearly choked on the air he was breathing in at the time. It was as awkward as one would expect.

"But isn't the Aero one a first tier?" Elliot asked.

Trevor shrugged. "Maybe it was because of the attack at Blue Castle. Or maybe it was because his master is the Wind Dragon. Either way, it's super weird that they're all attending Prestige at the same time. Something's up, I think."

"You're forgetting the most important part," Elliot said in a serious voice. "The Hydro Dragonspawn. Have you seen her? She's a total babe!"

Trevor sighed. "You never take politics seriously. Do you even know her name?"

"Why would anyone want to know that?" Elliot asked, and then turned to Seti. "I'm not a fan of real names—for obvious reasons. Titles are all we need to identify what we want to know about someone."

It was moments like this where Seti was grateful to the importance of titles. He wondered how long it would be before they connected him to his real identity.

They spent the rest of the time at the gym going through the different workout stations. People believed that working out the body had a direct impact on a mancer's grit, but both sides had arguments stating why this was or wasn't true. Since keeping physically active and fit was beneficial in many ways outside of potentially increasing grit, many recommended it anyway.

When it came time for dinner, Seti made an effort to find Aiden, but he was nowhere to be found.

"He always comes late," said Elliot when asked. "That dude is either spending all his free time in the battle rooms or off trying to get someone to agree to holmgang—not that any professor would arbiter the duel before school actually starts."

They headed to one of the long, communal-style tables after getting their food. Noodles with a special sauce and some garlic bread. Tyronn sat at the same table as them, but on the far, opposite end. Other students sat with them and they began to banter and discuss random topics. Whenever the conversation came to Seti and his background, he tended to steer it a different direction. He did learn a few things about the others, though.

Elliot was an academic genius, in a way. He knew all sorts of crafter ratios off the top of his head, which helped him create sturdy barriers and similar objects of equal power. Elliot blamed his overabundant knowledge to his upbringing.

"Blame" was a curious word choice.

The topic turned to future goals. Seti wasn't surprised that most people intended to join the Guilds, where their craft could be of some use. Those that wanted to join the Shepherds were considered highly ambitious, as doing so also involved mastering a form of martial arts and standardizing weapon choice. What was surprising was that one of the most challenging paths one could take was the path to becoming a Lamb, which people described as brutal. In retrospect, this made sense, considering that Shepherds were supposed to be capable of dealing with both mancers and primals alike.

Primal training was a required class at Prestige for all mancers. The professor would conjure an elemental that would represent a primal and all students were supposed to battle it in some way. This was all approved by the association, of course.

"Even the non-combat mancers need to take that class?" Seti asked. "What about the technology-based electromancers?"

Trevor answered him. "Everyone's required. But be careful when calling them electromancers," he warned. "A lot of them are trying to push for a new title: Technomancer."

"It'll never catch, though," Elliot said.

"How come?" Seti asked.

Elliot explained. "All 'technomancers' are electromancers, but not all electros are technos. Some of those 'technomancers' could still be capable of combat spells." He pushed his plate away now that he was finished with his food. "But let's pretend it does stick. Would other countries recognize the title? Then we have to ask ourselves another question: would other mancer types seek to differentiate themselves because they operate a little differently?"

"So you do know a little about politics," Trevor commented.

Elliot shrugged. "I think all crafters should know that much. We have a similar situation to the whole techno and non-techno scenario. Remember, we have the Clay versus Solid routes. If that's not a line to potentially split crafters into two, I don't know what is."

When the conversation died down, they all went their separate ways. Seti was tempted to return to his room, but decided to go to the game room first. There was something he wanted to know. He took the phasm chalk-like object and left. The goal was simple: learn how much mana it took to operate this Seed. He could have checked then and there, in the game room, but he knew better. Depending on the amount of mana it took, he could be effectively blind again, forcing himself to feel his way back to his room.

Once he was alone in his room, he activated the phasm pool stick.

Several things happened at once.

His omniview shrunk to half instantly. The pool stick extended.

Then it gained color.

It was like watching one of those TV commercials where everything lacked color, except for one thing, indicating its importance. The cue stick was a transparent light purple hue and the contents of the stick and its insides were visible. Lines stretched around inside, like spider webs keeping the phasm stick together.

Then something odd happened. When Seti moved the pool stick, the air where the stick had previously been remained purple—like a computer lagging and its screen failing to refresh temporarily, causing the colors in the air to mesh together.

Before he could explore further, his omniview shut down and refused to start up again. It had broke for the remainder of the day. Interestingly enough, though, Seti could still feel the shape of the phasm cue, which didn't vanish with his omniview. It was probably because it took all the mana it needed to take shape and then began to exist independently.

Seti felt the stick. It was smooth to his touch. Curious to know if it was breakable, he bent it.

It snapped in half. A puff of air burst out, and then the pool stick popped in turn, disappearing entirely with another burst of wind. His hands clutched at the air to ensure the object had dissipated completely.

Seti stood in place for a moment longer to take everything in. He had seen color just now! And now he had a theory how he could replicate it. It could be that his mana was the answer he sought. On the other hand, it could be that only crafter-related items would show color, because of their attributes. He wouldn't know for certain until he got more info, which would require his omniview to work again. He sent a text to Henry as well to update the theorycrafter on the matter.

Henry's reply didn't provide any new information that he hadn't already said on the matter. But it was proof that the abyss gate's strange barrier wasn't the only thing that could bring color to Seti's world. It was a step forward.

Seti's line of thought eventually led him to think about his mana marbles. He was currently sitting at zero marbles, and only one spawned per day. It would be prudent to have his divine mode ready to be activated at any time, so having backup marbles was a necessity.

Two or three marbles. That's what Seti decided would be a good amount to have in reserve. Considering how much mana the Aerial Slash spell took (disregarding whatever mana cost effects the abyss gate gave), and how quickly divine mode runs out by casting several spells in quick succession, there would be no point in having four or more. Even three might be pushing it.

Then again...there might be a need to have multiple marbles available for several days in a row. This was Prestige Academy; he didn't know what things would be required of him.

For now, he wouldn't spend a single marble until the term started. Each one was precious and needed to be used thoughtfully. He would get a feel for the school and for the classes first.

The rest of the week was busy in its own regard. Seti got measured for his formal uniform, which was to be used in formal occasions only, as the other more common uniforms he would be using more often could simply be purchased at the student store. While the formal uniform had the option to have his name and the word Prestige on the back, he opted to not have his name embroidered, since it would identify him as a Serio family member when he might want to keep it a secret. The first use for his new formal uniform would be this Friday, during the school's opening ceremony.

Odd that it was on Friday and not Monday—when school actually started.

Elliot had hung around Seti quite a bit. Seti suspected it was because he was the first to try to encourage him to look beyond the shadow of his older brother, which seemed like something no one else had apparently done until now. However, perhaps it had the opposite effect, since Elliot just seemed to begrudgingly sigh more and more often. He began to sigh for the third time this minute alone.

"Okay, what's up? Something's bothering you," Seti said.

They were alone in the game room. Elliot was constructing more Seed pool sticks. It was interesting to see one phasm cube absorb another in a tiny space. It was like watching far too many clowns climb out of a tiny car, except in reverse.

"I was thinking about what you said," Elliot said. "About aiming higher."

"Mhm."

"If it was so easy, then anyone could do it." Elliot didn't look up when he spoke. He kept his focus on his crafting.

"Why is it so hard?" Seti asked.

Elliot sighed for the fourth time. "It just is. The ratios and strength distribution has to be absolutely perfect if you want to reach that level. You literally have to know each cube as a whole, but that's impossible without the highest level of perception. Remember, I'm only a fifth tier."

Seti nodded sagely, although he had little idea what Elliot was talking about. "Show me your molding."

Elliot stopped crafting and held his palm up. An arch, vaguely reminiscent of the world famous Arche du Victoria in Gallea, popped into existence. It was as tall as his index finger was long. Inside the arch were small building blocks that piled atop one another—like a brick wall. However, there seemed to be gaps in between each of the blocks.

"I don't know if you can feel this, but I've had several master perceptionists look at my moldings, and they all say that my arch is completely solid." Elliot shrugged. "That means I'm basically at the top of my game with my moldings already. I only need to work on my spell techniques now."

Seti swung his hand at the miniature arch, but it passed through without any resistance. The arch swayed and bent out of shape before snapping back to its original upright position.

"You can't physically feel it," Elliot said. "Has to be felt with perception."

This was his first time seeing a crafter's moldings. From what Seti knew, moldings were the blueprint for spells, broken down into shapes and movements. Similar to the "bricks" seen in Elliot's arch, these shapes and movements acted as building blocks for spells at the most basic level. Someone with perception would feel the moldings and be able to determine if there were any errors.

Seti's own moldings moved air particles to create shapes and other things. The moldings themselves were considered gritless and invisible, but Elliot's version didn't seem to be based on air. It was like his were a manifestation of his mana…yet still invisible to the naked eye. Maybe the miniature door having no physical properties was the gritless version of a phasm. It made him wonder about how other mancer's moldings looked like.

"This is the top of your game?" Seti asked. "Your moldings still need a lot of work. There are gaps all over the place."

Elliot tilted his head in confusion and looked at the spot above his palm. "You can feel this? At tier four? I mean…it feels pretty solid to me."

Seti paused. He knew Faulkner probably wouldn't want him to reveal secrets so early, but he wanted to help Elliot. Wanting to aim higher, to break past the limitations that others had believed him to have—that was something Seti could empathize with. But at the same time, wouldn't that be helping someone who could potentially be an enemy to the Mafia?

Was "enemy" even the right word? It wasn't like it was the world versus the families.

He didn't have to reveal all of his secrets to assist Elliot with his moldings. It was a two way street, though—Elliot would need to take a leap of faith to trust Seti, considering that he shouldn't even be capable of that kind of perception.

"Help me out this year and I'll help you out," Seti said.

"Even though you're…" He paused. Seti knew he wanted to reference his tier. "Alright, I guess." Elliot finished with a non-committal nod.

They continued to chat about several topics. After asking about the Seed stuff, Seti learned that it was unrealistic for people like him to use them regularly. In that the more complicated the Seed was, the sooner it would dissipate. Not only that, but it was extremely inefficient with mana. It took the crafter a disproportionate amount to make it, and the Seed consumed a large amount of mana from the mancer to grow it. Seti couldn't help but think that the only reason it was used at Prestige was a simple matter of because-they-could.

One thing they discussed was the thoughts on the Luminaire spell that surrounded the academy. Every night it would activate and surround the school like a dome. No one was allowed in or out of the school grounds during that time. Worse yet, it acted as a curfew since it also disabled all internet access and most phone activity. They were basically shut off from the outside world during this period.

Seti severely disliked the situation at hand. What if there was an emergency and a call for help needed to be made? He didn't voice the thought aloud to Elliot, but the Exceptions exam at Blue Castle had disabled the phones and it worked against them during the crisis.

Elliot knew that the electromancers made it a goal to try and outwit the barrier, but so far only succeeded with short distance calls to New Vox. Internet was still a no-go.

Someone came into the game room while they talked.

"Knock knock. There you are, Eli. I've been looking for you." A student stepped into view. His hair was slicked back, with a few strands hanging before his eyes.

"Zane." Elliot stopped crafting and stood up.

"Still the same games," Zane said, casually strutting from one end to the other. He stopped to turn towards Seti. "Name's Zane—third year. Aer House Prefect. Two years in a row and I intend to make it three. Tier six. You?"

"Why are you here?" Elliot snapped before Seti could reply.

Zane shrugged. "I said I've been looking for you. You don't have to get so antsy and call Cyrus on me."

Elliot furrowed his brows but said nothing.

"A little birdy told me you think Cyrus is too low of a goalpost. I understand, though. If he refused to teach me a thing or two about my mancy, I'd get delusional too. You're a tier five—maybe try aiming for something more manageable, like not being a disappointment."

Ignoring Zane, Elliot returned back to his craft. Seti became annoyed that the crafter didn't argue back. There was no reason to let anyone spout this kind of nonsense. Despite his better judgement, Seti tried to push aggression forth.

Be angry!

Elliot sniffed once but continued crafting. Zane took that to be his victory and turned to leave.

"Itty, bitty, Zaney," Seti sing-songed, unwilling to stay silent.

Zane stopped. "And who are you?"

"The requirements to join the Prefects seems to be a bit low if someone like you became one," Seti said.

"I'll have you know that I beat out every aeromancer when I was a first year," Zane said.

"Drop it," Elliot said under his breath.

Zane smiled. "Even the company you keep is pathetic. Let me know if your confidence stays constant after a year of failure!" And with that, he waved and left.

"Doesn't that make you mad?" Seti asked.

"Nah." Elliot shook his head. "I'm used to him by now. He's like that because his own brother is an Astral Ball player, so he thinks greatness runs in families. But there's more to life than tiers, though I suppose you already knew that, since you're here as an Exception student."

Seti recalled a similar phrase said by Faulkner and Henry. "I like you better than your brother."

Elliot raised a brow. "You've met him?"

Oops.

"I mean…with only what I've seen," Seti corrected.

The crafter didn't think much of it. He finished resupplying the pool sticks and they went on their way.

Tyronn kept to himself mostly. He was constantly at the workout room, lifting weights. Heavy weights. Seti had recalled how Faulkner and Shanna mocked him for being "unfit"—which Seti thought was untrue; he was normal! Regardless, Seti would go to the workout room to do his own exercises, but it wasn't a habit…not yet.

The class schedule was something Seti was afraid of. It usually consisted of looking at a large catalog or a computer screen to select from a myriad of electives. Fortunately, Prestige First Years didn't have many electives they could opt into. Instead, they had a standard set of classes based on their mancy. On top of that, each student was assigned a mentor that would help their pupils throughout the term.

He wondered if being the Wind Dragon's disciple would cause problems on that front.

As for the library, it was closed to the public while they rearranged and reorganized the new books they received. It was apparently tradition to get an almost ungodly amount of literature donations prior to the start of a new school year. The library would reopen on Monday, when school started again. That would be when Seti could get his information about necromancy.

Then Friday came.

Seti went to go pick up his formal school uniform and returned to his dorm. It was almost time for the opening ceremony. As he was changing into his outfit, he realized the jacket was far too large and that the sleeves not only covered his hands, but also hung several inches beyond the tips of his fingers. Seti used his phone to take a look at the receipt. Seti Serio. The uniform was definitely meant for him, but the size was clearly wrong.

Elliot knocked on his door to let him know that they were ready to leave. Seti walked out with his jacket folded over his arm.

"They're going to make you wear it," Elliot said as they walked to the Main House.

Lovely… A memorable moment at Prestige Academy would forever be tainted by the fact that he wasn't dressed shabbily.

He slipped on the overly large jacket and watched as it painfully made him look a size too big. Elliot made a joke and congratulated Seti on losing weight.

"I have a spot reserved for me and a plus one," Elliot said as they followed the body of students into the Main House.

They arrived at the auditorium. The stairs descended the closer they got to the stage, like a theatre. Seti felt conscious of his large jacket (despite knowing that most people were likely concerned about themselves), so he unbuttoned it and took his arms out of the sleeves. It hung like a cape, clinging only to his shoulders. He felt stupid for feeling a bit like royalty, but a smug grin still tried to creep its way to his face.

Elliot led Seti to the very first row. Students had already filled most of the chairs.

"The first row?" Seti hissed. "Are you a goody-two-shoes?"

The Goody-Two-Shoes smacked Seti in the arm. "You'll see." He smiled.

Several people loitered on the stage by the podium. Seti figured they were some of the academy's professors. They were mostly dressed in suits and the like. One of them was in the Shepherd's attire and someone he recognized: Cyrus Everstone.

"Your brother is a teacher here?" Seti asked.

They both made themselves comfortable in the two open spots. More students filed into the room, causing the ambient volume to increase.

"Yeah," Elliot confirmed. "He's one of the three Shepherds here. Look—there's the other…but is it just me, or is she staring over here?"

True to his word, Shepherd Christella looked in their direction. She a little ways away from Cyrus. She saw Seti and was glaring at him.

Seti gave a big smile and waved at her. Her look only deepened.

"You know her?' Elliot asked.

"We're best friends," was Seti's only response before the teachers back away from the podium into a line to let the headmaster take the stage and quiet the room.

Headmaster Maxwell. The Arch Mage. He had defeated each Houses' barrier and earned his title. Seti had imagined him like one of those Wizards of Old—the ones with the long beards. Similar to Elder Poe, but thicker. While Headmaster Maxwell didn't sport the super long beard (it was trimmed and clean), he did wear a robe that tied around his waist, and a real cape that flowed behind him.

"Good evening, First Year Prestige Students," Headmaster Maxwell started. "I am tremendously delighted to welcome everyone here today. I would like to express my gratitude to those who have donated to us, so that we may further our cause in spreading knowledge.

"Many attempt to attend Prestige Academy, and would there be enough room, I'd accept them all. Be that as it may, I am honored to have the best and brightest to share my teachings with, and to learn from.

"And when it comes to learning, do not limit yourself to your teachers and your classes alone. Find a book! Find a fellow student! Everyone knows something you do not. Even the smallest and the weakest has something of value. Rarely will only talent take you to the top.

"But I do not wish to bore you with an old man's tidings. Let us go over some ground rules.

"If a student wishes to leave the school grounds during the weekdays, they must first receive permission from their mentor. The weekends belong to you, naturally, so you may come and go as you please—don't forget your Prestige pin, though!

"For the geomancers that will try to replicate the pins: if you succeed, I know of several high ranking guild officials that would like to employ you."

The students chuckled.

Headmaster Maxwell continued. "Holmgangs must have an arbiter to be counted towards your official rank. Don't assume we can see everything...even though we can."

Slightly less chuckles that time.

"Mana-heavy spells are only to be cast during classes, in the battle halls, or during the special events that we hold. If you have to ask what is considered mana-heavy, then the spell you're thinking of is probably it.

"Which brings me to my next topic…

"As many of you already know, tomorrow marks the beginning for registrations for the upcoming Prefect elections. Each House is to have one Prefect represent them, and the selection will be based on two disciplines: academic aptitude and combat prowess.

"Prowess will be based on these elections, which begin this Monday. The holmgangs will take place in the Astral Ball stadium, with the final match being Friday. The tournament will be open for viewing.

"For the second and third years, I would normally introduce the highest ranked combat student. But as you all know, professors are instructed not to arbiter any holmgangs for first years before the term starts, outside of those with a solid justification. Therefore, there is no Combat Representative to call to the stage at this time."

Seti thought back to his own holmgang at the Exceptions exam. It probably didn't count, since it began before the term started. (Though he remembered Abigail saying it would count.)

"As for the academics, the tournament will also consist of a written examination, which includes both practical and theoretical knowledge. Please note that it is possible to be eliminated from the tournament during these assessments.

"And with that, I would like to introduce the highest entry-exam scoring student. Please welcome to the stage… The Barrier Prince—Elliot Everstone!"

Elliot gently hit Seti in the chest as he stood. He was all smiles as he walked to the stairs. The students applauded, and Seti loudly joined them. The Barrier Prince made his way up the stage stairs, making brief eye contact with Cyrus as he did so. Headmaster Maxwell stepped away from the podium to let Elliot take the mic.

"Sup, my dudes!" Elliot said. He stretched out his arms as if he was addressing a nation. "I scored the highest for one reason: to let the ladies know that I'm single!"

Everyone laughed, including the professors. Well, almost everyone. Shepherd Christella walked up to the headmaster and whispered in his ear. They both had serious expressions. Seti was able to lip-read one word with his omniview.

Dragonspawn.

"It is an honor to be the Academic Representative," Elliot continued. "But I won't be satisfied by something so small. By the time I graduate, I plan to have the best barrier in the school." He looked towards Cyrus. "Consider this a challenge to anyone who thinks they can do better."

The crowd ooo'd and applauded even louder. Cyrus himself smiled as he golf clapped.

Headmaster Maxwell stepped forward towards the podium and said something to Elliot.

"Right, I'm supposed to read the Student Pledge. Forgot!"

Elliot read aloud from a piece of paper. The Student Pledge was basically just promising to uphold the rules, do the utmost, learn the utmost, and several other utmosts.

When he finished, Shepherd Christella handed an award to Elliot, in the form of a piece of paper. She still had another paper in her hand.

Headmaster Maxwell took the podium again when Elliot stepped back. "It appears that I have misinformed everyone with my earlier statement," he said. "There is indeed a Combat Representative for the first years."

The students started to gossip. People whispered to their neighbors.

"Someone tricked a professor into judging a duel?"

"I thought they didn't allow holmgangs for first years before school started."

Headmaster Maxwell waited patiently for the students to quiet down. Shepherd Christella was looking at Seti.

Oh. He knew who the representative was now.

"This student forced a holmgang in order to attend the academy. Many years have passed since this last happened. I would like to welcome to the stage… The Aero Dragonspawn—Seti Serio!"

Headmaster Maxwell started to clap. Very few joined in. The lonely claps echoed throughout the auditorium. Feeling gravity down on Seti's entire being, he struggled to force himself off the chair. His jacket swayed like a cape as he walked to the stairs; the armless sleeves trailed behind. All eyes were on him. Elliot's mouth parted in shock. The Barrier Prince had not known who Seti really was.

Each step up the stairs to the stage seemed to echo. Seti passed by the professors and snatched the award from Shepherd Christella's hands as he walked by. Headmaster Maxwell took a step back so he could take the podium. He had no speech ready since he didn't know he was going to speak, and if they had a pledge for him to read off of…well, he would be screwed in that regard given he couldn't read it, wouldn't he?

He stood silently. Only a few students were visible to him due to the limitations of his omniview. They started to whisper.

"A tier one shouldn't be here!" Someone shouted.

People murmured their agreement.

Seti felt heat rise up from his belly. Anger. Of course a Prestige student would say such things. It evoked memory of the Exceptions exam. But this time it was different. Seti didn't need to prove he belonged—he was already a student. They needed to prove he didn't.

"Then make me leave," Seti said, feeling the satisfaction of giving into the antagonism. The auditorium was silent again. "I am the disciple of the Wind Dragon. If anyone here thinks I am incapable, I welcome you to holmgang me—I'll accept them all." Seti ripped the award he held and let it fall. It was so quiet that he could feel each shred of paper hit the ground.

The auditorium erupted in a loud chatter. Students turned to whisper to their neighbors. Seti thought he heard someone laugh, but he couldn't be sure. Uncertain of what to do, he took a step back and stood next to Elliot.

The anger that had risen within Seti quelled. He watched as Headmaster Maxwell tried to quiet the students.

Seti had just declared he would accept every holmgang. He probably ticked off a good amount of students with that proclamation. Funny enough, this was how he had always viewed the mancer world: resolving issues with their mancy. He anticipated it. He wanted it. He had always been the one to fight vocally, but now that he was a mancer, he would learn how to fight with spells.

This was going to be a fun year.

 

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About the author

Gelifyal

Bio: I work full time at a bank and write during free time on the weekdays.


Aeromancer is the first time I've ever let the public read a story I've come up with. Please leave a comment if you enjoy it!

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