Chapter 8 - On Artificing
The competition was a grand occasion attended by the bulk of the family, hundreds of mages sitting around a raised platform in the Royal Palace's courtyard.
Aaron and the two other kids were standing on the platform, while the three Ascenders were sitting on three thrones on a dais to the side. An Eminence mage got on the platform and addressed the audience.
"Brothers and sisters from the Valdian Family, welcome!" He said with a magically enhanced voice that could be heard everywhere despite the talks going on in the audience. "Six years ago, Grand Elder Eminence Firebringer went to the Three Towers, sacrificing his remaining lifespan to provide the family with a chance to send a young mage to study there. Today, the disciples of our three Ancestors will compete against each other for the opportunity of being nominated by Grand Elder Eminence Firebringer!"
Despite the man's excitement, almost every single spectator had a bored look on their faces. The competitors were only children, how entertaining could their competition be? The only reason most of them were there was that the decision would heavily influence family politics. Alliances would be created and get broken that day.
Aaron was looking around, trying to find his father among the audience. He hadn't seen the man in the last year, too busy with studying. Alas, he couldn't locate him anywhere.
"The competition will be divided into two phases," the speaking level 7, Champion, continued. "First, a test on magic theory. Each Ancestor will ask each competitor two questions and the competitor who is considered to be the worst will be eliminated. Then, the remaining will fight in a magic battle! A battle for the first place!"
That brought interest from the audience. Not the fight but the questioning. The Ancestors were lofty existences in the family and even hearing them questioning kids was an honor most of the people present never dared to hope for.
"And leeeet's begin!" The Eminence said and left the platform.
The three kids turned to the Ancestors and bowed deeply. "Present yourselves," one of the Ancestors said.
"I'm Three Stars Theodore, fourteen years old, son of Elder Champion Wind Prince, grandson of Grand Elder Eminence Wind Monarch," one of the kids said.
This immediately brought murmurs from the spectators. "Three Stars! A fourteen years old kid who's already a Three Stars Mage!"
Their shock was natural. Since they were using Veiling Amulets like the one Aaron had received, the power of those two genius children in the family had been hidden from the 'Check Level' Heavenly Skill and any other level detection spells, for their own protection. If the world had learned of their talent before, it would surely have brought assassination attempts from the family's enemies before the kids had had the time to grow their power up to their potential.
Now, after not knowing the kids' levels for years, everyone was incredibly surprised at what they were hearing.
Aaron smiled at that and waited for the second kid to present himself. "I'm Four Stars Elliot, thirteen years old, son of Grand Elder Eminence War Emperor, grandson of the departed Grand Elder Eminence Warbringer."
"A thirteen-year-old Four Stars Mage!" A woman yelled in shock. "How?!"
"Genius! A true genius!"
Finally, it was Aaron's turn to present himself.
"I'm Elder Champion Aaron, twelve years old, son of Major Notable Firebreather, grandson of Grand Elder Eminence Firebringer," he said.
Ascenders were called Ancestors by those from the family, Eminences were called Grand Elders, and Champions were called Elders. Notables like Aaron's father had no official social standing though, depending on their connections or jobs to rise in the social rankings.
As soon as Aaron spoke, the excitement died, a heavy silence covering the courtyard. It was one of the Ascenders who turned to Firestar and asked, "He is lying, right?"
"Aaron," Firestar said, "remove your Veiling Talisman."
Aaron obeyed, taking the round-shaped white talisman off, and throwing it on the ground. Everyone immediately used the Check Level skill on him. No one could believe what they were seeing.
Showing his level would attract the Asshats' attention even if he pretended to be dumb as a door. However, by controlling both the timing of this revelation and the circumstances surrounding it, he could use that attention against the Asshats and in his favor instead!
As for his thoughts on level gap between him and the Elliot, he considered it only natural. He had been pushing to use his mana since he was one year old, while the boy had to deal with the inferior Mana-Sucking Ring for many years until he was taught how to use mana by himself.
"Isn't Major Notable Firebreather the family's failure?" One of the spectators said. In the silence that covered the area, he might as well have screamed. "And wasn't his wife an even more useless klutz? How can his son be a Champion? And such a young one at that?"
Aaron turned his head so fast his neck snapped, and his eyes locked on the speaker. Check Level, he thought, and a tooltip appeared above the man's head.
Level: 4 — Four Stars Mage
"You," he said. "You dare offend the father of an Elder Champion, who's a Notable Mage and a Major of the Valdian Army in his own right. For insubordination, I sentence you to twenty whippings. Guards, take him."
In the Valdian Family and in the world in general, power reigned absolute. The powerful held authority and disrespecting them was always punishable, sometimes by death. It didn't matter if Aaron was a twelve-year-old, he was an Elder Champion, and in the family of almost a thousand mages, there were only fifty people who were as powerful as him.
Moreover, when more than one person was on the same level, the younger held the most authority, since it showed their talent was greater. It was the same with the three Ascenders, where Firestar, the youngest at seventy or so years — despite looking to be at his fifties —, was the one who held the most authority.
Considering Aaron was twelve years old, he was the First Elder Champion, the one with the most authority of the fifty-one Elder Champions, and only the seven Grand Elder Eminences and three Ancestors Ascenders could overrule him.
Still, his orders came as a shock to everyone. He was a kid, and he was sentencing people to whippings?!
As for Aaron, he didn't feel conflicted. The man had offended his immediate family in public and had to be made an example of. If Aaron let this go unpunished, every random passerby would think they could offend him, and it would lead to all kinds of trouble.
If the man wasn't so weak, Aaron would've challenged him to a duel and punish him himself. As it was, it was unbecoming for a level 7, Champion, to challenge a mere level 4. Thus, he used the family hierarchy to punish him.
"The First Elder Champion has spoken," Firestar said, "and his words are fair. Why are the guards not obeying?"
The man who had offended Aaron's father didn't beg for mercy, something natural in a world were Prime Energy made everyone compliant when dealing with their superiors. Not only was Aaron the First Elder Champion, but even Firestar himself had also ordered the guards to obey!
Two guards came and accompanied the man for immediate execution of his sentence. The way people looked at Aaron changed from disbelief and admiration to fear.
"The magic theory testing will respect each competitor's level. The questions will encompass only the knowledge they are supposed to have," Firestar said as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. "Let's begin with Theodore. How does the Third Light spell differentiate from its lower-leveled versions?"
The boy thought for a moment before replying. "It uses less mana but requires greater control. The Third Light spell can change colors at the caster's choice, unlike the lower leveled versions. The colors available to the caster are the primary colors. The Third spell signature has ninety-nine symbols, twenty-seven nodes..."
"What does the Casting Time Control Theory on Third Spells states?"
"It says that Third level spells are the first ones that can use the full control of the caster to decrease casting time..."
"What is the First Law of Third Level Spellcasting?" One of the other Ancestors asked.
"The First Law..."
Theodore was asked six questions, and he managed to answer them all. Aaron could see a few mistakes here and there, but nothing major.
Of course, that was only when considering the books he had read. In his own practice, he had deemed most of those theories to be incomplete or downright wrong. His own evaluation of the boy was that he had answered about a third of his answers correctly.
"Good. Eighty-five points," Firestar said and turned to another child. "Now, Elliot, when should a Four Stars Mage use Third level spells instead of their Fourth level versions?"
Aaron was surprised at the question. Although it was considered something a Fourth Stars Mage should know, its difficulty was relatively much greater than the first question Theodore was asked, about the Light spell.
"What are the Seven Laws of Forth-Level Spellcasting?"
"What are the names of the twenty-three Emperors of the Fire Continent?"
"Explain the Twenty-Three Key Fourth-Level Spells."
As the questions came, Aaron frowned. Elliot was having difficulty replying, and it was clear that the Ascenders had agreed to eliminate him from the competition, but Aaron had no idea why.
"Sixty-two points," Firestar declared. "Aaron-"
"Wait!" Elliot yelled, angrily. "My questions were much more difficult than his!" He pointed at Theodore.
That was all he could speak. His own master harrumphed and a hand made of bluish mana appeared out of nowhere, slapping the kid in the face. It was hard enough for the slap to be heard all around the courtyard and for the kid to fall on the ground.
"Sorry, Leonard," the Ascender who attacked said to Firestar. "My disciple will remain silent."
When Elliot rose from the ground, the mark of the Ascender's magic hand was visible in his face, and he was crying copiously.
Aaron ignored the scene, looking straight at Firestar. His plans depended on what the old man asked next.
After confirming that the Asshats could use magic to check the past events of an area in their investigations, it became obvious that he couldn't just tell Firestar what he wanted the old man to do, else his actions might implicate the family instead of helping them. Therefore, he had hinted multiple times at what he wanted to happen in this competition, but the reason or what came next had been left out.
Now, half his plan depended on Firestar asking the kind of questions he was supposed to ask.
"Aaron," Firestar called while also looking Aaron in the eyes, "describe how to forge a Lower Artifact Sword with twelve-percent fire element amplification."
Aaron had to suppress a smile. It had worked!
This phase of his plan required him to show two specific sets of knowledge, both magical and physical. He hadn't told Firestar exactly what to ask, but this question was spot on.
Even creating a normal sword would be something a young mage wouldn't be taught, much less how to add elemental amplification formations to it. More than that, an experienced Champion might know about how to make Lower Artifacts, but only true masters would be able to make one that could amplify an element by twelve-percent.
In his untalented family, even the Ascenders had no idea about how to do what he had just been asked.
However, Aaron had naturally increased his knowledge of mana and magic by leaps and bounds in the past years. When added to his experience and capabilities as an energetic manipulator and master of all High Professions, he had created what he called the 'Myriad Arts,' which involved everything that used mana in any way, from magical painting to magical war tactics.
Due to the lack of research materials in the family, his Myriad Arts was only complete up to the Champion level, but in that range, his knowledge and capabilities were absolute. They also contained incomplete Eminence-level techniques, and even a few insights on the Ascender level, which were just barely enough for him to theorize how to create even a Peak Artifact, much less a Lower Artifact!
Firestar's request would allow Aaron to show much more knowledge than he was supposed to have, while also not revealing the peak of what he knew.
As a token of gratitude for Firestar being so damn perfect at his questioning, Aaron decided he would give everyone in there the best lesson on artificing of their lives.
"Artificing is the art of working materials and creating treasures with it," he said. "What we call treasures are nothing more than magically enhanced items, and their grades are, from lower to higher: Mortal Item, Magical Item, Artifact, and Relic. Each grade can be further divided into Lower, Higher, and Peak quality.
"The different grades provide different benefits. Lower Mortal Items are nothing more than common items forged using magical techniques, with no special effects. Even a common sword created by a klutz might be better than a Lower Mortal Sword, depending on the materials used, but from Higher Mortal Items onwards, things change. Not only the items effects get better on each grade, the techniques required to create them become much harder, and the materials involved become much more complex to work with.
"Mortal Items provide bonuses based on the materials they are made from, and that's all. Magical Items add magical formations to the fold. As for Artifacts... Well.
"As you know, magic requires intent, and Artifact artificing is nothing but magical. The Third Imbue Intent spell is usually merely used to teach Three Stars Mages how to better control their mana by playing with magical puppets created for such purpose. But when creating an Artifact, the Third Imbue Intent spell or one of its higher leveled versions must be used at all times. From the drawing of the item on paper, which becomes an obligatory part of the process, to the picking of materials, the working of the materials, the addition of cosmetic details, and so on. The artificer must constantly 'tell' the materials what they will become, which formation will be placed on them, and their final purpose. It may sound simple but creating an Artifact may take weeks or even months, and from the moment the mage starts, he can't stop! Try telling a piece of metal how it will become an awesome sword day after day, without exterior contact of any kind as to not contaminate your intent! It isn't a coincidence that many an artificer go crazy as time passes.
"And that's only one aspect of the technical part of it. When talking about materials, it's obvious that simple steel couldn't hold enough magic to become a Higher Magical Item, while low graded magical formations would be unable to get a hold in Dragon Leather.
"Furthermore, some materials like Dragon Leather has its own elemental characteristics depending on the dragon it came from, and not only can't it accept any type of formation, it can't be assembled in just any item. Going even further, I just said how intent is important in the creation of Artifacts, and artificers capable of creating Artifacts must also consider the intent of the material itself!
"Dragons are prideful beings and Dragon Leather would never accept to become some Lower Artifact, and even a Peak Artifact might be difficult to create with it. It would also never accept to become a toilet cleaning Artifact. I speculate that learning how to remove the original material's intent from it, or how to better work with such intent, might be one of the differences between Relics and Artifacts... But I digress.
"What you asked of me was to 'describe how to create a Lower Artifact Sword with twelve-percent fire element amplification.' This task can be divided into four parts: intent, design — including the drawing, material selection, and formation imbuement —, forging, and formation placement.
"First, intent. One must use the Imbue Intent spell with the final product, a Lower Artifact Sword with twelve-percent fire element amplification in mind. So, let's start with some details about the sword: who will use it, a warrior or a mage? What will the sword be used for, slaying foes physically, or only for fire element amplification while a mage keeps his distance? Is it a weapon intended for attack or defense?" He asked.
"A mage, amplification only, attack," Firestar replied.
Aaron nodded and used the Imbue Intent spell while focusing on the purpose of the sword. "So, the artificer must keep these things in mind from now on. Even more details could be thought about the item, which would bring forth even more potential from the product. It doesn't matter much if the product ends up being used as intended or not, but the mage must will a product with such characteristics to come into fruition all times and he must believe in it with all his heart.
"Second, design. Since it's a test, let's suppose we're creating the item from scratch instead of just drawing it using the formula that was taught me." He said that, but he was obviously creating it right there, right then. "The pommel of a Lower Artifact Sword could use many different materials, but only twenty-three of them could be used for fire element amplification. For the blade, there are forty-one possibilities. There are a hundred and two possible combinations of pommel and blade, however, the ones that not only can be used for fire amplification but should be used for it, are only fifty-two. Now, keeping these materials in mind, and the final intent of the sword, one must think about all the fire amplification formations that could be placed in such materials, and think on how they could be adapted to be put in the sword. Ancestors are fair, Disciple has already studied such formation before and believes that he already knows the answer. If Ancestors would be so kind as to provide junior with paper and pen..."
Firestar waved his hand, and those materials came out from his spatial ring, appearing in front of Aaron.
Aaron took the paper in his hand and used magic to mentally control the pen as it started drawing on the paper. Contrary to what he said, he had designed the entire sword including the formation as he spoke, and now he only had to do the final adjustments to it.
He kept talking and drawing, and finally, he concluded his explanation, including how to smith the sword, and how to properly place the formation on it.
To him, the most difficult part, keeping his Imbue Intent spell going without being contaminated by the audience, was extremely easy. His willpower had been tempered by eons of adventures. How could he fail in something as simple as that?
"...and so, this Redstar Sword would be born," he concluded. "Disciple disrespected Ancestor's orders and created a sword with fifteen-percent fire amplification instead of twelve. Disciple begs for Ancestors to be lenient when deducting points from Disciple."
Everyone was looking dumbfounded at him.
Support "(ON HIATUS) Immortal Mage"
I'm Ed, a writer of GameLit. So far I have released only two books, but I'm working on increasing this number by tens! No, by hundreds! Maybe thousands! xP
Mailing list: http://www.edward-castle.com/