Chapter 5 – Firestar
Aaron had learned in his clandestine late-night readings in the library that the Three Towers, as the Trinity Academy of Magic was commonly called, was a school for the elites of the Fire Continent. The children of the Saint Emperor himself attended it, and it was considered the best place on the continent to send a mage to study.
"I'm taking him to the Three Towers," Firebringer repeated.
"We have no money for that," Alphonse replied confused.
"Five years ago, I received an offer to become an Assistant Teacher in there," the old man explained. "Eminence Watermaister invited me."
"What?! How dare he ask you to become his assistant?!" Alphonse exploded in rage, showing there was bad blood in that relationship.
Firebringer waved his hand. "He believed he was about to level up to become an Ascender and wanted to humiliate me. He's too young and inexperienced, too focused on personal glory, instead of caring for his family, much to our own family's advantage. Nevertheless, he's well-connected and managed to get a job as a Junior Teacher there. As luck would have it, he failed to become an Ascender all this time and when I contacted him this morning, he said he would still accept me."
"Why would you do it?"
"You wouldn't know, because the Three Towers is so beyond our scope, but when you still showed potential as a mage, I researched them and learned that all teachers can nominate geniuses to receive scholarships. These nominations are highly sought after, and when a teacher decides to sell them in the black market, their prices get ridiculously high. Alas, we won't have to worry about pricing if I become an Assistant Teacher myself since I'll be able to nominate a single person every five years. Coincidence or not, kids need to be at least thirteen years old before they join the Three Towers, and Aaron is six, almost seven."
Alphonse was frowning. "You nominate someone, and they get a scholarship? Just like that?"
"Of course not. Aaron will be tested, and depending on his performance, he might get anything from a one percent discount to full scholarship. As an Assistant Teacher, my family members also get an extra five percent discount. I checked the current fees, and as long as he manages to get a fifty percent discount, added to the five percent he gets from being my grandson, I can pay for two years of his education." Firebringer's eyes shone. "Two years in the Three Towers! From thirteen to fifteen years old! We all know that a mage's basic education can define his whole future. Imagine how strong he could become! The possibilities!"
Alphonse was salivating at the thought. "But father... To wait until he's thirteen... You'll have to withstand humiliation for six whole years..."
Firebringer snorted. "A small price to pay for my grandson's and the family's future. I have accomplished all I could in this life, I'm just an old man forcibly pushing death away. If I can buy my grandson a future with these tired bones of mine, it'll be worth it."
They stared at each other in silence for a long time. Aaron, who had watched the exchange in silence, engraved his grandad's kindness in his heart. If he found a way to repay the old man in the future, he would.
In the end, they agreed to send Aaron to the Three Towers and decided to hire a good private magic teacher for him for now so he could be better prepared for the test.
Aaron was excited at the idea of entering the best magic school in the continent. That was just what he needed!
The next day, when they were waiting for Aaron's new teacher to arrive, one of the three level 9, Ascender, that ruled over the family came in person, much to everyone's surprise, including Firebringer's.
"Junior Eminence Firebringer pays his respects to Ancestor Ascender Firestar," Aaron's grandad said respectfully as he bowed deeply. He called himself junior even though he was older because power dictated everything in the family. As for calling the other man Ancestor, that’s how Ascenders from the family were called by other family members.
Firebringer was the only one who had the qualification to even greet the man, who looked to be in his fifties. Everyone else could only bow in silence.
"Is this the boy?" Ascender Firestar asked, looking at Aaron from head to toe.
"Reporting to Ancestor," Firebringer said, keeping his submissiveness to the maximum. "The boy is this one's grandson, Champion Aaron, six years old."
Just like how Eminences became Grand Elders in the family, a position that came with advantages and responsibilities, Champions became Elders. However, Aaron wasn't referred as so because he hadn't been formally introduced to the position yet.
Firebringer continued. "If Ancestor is inquiring as to him being the one who this one will bring to the Three Towers, then yes, this is him."
"That has yet to be decided," the Ancestor said dismissively. "Taking a family member to the Three Towers is not something you can decide for yourself. As to the obvious objections you're about to make, on you being the one to sacrifice yourself, and the only reason you would do that would be because of your grandson, I'll let you know that you either accept to have your grandson tested by us first, or we'll simply forbid you to go at all."
Firebringer's face trembled in fury, but he controlled his voice perfectly as he asked. "Might this Junior inquire Ancestor about this testing?"
Firestar nodded once. "You may. You contributed to the family enough that even considering your failure of a son, your grandson should still be given a chance. In fact, I am in full support of your grandson, and I'll take him as my temporary disciple. Each of the three Ancestors will teach a kid, and in one year, the kids will compete against each other for the opportunity of being nominated to the Three Towers. We haven't decided on what will be tested yet, but it will be a fair competition."
Aaron's grandad face was reddened by rage now that his son had been called a failure to his face. "May Junior inquire as to how motivated Ancestor Ascender Firestar is to win against the other Ancestors?"
Firestar smiled. "You may not, but before you say anything like that again, I'll let you know this: your patience and politeness are the only things keeping your grandson alive. If you had refused to go to the Three Towers or had been rude to me, I would've killed your grandson right now, as to prevent a genius from bringing us problems in the future for refusing him the nomination. We all heard at least one story of a genius taking down his own family in their path for vengeance." He turned without waiting for a reply. "You have until tomorrow to leave for the Three Towers. Bring the kid to my quarters before you depart."
With the threat of Aaron's death hanging on the air, the Ancestor left.
No one said anything for a long time.
Aaron was in front of huge double silver doors with a golden magic formation inscribed on them. The formation was a big circle full of arcane symbols and runes inside it, and it shone in a golden light.
Most inscribed formations were based on existing spells. Mages would take the three-dimensional spells signatures and change them in ways that allowed them to be inscribed in two-dimensional mediums. The way specific arcane symbols resonated with the universe to affect the fabric of reality could be understood by a mage with enough knowledge and experience, depending on the level of the spell signature itself.
Formation Mastery was considered a rather difficult school of magic. Even inscribed formations, which were the easiest of them all, required a lot of attention to details and years of study to merely begin to grasp their depths. Even the same symbol when used in different situations may not work depending on the materials used, the ratio of the materials, or even the materials' quality.
Aaron was a Formation Master though, which was a High Profession in his old universe. If it wasn't for this world using mana, and mana interacting differently with the symbols and materials than the energies Aaron already knew, he would have no difficulty in thoroughly reading the formation, identifying its weakness, and maybe even bypassing it despite his low level!
That wasn't to say he was helpless before it. He could still easily tell that the formation on the doors was meant for protection. He had learned the Mana Shield spell up to its level 3 version. Based on it and his experience as an energetic manipulator, he could roughly guess how the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth level spell signatures would look like. Added to his experience in formation mastery and his newfound knowledge on mana, he could also roughly guess how spell signatures would turn into formations.
He couldn't do the conversion himself yet without a few weeks' time, couldn't tell how the intricacies of the formation before him worked, and couldn't determine if there was anything other than protection in the formation, but guessing its general purpose when it was based on a spell he already knew was no challenge to him.
"I won't talk to the Ancestor, boyo," Firebringer, who was standing beside Aaron, said. " I don't want to see his face, or I might do something stupid. I also won't say any dramatic goodbye to you. See you in six years."
Aaron found it amazing how the old man could be so sensitive with his son one day, and so brutish with his grandson the next day. Not to mention how much of a weakling he was showing himself to be despite of how protective he had been of Aaron when talking to the maid before.
He vaguely felt that something was wrong, he just couldn't pinpoint it exactly yet, like a memory that kept fleeing his mind.
"Love you too, grandad," he said provokingly.
Unknown to Firebringer, those words were also a subtle hint on how he could break through his difficulties with magic and level up. Sometimes, to increase the grade or an attribute, the right mentality was required. Aaron had identified an issue in how the old man dealt with his emotions and believed it to be the main obstacle preventing Firebringer from becoming an Ascender himself.
"Yeah, yeah. Me too, boyo," Firebringer said, knocking three times on the door, and leaving without any further word.
The doors opened by themselves a few moments later, revealing a huge white room bare of anything except Ancestor Ascender Firestar, who was sitting cross-legged in the center.
"Come in," the man said.
Aaron obeyed, stopping in front of the man. The doors closed by themselves as soon as he went through the threshold.
"What's your name?" The man asked.
"This one is named Aaron," he replied as politely as he could.
"Valdian," Aaron replied.
"Not the family surname, your real one," the man insisted.
The family called itself Valdian Family, and every member also declared to be surnamed Valdian when asked. But the real surnames, the ones that the Full Status tutorial warned about being dangerous when revealing to others, was never mentioned to anyone even if they were family.
"This one asks for your forgiveness," Aaron said submissively but firmly, "but this one's real surname is for this one alone to know."
"We're family, boy. We're also master and disciple, albeit temporarily. There are secret techniques to increase your power but to use them I need your true name."
"This one begs for forgiveness, but this one will keep this one's surname to himself," Aaron insisted. Although he hadn't changed his name exactly because of a situation like this, it was one thing for his father to do it, and another for the old man who had threatened his life to do it! He didn't trust the man one bit.
The man's face twisted. "Boy! Tell me your surname at once!"
There was a disruption in the ambient mana, and a crushing sensation befell Aaron. It was a sensation that affected his body and soul, forcing him to submit, to kneel. His body did kneel, but his soul... How could a mere level 9, an Ascender, have enough power to pierce through a grade 12 soul resistance, the grade of the Immortals? Aaron simply ignored the weak pressure in his soul.
"Speak!" The man bellowed.
The pressure increased. Sweating blood, Aaron had to put his hands on the ground to prevent his face from slamming on in. He used all his power to remain on all fours. He tried to speak, but a fit of a blood-filled cough prevented him from it.
He became worried. He was just a kid, with limited blood in his body, and if he lost much more of it, he might actually die. And yet, he didn't dare reveal his true name. He knew a lot about it now, after reading for years from the library, and anyone who knew his true name would have absolute control over him.
He would rather die than become someone's slave!
"Boy! Tell me your true name!" The man yelled again.
Dizziness was coming to Aaron, but he managed to speak a single word before passing out.
The dizziness intensified, and blackness came to him.
He awoke at the same place, feeling warm mana healing his body. Looking up, he saw that Firestar hadn't moved from where he sat.
The man saw Aaron looking at him and nodded once. "You're just barely qualified enough to be taught by me. Sit down so we can begin."
Aaron had seen plenty of brutal tests before but never something like that aimed at a six-year-old. With his experience, he knew that the man had been trying to make him submit or kill him if he refused to obey. But then, when Aaron neither submitted or died easily, Firestar likely became impressed with the kid's resilience.
It was also his experience that allowed him to finally realize something was terribly wrong. He should be absolutely furious, fuming with rage, mad with wrath for what the man before him had done to him.
And yet, he felt only mildly annoyed, as if it was only a matter of course that he should accept being almost killed and repay it with kindness and submission just because the man was his superior.
Looking back, he remembered when his father had locked Aaron in the house and he had taken so long to realize it, and even then, he had never felt upset about it, despite how useless the mansion's library was for gathering data on magic. Also, regardless of his caution about revealing too much ability and knowledge before he could protect himself, he had felt way too safe in his environment, which led him to reveal greater progress in math — of all things! — than he should. And when his grandfather betrayed him by delivering him to a man who had threatened to take his life, instead of getting upset with his grandfather, he had ignored it and hinted at a way for his grandfather to grow stronger!
Something was messing with his mind. Something way too subtle for him to see it clearly.
As he thought that, he felt it. A particle of Prime Energy entering his soul without resistance.
He had felt similar particles before, but they were so rarely felt and so weak that he considered them a leftover of a leftover from when this world had had the proper amounts of Prime Energy, before the World Sovereigns made it so scarce for unknown reasons. Therefore, he had never bothered to prevent it from freely going through his body and soul. He couldn't use or absorb it, but it shouldn't cause any damage either.
Or so he had thought.
Now, as he paid attention to it, the particle flared in his soul. It created a tiny portal from which more Prime Energy poured in. The extra energy immediately tried to erase his memories, dampen his feelings, and modify his way of thinking!
It was a mind attack! An attack made by the world himself, aimed at forcing him to accept his place in life and just go on with it without fighting back.
He wondered how many times he had been close to noticing the strangeness of his feelings and had his memories of his conclusions erased before he could do anything.
This time, however, he counter-attacked!
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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