Chapter 7 – Magic Studies
As soon as they were back in Firestar's room, he closed the door and suddenly spoke in a heavy tone, something way out of character for him. "Aaron."
Aaron's heart started pounding in his chest and he prepared to cast the best protective and escape spells he knew. "Yes, Master?"
Firestar looked the boy in the eyes. "I will never, ever, under any circumstances lie to you or hide anything at all from you." He made a long pause. "Do you understand?"
Aaron frowned. "I think so...?"
After another pause, the old man nodded. "Good. You can absolutely, completely trust everything I say without any reservations at all. Never, ever, doubt anything I say."
"Okay...?" Aaron replied.
There was no reason for Firestar to say that, much less out of the blue and right after he had gotten just a tiny bit of trust from Aaron by apologizing. Therefore, his meaning was clear: anything he said could be a lie and Aaron shouldn't trust it.
Aaron didn't know why Firestar was saying that, or even why he wouldn't say those words directly. Clearly, the old man had a set of circumstances that he couldn't or didn't want to inform Aaron about.
Still, he was going out of his way to make Aaron aware of it as best as he could. Or at least, he was trying to make it look so.
Whatever the case, Aaron would hold his cards even closer from now on.
The next years were a strange experience for Aaron.
Firestar would usually be all helpful and freely provide him with books and knowledge. Aaron, on the other hand, kept most of his knowledge and theories to himself. He was also careful about double-checking all information he received and asking questions about sensitive subjects, always doing so in roundabout ways as to not raise any suspicion.
Once, he wanted to know why he had not found any attack spells that sucked the air out of the lungs of the victim. Even though mages might easily counter that, it could still be useful for mass execution of klutzes.
Not that he expected to ever do that but having the knowledge of that possibility might be the very trigger that would lead to a creative solution to escape a tricky situation.
However, a kid asking such questions would surely raise a red flag, no matter how much of a psychopath Firestar had shown to be when he tried to kill Aaron. Therefore, his way of asking was by leading a conversation until that question seemed natural.
"Shouldn't fish be made of water?" He asked.
It was a dumb question, but he made sure to show the ignorance befitting a kid now and then, else who knows what his Master might think.
"Of course not," Firestar replied. "What possibly gave you such notion?"
"Don't they 'float' in the water like ghosts float in the air? Then, shouldn't they be made of the same substances they float on?"
Firestar snorted. "I fail to follow your logic, but I'll entertain you. Are ghosts made of air?"
"I... think not?" Aaron replied, pretending to be unsure.
"No! Ghosts are made of something very similar to souls! As for fish, they 'breathe' water but that's not the reason they float. Humans breath air and we don't go around floating, not without magic, do we?"
"So, if we took the water from inside the fish, they would still be able to 'float' inside water?"
"Didn't you hear what I said? They breathe water, or rather, the air in the water. It's obvious that they would die asphyxiated if you took the water from their lungs, just like humans would die if you took the air from inside them."
Aaron widened his eyes in surprise and a bit of fear. "Can people use a spell to do that to me?!"
This time, Firestar had to think a bit before replying, showing that such concept was a novelty to him. "Not easily. Your soul permeates your whole body and your soul resistance is used against magical attacks. That's why all attack spells usually have some sort of physicality to them. This way, even if the magic is resisted, the physical part of the spell would still damage your body.
"If a spell tried to take the air from your lungs, your soul would notice the spell is hostile to you, and the spell would have to fight against your soul resistance for the air inside you. The same goes for poison, but of course, the poison would work if your soul didn't detect the hostility in the poison, which is the whole point of poisoning someone...
"But I digress. Yes, people might take the air from your lungs to kill you, but they would have to be stronger than you and fight your soul resistance. If they are already stronger then you, isn't it easier to kill you by using the Air element to simply decapitate you with a Wind Blade, considering how long it would take for you to asphyxiate?"
That answer had helped Aaron enough. He had theorized about soul resistance and internal magical attacks before but had found no books on the subject.
Sometimes, however, Firestar would refuse to answer simple questions. He would usually make it very obvious too, speaking way too somberly all of a sudden and looking Aaron straight in the eyes.
That was especially true when Aaron tried to find out more about the social organization of the world other than the name of the countries and geographic locations. Firestar had no issue in talking about international economics, but the moment Aaron asked about geopolitics, things would go south very quickly.
The most intense episode was when Aaron, after gathering enough clues, tried to probe on who were the powers ruling the world.
"I wonder what would happen if there existed an organization that hunts dissidents..." He said. In his previous conversations with Firestar, he had come to understand that such an organization already existed.
Firestar immediately dropped the book he was reading and looked Aaron in the eyes. "There is no such thing. There never was, nor there will ever be. You should drop this matter."
Aaron insisted. "What would happen if they found me to be a dissident? Would they just outright kill me? Would they call people to hunt me? Or would they investigate it better first?"
"No one will kill you for a mere suspicion!" Firestar bellowed. Then, surprised at spilling the beans, he widened his eyes and tried to fix it. "Even if someone tried to kill you, you're safe here. We would protect you at all costs. There's no way someone would be able to force us to give you over. No one has such authority, because such authority doesn't exist. Do you understand? Now, drop. The. Matter."
Aaron understood it well enough. The family had overseers that were powerful enough to make Firestar frightened as a little kid. But Aaron wasn't done. "What would be enough to make them interested in me, I wonder. Or how-"
A sounding slap to his face made him shut up. There was real regret in Firestar's eyes for a split second, showing that he didn't want to do that, but Aaron had gone too far, too fast. He refused to talk to Aaron for the rest of the day.
After that, Aaron never again forced matters too much. He kept his questioning going but was extra roundabout about it and only took small bites on the forbidden information, using Firestar's denials to paint a proper picture of the state of affairs in the world.
What he found, not only about the organization but also about the geopolitics in his region, made him realize he was in a whole lot of danger.
A nomination for the Three Towers was way too valuable and the family spies reported that nearby nations were already mobilizing for the day of his departure. Simply getting to the academy would require a great force to protect him. The family would send half their military with him, and even so, it wasn't guaranteed that he would arrive at the Three Towers.
The consequences of that were two even bigger problems.
First, to protect himself in the trip, he would likely have to reveal his prowess, which would attract the attention of the organization Firestar had tried to hide, a group of superstitious people with too much power who investigated any mage who showed too much potential. As of yet, he hadn't learned their name and was calling them 'Asshats.'
Second, having half the military gone would make the Valdian Kingdom vulnerable, and while he didn't have much love lost for them, they were his family. He considered himself a logical person but he wasn't completely devoid of feelings or a moral compass. People attacking his family wasn't something he could simply ignore.
Even not considering his feelings, weakening his family and allowing them to be attacked was a stupid move, since they were his only allies in the world at the moment.
The obvious alternative was having his grandfather give up his position at the Three Towers and return. Aaron would then live isolated for a long time, conducting research on magic until he considered himself strong and old enough to brave the world without raising any suspicion.
That would be a great idea if he had been born in the middle of nowhere without contact to the outside world. However, his existence was known by too many people, and Firestar had hinted more than once that the nearby nations had spies that would sooner or later learn about Aaron's level, Champion, and report him to the Asshats.
For whatever reason, reporting people who showed too much intelligence or talent was law set in stone, and the Asshats were adamant about having their rules obeyed. If the report happened and Aaron was found being sheltered by the family, without the family itself being the ones to report him, the family would face annihilation-level punishment. That's how mighty and dangerous the Asshats were.
And then, even if that hadn't been an issue, Firestar himself was bound by unknown circumstances and he might be forced to betray Aaron.
Aaron wasn’t completely safe in the Royal Palace and he wouldn't be safe on the road, but the palace held extra danger. While on the road he would face unknown dangers, but in here, he was at the mercy of Firestar.
He didn't like his safety depending on a person of dubious allegiance that had said Aaron shouldn't trust him, that was keeping Aaron under surveillance at all times, and that was much more powerful than Aaron.
Thankfully, after more probing, he learned a set of very interesting rules that the Asshats followed. Thanks to those rules, he formulated a rather ingenious plan for when he left for the Three Towers.
He would put his plan in motion on the day of the competition.
It turned out that he had too little time to learn magic before leaving. Fortunately, Firestar showed himself to be agreeable to negotiations as expected.
At first, Aaron had tried to be given time in the form of a time-slowing formation as compensation for when Firestar had tried to kill him. While Firestar had accepted it, they disagreed on how long the formation would be kept up.
Aaron wanted it up for six days, the limit that he could withstand due to what he wanted to do. However, Firestar explained that keeping the time-slowing formation up and running would consume too many resources. With his own personal means, he could grant Aaron two days at most, and that would make him almost bankrupt.
Such huge resource consumption was only because the formation the family had was mediocre, but he wasn't about to give them a better one. Such formations manipulated the elusive Laws of Time, which were rarely understood, much less by young kids. That might make someone, maybe even Firestar, report him to the Asshats before he was ready for them.
Thus, after some negotiation, he found something incredibly simple he could to the Firestar and wouldn't attract much attention. It could be explained as sudden enlightenment, wouldn't reveal much of his capabilities, and would still be valuable enough to the family to justify Firestar pulling enough resources from the Valdian Kingdom to run the formation for six days.
That something was improving one of their pathetic formations to make it actually usable.
Aaron was using a magic chalk to inscribe a huge formation on the floor, discussing its details with Firestar. It resembled an eight-pointed star inside a double circle with lots of symbols all over it.
"This rune would usually add fire intent to the formation," Aaron said, "but I believe that when doubled, combined with the water intent here, and connected to the aqua lines there, it would instead bring steam intent and its physical manifestation," Aaron said.
"Why steam?" Firestar asked with a frown.
"The Third Light Healing spell we're trying to turn into a better-inscribed formation uses touch to connect the caster and the target bodies, and so does the current formation that our family knows," Aaron explained. "However, because of the delicateness of this formation, direct contact with it can disrupt its mana flow and make the formation useless. To counter that, the formation considers all kinds of variables when drawing the inscription. Is it going to touch a klutz, a warrior, a mage, or a beast? What will the level of the target be? What about the target gender, and thus, the yin and yang energies within it? What about its injuries, are they elemental, physical, or soul related? There are specific formations for each situation and using the wrong one could be fatal. But what if we used another way of connecting the formation to the target without having to care about each and every detail about whom the formation is going to interact with?"
Firestar's eyes shone. "By using magic-infused steam, no direct touch with the formation is required! That way, a single formation can be used by anyone without the risk of the energies in the person's body and soul disrupting it!"
Aaron nodded. That was the easiest way of making the Third Light Healing formation more practical for usage. By teaching this to Firestar, the man would also be able to use the same concept in other formations.
Using steam brought different issues, but it was still way better than what the family had.
"Indeed," Aaron said. "I bet turning touch spells into steam formations is a common thing to do, especially for attacking formations, like poisonous ones, but our family has only been around for eight hundred years and our magic research only has been going for four hundred years. Our teachings are crude at best and our way of thinking is too rigid. You really should start sending people to magic schools, both the young and the old."
"We have no money to pay for the good schools," Firestar said with a sigh.
Aaron shook his head. "I just told you: your way of thinking lacks fluidity. No matter how pitiful the schools you can afford might be, there will still be things to learn. If not from their libraries and teachers, from the other students. Small things, like turning touch spells into steam formations, might be considered simple to others, and thus freely divulged. And yet, it might be enough to bring a golden age for our family's magical research department." He finished drawing a new rune. "Now, we only have to think on a way to make the steam intent into non-elemental steam, lest the fire and water intents that create the steam itself bring more harm to the injured."
Firestar sighed. "A mage's work is never done."
After pretending to think hard for what felt like an eternity, Aaron exclaimed excitedly, "That's it! Of course! We don't need to make it non-elemental but add all elements to it instead. Or at the very least, the five elements, plus yin and yang. It will make the formation a bit more demanding on the mage creating it, but formation mastery is usually demanding anyway. It's also worth noting that the elemental harmony will also help with the healing afterward, so it's like killing two birds with one stone." He started drawing new runes and lines.
A few hours later, Aaron used a last stroke of the chalk to conclude the formation. He crossed his arms and analyzed it for a while until he finally nodded satisfied. "It's done." He could see a few ways to improve the formation, but even if he was willing to do so, the family was too weak to defend itself from the greed that a better design would attract.
He turned to Firestar. "Will you honor your part on the deal, Master?"
Firestar laughed. "I wouldn't dare not to. I'll send this design to our formation masters and they can think on how to adapt it to a plate. I'll need one month to set everything up for the time-dilatation formation."
"Disciple thanks Master," Aaron said and went to one of the hundreds of bookcases that now littered the walls of the room.
"Here," Firestar said as he offered a spatial ring to Aaron that looked as if it was made of simple gold.
"Thanks," Aaron said as he took the ring and stepped inside the small formation drawn on the floor. Firestar, on the outside, immediately used his mana to activate it.
And just like that, time seemed to stop. Or rather, it was passing a hundred times slower inside the formation when compared to the outside.
His body was adequately slowed, but his soul easily resisted the formation. He had theorized it would happen and willed his consciousness into the pocket dimension linked to the spatial ring.
His vision shifted, and he found himself in a huge area filled to the brim with bookcases. It resembled a room with floor, walls, and ceiling made of thick white mist. There was no light source, but he could still see everything there. Despite gravity not existing in there, there was nothing floating around; it was a very cozy and clean room.
The pocket dimension was like a fold in space, a spatial bubble created inside the ring. It had clearly been created by a weak or untalented mage since it lacked Light Laws, Gravity Laws, and many others, which made it unable to hold living beings.
After willing his consciousness inside, he could travel freely around the room, and even manipulate anything inside at will, like taking a book from a bookcase and turning its pages.
And so, he started studying to his heart content. His promised six days would translate to six hundred inside the time-slowing formation.
Firestar hadn't understood how that would be useful at all. If Aaron's body was slowed, his soul should be slowed, too. Even if his soul could break free from the time dilatation due to its high-grade resistance, it should simply move at the same speed as outside formation.
To him, Aaron's body would be slowed a hundred times, going through those six days as if less than two hours had gone by, while his mind would normally live those six days as if it was outside the formation.
What was beyond the old man's knowledge was that souls didn't reside in the material plane. Time and space were things of the material; as for the soul, it was and wasn't inside the body, it existed in a kind of an alternate reality. Due to his grade 12 soul resistance, his soul was and wasn't affected by the time dilatation at the same time.
Meaning that time was going slower for his soul because it also existed inside his slowed body, but at the same time, his soul could function at the same speed as if it wasn't affected by the time dilatation. It was as if everything was placed in slow motion, while his soul kept moving in normal speed in that slow reality.
That was the theory. In practice, it meant that his soul, and thus his merged mind, were working a hundred times faster than outside the formation.
Of course, such a miracle brought its own dangers with it. The strain on his soul and mind would be huge. If it wasn't for his soul resistance being so great, he would never dare do something like this.
Even with his soul resistance, he only dared to do it for those six days and then he would avoid doing similar things for a couple years or so to allow his soul to recover from the stress. It was a shame that the family didn't have a time speeding formation for him to not need to go through this, only this slowing one.
Be as it may, he had six hundred days — the equivalent to two years in that planet — to read and speculate on magic as much as he wanted.
He intended on using each second to the fullest.
Two years came and went inside the formation. After that, Aaron went back to his routine of studying and prying of information from Firestar.
Everything went smoothly until he was twelve years old.
That's when the competition happened and he set forth his plans to safeguard his life and the family's future.
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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
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