Chapter 9 - Seeds
Those of lower ranks in the family might believe that he had read about that Lower Artifact 'Redstar Sword' in a book but most of the Champions and even many of the Notable Mages, had no doubt that he had just created a Lower Artifact on the fly, in less than six hours, while explaining the entire process.
The way he had spoken was proof enough of that. It was like the difference between a math teacher explaining a complex operation as he solved it, in contrast to explaining something he had solved previously.
Even those who believed Aaron to have read about the sword somewhere were still impressed at his explanation. It was clear that he had not only memorized everything, he had also understood what he had read, which was a mighty feat for a twelve-year-old dealing with Lower Artifact artificing!
"Not bad," Firestar said after a moment, downplaying Aaron's achievement. "Explain the... The... Tyler-Grand Theory on how to translate Fifth level spells into Inscribed Formations."
Aaron almost laughed. There was obviously no Tyler-Grand Theory, and now every Five Stars Mage had just been put in on the ruse. Transforming Fifth level spells into Inscribed Formations was something that was currently being studied by the best researchers in the family; if there was such a theory, everyone would know about it.
He couldn't stop his smile. "Of course. The Tyler-Grand Theory is based on the... Stewart-Little Theory of Elemental Equivalence for Inscribing, which is based on the Alphonse-Edward Theory on Alchemy," he said, bulshitting it all from the beginning. Then, he proceeded to explain his own theory on Alchemy, on Elemental Equivalence, and finally, on how it all related to translating Fifth level spells into formations.
This lesson took almost twelve hours.
"How can the Valdian Martial Arts be improved to allow warriors to advance beyond the Five Stars level?" Firestar's brother asked.
This time, Aaron did smile. Asking about Martial Arts would completely destroy the façade of him being tested. No mage should be tested on warrior material, much less a kid on his way to the Three Towers!
And it was just what he wanted. As soon as he answered this question, the game would be irrevocably on.
He would have no trouble answering what was asked either. He had been a cultivator back on his old universe and his martial arts were only second to his energetic manipulation mastery. He had long understood how to improve the pitiful Valdian Martial Arts.
Of course, revealing perfect Martial Arts like the one he knew was something that could bring disadvantageous consequences far in future, if it was ever used against him. He would mix something in it to protect himself, just in case.
"To begin with, it's already a miracle that any warrior manages to become a Five Stars Warrior at all by using the Valdian Martial Arts," he said without any finesse. "The Valdian Martial Arts have so many mistakes in them that the seventy-percent death rate before reaching the Two Stars level, and fifth-percent death rate before reaching Three Stars level is a blessing from the heavens! Let's begin with the base belief included in it, that 'warriors are a power of nature created by the world to balance physical prowess against magic.' This is ridiculous and stupid. Warriors are incomplete mages and pretending to be anything else is only detrimental to them. By pretending, they refuse to use the mage knowledge they could use and instead create bogus martial arts that strain their bodies beyond what they can take."
A big commotion arose at that. There were many theories about the differences between warriors and mages, and the family had never chosen to officially support any of them.
"Do you support the Yarns Theory on Genetics, then?" Firestar asked, the sound of his voice enough for everyone to remember his presence and shut up.
"Obviously," Aaron said. "Any half-assed Champion Mage can use the Gene-Seeing spell and check the theory for themselves. Claiming the spell is only an illusion spell but not pointing any flaws in the spell signature is bullshit spurted by arrogant mages who don't want to be related to warriors and prideful warriors who don't want to be incomplete mages.
"I'll ignore the arrogant mages but as for the prideful warriors, I'll let them know that being incomplete doesn't mean they are necessarily inferior. There are many techniques that could make them compete toe to toe against mages in direct confrontations as long as they accept the truth.
"Let's start with the set of repetitive moves called 'weightlifting' that are used to strengthen their bodies. They are stupid. Mages have long since created spells that tear their own muscles, infuse them with mana and regenerate them, strengthening them at a much faster rate than weightlifting. The spells that mages use and the martial abilities that warriors use are two different kinds of skills, but they are still closely related. It's easier to translate one into the other than it is to translate a spell into a formation, which requires turning something three-dimensional into something two-dimensional, not to mention all the materials involved. Therefore, why not take the already existing mage spell and turn it into a martial ability? The spell signature for the First Muscle Strengthening spell is like this, and its equivalent martial ability signature would look like this."
Aaron used a simple Light Drawing spell to draw the signatures on the air and show them to everyone.
"See the similarities? Moving ahead, the martial moves in the Valdian Martial Arts are ineffective and dumb, almost useless in a proper fight. To make it better without going into a complete overhaul, I would change the first set of moves into this..." He started showing different moves on the stage. "...the second into this..." He went on.
He took extra care to not allow his body to pull mana from his soul while he showed the moves. That would make him begin threading the warrior path and if he did so before pubescence, his prepubescent bonus on growing his mana pool would cease.
"Finally, considering the martial abilities contained in the Valdian Martial Arts, it would be better if their signatures became like these, and their actual use changed to this and this..." He started explaining it all.
"With these simple modifications," he said after three hours, "it won't be difficult for an average warrior to reach level 6, Notable Warrior, with the talented becoming level 7, Champion Warriors, and the absolute geniuses among them, level 8, Eminences," Aaron said. This caused a huge commotion among the spectators. "Now, the question would be: is the family bold enough to allow its warriors to become that strong? It would bring about great change to the family's structure. Junior believes it to be beneficial, especially since mages could also use these skills to improve their bodies without the previous risk of death, so only laziness would allow the warriors to overtake the family. But it's up to Ancestors to decide."
Even though this reply 'only' took three hours, it was much more profound than the previous two. People started discussing his last provocation, even the Ascenders. Aaron just stood there, waiting for the next question while considering the consequences of what he had just done.
Warriors were basically mages that couldn't use magic outside their bodies. Although he hadn't been able to pry all the details from Firestar, he knew that this world wasn't one that looked kindly at warriors or at people who wanted to give warriors more power. He wasn't sure about all the consequences of his actions except that he would be hunted down by the powers that be. But at least most warriors on the continent had just become potential allies for he had no doubt word about the Valdian Martial Arts would spread, which was exactly what he intended.
Suddenly, he felt a pull on his sleeve and turned to see the slapped boy, Elliot, looking at him with awe in his eyes. "You're amazing!"
Theodore appeared behind Elliot and nodded. "Yes! Amazing!"
Aaron smiled. "If you work hard, you can become almost as amazing as me in the future."
"For real?" Elliot asked.
Aaron nodded. "For real."
The eyes of both boys shone as they looked at Aaron in veneration. He ignored them and went back to his musings.
In the end, the Ascenders asked three more profound questions and declared Aaron's score to be a hundred. The battle didn't happen, for Theodore simply forfeited the match before it could even begin.
Aaron was declared the winner of the competition, which took three days from beginning to end.
As to avoid being in the Royal Capital when the Asshats came for him, he decided to start his trip to the distant Three Towers the day after.
The morning was a cold one and a thin rain was falling from the sky. Despite this, most Ascenders, Eminences, Champions, and Notable Mages of the clan had all come. Even many lower leveled mages and a huge number of warriors were present.
He looked around but was unable to find his father among those present.
"Master, where is Disciple's father?" He asked Firestar.
"Didn't I tell you?" The man asked with a surprised expression. "Last month, the Brigadier said that either we promoted Major Notable Firebreather or the Brigadier herself would retire. War is everywhere, and we couldn't chance to lose her, so we bowed to her wishes, promoting your father. The same day he was made into a General, the Southern Tribes invaded, and he was dispatched to deal with it."
Aaron looked south and sighed. Unfortunately, his own travels would take him west. "How's the Three Towers treating my grandad?"
Firestar hesitated a bit before looking at Aaron in the eyes and saying somberly, "He is perfectly fine."
Aaron sighed again, understanding that Firestar was saying that his grandad was having issues. However, he didn't dwell much on the subject.
Each person had their own destinies, with their own obstacles on the way. His mother was dead, his father might die in the south, and his grandad was suffering to the west.
As terrible as that might sound to the faint of heart, overcoming obstacles brought growth, and to mages, even those considered failures like his father, stagnation was worse than death. They pursued magic with their all, and magic couldn't be chased if one's heart was hindered by the lack of conflicts to overcome.
Firestar was a great example. Aaron hadn't told the man the issues in his path towards the Overlord realm, he didn't even know the man's issues. And yet, by answering questions from Aaron, which were a kind of obstacles on their own, he had found something he missed and became a Quasi-Overlord, only one step away from becoming an Overlord.
Of course, Aaron would intervene if certain death was involved or if things crossed his bottom line, like if his father was captured by enemies. He would also seek retribution if people close to him were killed, but for the most part, he would live and let live. The most he did behind the scenes was giving small tips here and there, like planting seeds that could germinate or not.
The seed he left for his father was hiding the solution for his magical failure within the improved Valdian Martial Arts. After living with the man for six years, how could he have failed to detect the man's issues in hindsight, now that he had so much knowledge of magic? Now, it only depended on his father to be humble enough to train as a warrior despite being a mage.
As for his grandfather, the seed was planted the last time he saw the old man.
And for his own gains, he had left plenty of seeds for the family by answering the questions on the competition, and in his discussions with Firestar over the years. Even if he had hidden most of his capabilities, just his questions had helped Firestar in becoming a Quasi-Overlord. As long as the old man wasn't completely stupid, which he had shown himself not to be, the family would profit quite well from the bits that could be learned in their conversations.
And depending on what happened until his return to the family, he might use the then-improved nation as his base of operations or discard them to look for a better ally.
"If there's nothing else, it's time I leave," Aaron said.
The journey would take at least six months, and there would certainly be many unexpected events that would delay him even further. He had to present himself at the Three Towers exactly in nine months to not miss his nomination, and even a few hours of delay might as well be the difference between arriving on time or being late.
Or so he had insisted as an excuse to leave the Royal Capital without the Asshats thinking the family was deliberately helping him.
Firestar smiled. "I said before I'd only be your temporary master, and I was right in more ways than I knew at the time, for you've long grown beyond my means of teaching. In the name of the Valdian Family, I'd like to give you a parting gift." He took his own spatial ring and presented it to the boy.
Aaron smiled back, put the ring on, and nodded. "With this, our master-disciple relationship is complete. We part ways with neither ties of friendship or sparks of enmity."
He briefly pushed his consciousness into the ring and checked its content. He wasn't surprised to find that space inside was huge and there were already a few chests full of crystal-like coins in there. The family was paying him for everything he had done for them in the competition.
He expected there to be bugs and tracking devices in the ring, whether Firestar was aware or not, and that worked just right for his plans. It was better to give the Asshats, who would undoubtedly be informed of him after his performance at the competition, a false sense that they had him in their hands.
Firestar laughed awkwardly. "I feel like I should be the one saying those lines." He paused for a second. "And there's one last thing I'd like to trouble you with."
"Ask away," Aaron said.
"Please, take a mage and a warrior with you, anyone you want. Train them for the family, without any hidden intentions behind it."
This time, he said it in a clear voice, showing that there really weren't any hidden intentions behind the request. Or at least, that's what he wanted Aaron to think.
In the years he had learned under Firestar, he had learned to read the man quite well. Firestar didn't always speak somberly when he was lying to Aaron, but even when he was trying to hide his lies, Aaron could instantly tell most of the time.
It didn't seem like Firestar was lying this time and Aaron considered the request for a moment. Training people could be a good investment. In the future, he would need subordinates he could trust, and grooming them now would be the optimal choice.
On the other hand, they could become a burden. He had a greater objective on sight, saving the entire universe, and he might have to abandon his followers if it became either him or them.
He wouldn't bring people with him just to abandon them, that just wasn't who he was. However, any situation that would force him to abandon them would likely be fatal to him too, anyway. But he had to be realistic; it might happen.
He almost said no to Firestar's request, but decided to at least check the people available to him before replying.
Check Level, he thought, and tooltips appeared over the heads of everyone. Many of them, however, had more than one level displaying on their tooltips.
Level: 5 — Five Stars Mage (6 — Notable Mage)
Level: 2 — Two Stars Mage (4 — Four Stars Mage)
Level: 6 — Notable Mage (7 — Champion Mage)
Thanks to his energetic sensitivity, which allowed him to feel the amount and density of mana inside their mana pool, he easily concluded that those people were hiding their levels. Their true levels were the ones inside parenthesis and he could see through most of their veiling spells and treasures.
As for how he could pierce through their veiling spells, it was simply due to his soul grade, the average of his three soul attributes. If a veiling spell was grade 2 and his soul was grade 3, he could pierce through it. Likewise, many illusions and miscellaneous spells could be pierced with the system's help if one's soul grade was high enough.
Naturally, he could see through most veiling spells even without the system's help, but he didn't completely disregard it, since having a means of double-checking things couldn't hurt.
All that was interesting but wasn't enough for him to want to bring one of those people with him. That's until he noticed a peculiar warrior.
Level: 4 — Four Stars Warrior
The man looked to be thirty years old and had a strong build like most warriors. He was wearing a plate armor and carrying his helmet under his arm as a sign of respect. He was behaving like all the warriors around him and there was no parenthesis in his level tooltip.
However, Aaron could feel that the mana in his body definitely made him a level 5 warrior instead of the level 4 he was seeing!
That attracted Aaron's curiosity. Who was that man? Why he was hiding his level? How was he able to hide his level even from Aaron's high soul grade?
In his long life, he had learned to respect other people's secrets, which had a double meaning.
First, he shouldn't try to forcibly take people's secrets away from them, just like he had never questioned Firestar about his circumstances. If people wanted you to know about something, they would tell.
The exception was when such secret was being used to hurt you. In Firestar's case, Aaron simply wasn't strong enough to force the old man to talk and he was concerned about the consequences of pissing Firestar off if he tried.
Second, people with interesting secrets were usually the right people to keep around. Their circumstances were usually beneficial for those around them in the long run.
Aaron pointed straight at him. "You. Come here."
Confusion appeared on the man's face but he obeyed. "Yes, First Elder?" He said respectfully, with a kind of deep gratefulness for Aaron visible in his eyes.
"If I take you with me, are you willing to have your Martial Foundation erased and start from scratch?" Aaron asked.
"Yes, First Elder!" He immediately replied, which surprised Aaron a little.
"It will be a painful process. You might die," Aaron warned.
"I'm willing, First Elder!" Mark insisted with the same excitement as before.
Aaron nodded. "Good. What's your name?"
"Four Stars Mark, First Elder!"
"Well, Mark, take your armor off. Being too protected will hinder your growth. From now on, you're forbidden from protecting yourself using external tools unless I give you explicit permission. Better yet, leave your weapons back too. I'll provide you with one when I deem you ready."
"Yes, First Elder!" The man almost yelled and with looks of adoration on his face, he immediately removed his armor, becoming half-naked in front of everyone.
Aaron laughed, he already liked the man's readiness and decisiveness, but he didn't want to walk around with a naked dude to his side.
He ordered Mark to put some clothes on while taking his things into his spatial ring. Mark quickly left, returning a few minutes later wearing clothes that were much like black Army uniforms from Earth. In the Fire Continent, they meant the man was a warrior, albeit a poor one without money to buy a proper armor.
As for the mage that he would bring with him, none of them seemed too interesting until he saw a familiar face on the corner of his eyes. It was a twenty-two years old girl, Sara, his former teacher and an undercover agent of the family.
Level: 7 — Champion Mage
Her growth was incredible. She had been a level 4 when he met her, level 5 five years ago, and now she was already level 7. Considering she had already left pubescence when he first met her, that growth speed was impossible without the family dumping resources at her.
However, what made him take better notice of her wasn't her growth, but the way she was looking at him. There was absolute hatred in her eyes, which disappeared into an innocent look as soon as he focused on her.
"Did I wrong Sara somehow?" He asked Firestar.
"Sara?" He sounded confused. There were many Sara's in his kingdom, after all. He followed Aaron's sight. "Oh, Elder Champion Sara." There was sadness in his voice. "I can't get into details, but we wronged her greatly and now we're trying to fix it. You shouldn't take her with you, she'll try to harm you even if we order otherwise."
Aaron thought about it for a few moments, pondering at which problems could be solved by spending resources to increase one's level, at why it was relevant enough to say that she would attack him even if ordered otherwise, at what was so terrible as to make even Firestar feel bad about something.
There were a few possibilities, but the worse one made Aaron pity the girl greatly. He decided to check on it.
Myriad Arts — Spellcasting — Single Element: Soul — Seventh Soul Eye!
Soul mana infused his eyes and changed the way he saw the world, allowing him to see everything that contained the soul element, people's souls included. Or at least, the humanoid white parts of their souls that were anchored to their bodies.
There were many twisted souls among the mages, most of them due to them using soul spells wrongly and thus hurting their souls, or due to experiments gone awry. Sara's soul, however, was a monstrosity.
It was deformed to the point that even Aaron couldn't recognize it as a humanoid's soul. At first look, it felt like it had been compressed into a ball then stretched in random points. Parts of it had been removed, other parts had been twisted, and it looked oily. It was gruesome.
There were many reasons for a soul to turn into that, but the solution was always the same, strengthening her soul enough so the changes could be reverted without killing her. That would only be possible on level 9, Ascender, but due to how twisted her soul was, it would already be a great achievement if she ever achieved level 8, Eminence.
It was noble of the family to dump resources into her to save her, but as things were, she would die of soul stress in less than five years.
"I'll take her," Aaron said. It wasn't a logical decision, it was just something that had to be done. How could he claim to want to save the universe if he ignored someone who needed his help like that?
As for her becoming a burden, she was at least a Champion Mage just like him. After he taught her, she would become somewhat useful and if she was even a little grateful for him saving her, she would also become a good subordinate he could trust with the right missions in the future.
Not to mention that as long as his plans went well and he arrived at his first destination, a city to the west, he wouldn't have to worry as much about Mark and Sara being a burden.
"Are you sure?" Firestar asked with clear hope in his voice. Although he wasn't certain about the full extent of Aaron's capabilities, he knew that the boy was a genius and had a good chance of finding another solution to her issue.
"Yes," Aaron said.
"Thank you," the old man said with relief. "Take care in your journey, I wish I could help you more."
Aaron smiled. That was the closest Firestar had come to outright warning Aaron about the dangers ahead.
It was time for Aaron to trigger the next phase of his plan.
"You may think I'm a possessed kid for all the incredible things I showed and did, but I'm not," he said, remembering what the man had said about Sara suspicious when he introduced Aaron to the other two Ascenders. "I'm a human and I love the family as much as the next guy. Rest easy, for I won't bring doom upon you. Who knows, I might even help somehow."
That was his way of saying he was aware of the dangers, that he knew the Asshats would come for him, and that he was prepared.
He was also saying that he saw the family as a potential ally, but more than that, he expected the family to prove itself before he saw them as more than that.
And finally, he was saying that if something good happened to the family in the near future — which would happen if his plan worked —, then Firestar better credit it to Aaron!
Without waiting for a reply, he entered the luxurious carriage that had been prepared for him. It was pulled by four majestic white horses. "Elder Champion Sara, you'll be attending me as my maid." He almost yelled to the distant girl in the crowd, who looked surprised at being called out. She looked at Firestar, and when the old man nodded, she obeyed. "Mark," Aaron continued, "you'll be my butler and driver. Let's go."
There would be no bodyguards. He had made sure of that, else his plan wouldn't work.
Sara entered the carriage, Mark took the driver's seat, and they started their long journey towards the Three Towers.
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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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