Chapter 094

The next morning, Zorian and Kirielle bid Rea and her family goodbye and went to Imaya’s place. Once there, they found out that Imaya had only been slightly worried for them – she had guessed from the severity of the last night’s storm that they had taken shelter somewhere overnight.

He also officially met Kael and his daughter. The morlock boy was a bit more leery about him than Zorian remembered, but he supposed that was to be expected. He usually greeted Kael at Cyoria’s train station and charmed him with practiced gestures and conversation right from the start… none of which had happened this time. Since the circumstances of their meeting differed, so did Kael’s reaction to him.

It was a minor matter, really. Zorian was confident that the morlock boy would warm up to him eventually. If anything, the fact Kael was currently so distant may very well be a good thing. Much like Zorian’s interaction with Ilsa earlier in the resta-

He froze suddenly, fiercely knocking his head with his fist a couple of times. No. Not ‘restart’! There was no time loop anymore. It was the real thing. He had to get this into his head as soon as possible…

His strange actions prompted strange looks from Imaya, who asked him if he was alright.

Once Kirielle had settled in and he cleared up some things with Imaya, Zorian left a simulacrum to guard the place and left to find Zach. He eventually found him sitting on the edge of the academy fountain, idly running his hand through the water while lost in thought.

“It’s weird,” Zach told him when he approached. “The fountain hadn’t worked for years, and it was only recently that it got fixed and repainted… but to me, it looks perfectly normal as it is right now. In fact, I don’t think I actually remember what the fountain looked like before this month.”

“Makes sense,” Zorian shrugged. “It’s been decades since you’ve last seen it.”

Even Zorian struggled to remember details like that, and his stay in the time loop had been far shorter than Zach’s. He had the ability to flawlessly preserve important memories inside his memory packets, of course, but that only worked for select things he consciously deemed important. Most of his memories went through the exact same process as any other person’s.

Zach didn’t say anything to that. Instead he simply got up from his sitting spot and then motioned for Zorian to follow him.

“I’m a bit hungry,” Zach said. “Let’s go to the cafeteria and see what they have to offer. It’s been so long since I’ve been there I’ve already forgotten what the food there tastes like.”

“So did I,” Zorian admitted. “Still, we stopped going there for a reason. The cafeteria food is nothing special, I assure you of that. What’s this all about, really?”

“I don’t know. It’s just something that has been on my mind lately,” Zach said with a shrug. “Say, did you ever figure out what you would do after this month?”

Zorian hesitated for a few seconds.

“There are so many uncertainties surrounding this month that it almost seems foolish to have any long-term plans until it’s over,” he said cautiously. “Even if we both survive and Cyoria isn’t a ruined wreck by the end of it, the invasion may very well leave us on the run or trigger another round of Splinter Wars. Ignoring that, though, I think I’ll just gather some funds…”

Zach gave him a knowing look.

“Well, okay, a lot of funds,” Zorian admitted. “And then I’ll open a research facility to study the nature of mana. Maybe I’ll be able to figure out how to duplicate that mana-increasing stabilization frame that you and Quatach-Ichl have attached to your soul. Or maybe I’ll discover how to store mana in outside containers, assimilate mana more quickly and efficiently, or some other revolutionary improvement. That had kind of been my dream when I was younger – to invent something that would completely revolutionize the way magic is done. I eventually discarded that as a childish fantasy that I had no power to realize… but maybe it’s not so impossible anymore.”

“Still very difficult,” Zach noted. “If a talented mage with plenty of money was enough to revolutionize magic, it would happen way more often than it does.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Zorian said. “It’s fine if I fail. I have no interest in hoarding money or in political maneuvering, so what else would I do with my time and money?”

“Never say never,” said Zach with a grin. “Once you get married, you may find your wife is not nearly as divorced from material concerns as you are.”

“You’re not even married yourself, so how would you know anything about that?” Zorian huffed. “Don’t talk like an old man.”

“But I am an old man,” Zach protested. “At least from a certain perspective. Anyway, I hope you realize that this sort of thing you’re describing is something the time loop would have been absolutely perfect for, right?”

“Yes, but I didn’t have time to focus on such peripheral, highly theoretical projects back in the time loop. Kind of funny, but true. Life is amusing like that sometimes,” Zorian shrugged. He paused for a moment, thinking about something. “Of course, before I can throw myself into big projects like that, I first need to pay back all the people that helped me inside the time loop. Doing that without drawing any attention and revealing my identity is bound to be a… tricky undertaking.”

“Can you even do that at this point?” Zach asked. “We lost most of the notebooks and research notes when the physical exit strategy failed.”

“I saved the most crucial work in my head, and the rest can be reconstructed with some effort,” Zorian said. “It may take years but I’m sure I can do it.”

He was deliberately being a little more optimistic about things than he really felt. So many things had been lost at the end of the time loop… it pained Zorian to even think of it. Zorian had used memory packets to preserve their most important information, designs, and notebooks before the group had made their exit attempt… just in case… but this was still just a small part of the whole. It couldn’t substitute for the vast body of knowledge and invention that the group had managed to gather in the end.

Rebuilding that massive library and then handing down portions of it to various people without causing a massive stir that led straight back to him would be a difficult problem.

“Does that mean you’ve already given Kael his notes?” Zach asked curiously.

“No, not yet,” said Zorian, shaking his head. He actually had fairly complete version of Kael’s notes. He prioritized preserving his research, mostly due to them being old friends, so he didn’t have to reconstruct much in that regard. “The situation is very weird right now. I don’t want to involve him in this mess until I have to, and I can’t just hand him those research notes and leave him to his own devices.”

“Do you even want to tell him about the time loop?” Zach asked.

“Ideally, I’d like to keep everyone except Xvim, Alanic, and the Cyorian web in the dark about the time loop,” Zorian said. “I’m not sure how possible that is, though. We are already planning to evacuate everyone we know to Koth at some point. We’re going to need an explanation of some sort for that. At the very least, informing Daimen about things may be necessary to get his cooperation.”

“Daimen would also be useful for his magical prowess and possibly his connections,” Zach pointed out. “Speaking of Koth, how are the negotiations with the Silent Doorway Adepts going?”

“Reasonably well,” Zorian said. “We haven’t reached an agreement, but that’s normal. I don’t think we need to tell them anything about time travel. Gate keys for another continent are tempting enough on their own. We should have a way to Koth in a few of days.”

“Good. I’ll feel a lot better with Princess by my side,” Zach said. “With her support, not even Quatach-Ichl can force us to withdraw. I’d put my hand in the fire that Red Robe is trying to broker some kind of alliance with Quatach-Ichl as quickly as he can.”

“Probably,” Zorian agreed.

“I really don’t like this,” Zach said. “You at least are in constant contact with your simulacrums, but I don’t have that luxury. I have no idea what’s happening out there until my simulacrums deign to send me a report, so all I can do is wait. I feel useless and stupid.”

“The simulacrums are doing fine,” Zorian assured him. “I’m concerned that we can’t find any solid clues as to what Red Robe is really doing, but us being active along with our simulacrums would not have helped with that anyway.”

“You may be right, but I’m sick of waiting,” Zach told him. “It just isn’t my style, you know? Once we get our hands on the imperial orb and have Princess on our side we’ll be able to really go on the offensive. It doesn’t matter what Red Robe’s is planning then – we’ll just come straight at him and crush him in battle. If we demolish the Ibasan base beneath Cyoria and shut down the gate they use to transport their troops, the invasion is over. We’ll see if he’ll still hide behind simulacrums when that happens.”

“Hey! Zorian! Hey! Over here!”

They had barely stepped foot inside the cafeteria when a familiar voice started calling for him. It was Benisek – the chubby, cheerful, girl-obsessed boy that Zorian used to regularly interact with. Sadly, the time loop had not been kind to their friendship. Benisek could be really annoying and shallow, and the time loop had only made that worse. Eventually, Zorian stopped interacting with him at all.

He kind of felt bad about that. Benisek had his faults, but so did his old self. He couldn’t really ignore the boy’s invitation without looking like a colossal jerk, so he reluctantly walked over. Zach followed after him, inviting himself along.

“Hello, Ben,” Zorian said, as he fetched a nearby chair and sat down next to him. Zach gave Ben a friendly wave and a smile before copying his action. “You sound happy. Eager to start a new school year?”

“You bet!” Benisek said, grinning wildly. “We’re upperclassmen now! Our dating prospects have entered a whole new level!”

“Hell yeah!” Zach agreed, fist pumping in the air. “For girls!”

“For girls!” Benisek agreed, returning the fist pump with one of his own.

“For gods’ sake, you two… we’re in a public setting,” Zorian complained, trying to ignore the way people around them were staring at them.

“So. You two are hanging out together, now?” Benisek asked curiously. “When did that happen?”

“In the last couple of days,” Zorian told him. “Don’t ask. It’s a long story involving a series of misunderstandings, me getting punched in the face at the train station, and Zach getting attacked by my little sister in retaliation.”

“That sounds super interesting, though,” he protested. “You can’t tell me something like that and then just leave me hanging, man.”

He suddenly frowned a little, giving Zorian a weird look.

“Wait… are you saying you brought your annoying little sister along to Cyoria?” he asked.

“Yup,” Zorian confirmed with a decisive nod.

“Ouch,” Benisek said with an exaggerated wince. “My condolences. See, I told you that being so serious and responsible would eventually bite you in the ass… my family would never even think of letting me take care of my younger sisters! You should be more like me, Zorian!”

“The mere idea is horrifying,” Zorian told him bluntly.

“Bah, you don’t know what’s good for you,” Benisek said. He gave Zach a speculative look. “Though, if you keep hanging out with our dear friend Zach, that may change after a while. I hear your recent life has been somewhat… exciting.”

“Oh yeah, downright explosive,” agreed Zach.

“So that attack I was hearing about…?” Benisek asked.

“It’s all true, but I was out drinking and dancing that night so it ended up missing me,” Zach said with a careless shrug.

“Ha ha, now that’s the proper way to evade death!” Benisek said, leaning forward to punch Zach in the shoulder. Zach blocked it, which Benisek took in stride. He leaned back in his chair, his expression becoming more solemn all of a sudden. “But man, I got to say, this is one messed up week. First the attack on Noveda Mansion, and now that thing with the villages in Holakor… what is the world coming to? I really, really hope this isn’t a prelude to war, you know? It’s kind of selfish, but I want my academy days to be peaceful and fun.”

Zach and Zorian shared a confused look with each other.

“What do you mean ‘villages in Holakor’?” Zorian asked him. “We don’t know anything about that.”

“Ah? No?” Benisek said, surprised. “You two need to pay more attention to recent events, then. I know Eldemarian newspapers haven’t reported much on it, but you two should keep an eye on continental news. One of you is the heir of a Noble House and the other… well, I know Zorian doesn’t like hearing about his brother, but–”

“Just tell us already,” Zorian told his with a heavy sigh.

“Fine, but you have to tell me that long story you teased me with earlier,” Benisek blackmailed.

“Deal,” Zorian immediately agreed. He would make something up later.

“Alright,” Benisek grinned. “I’ll hold you to that. Anyway, word is going around that a number of villages in Holakor – that’s the big neighboring country to the west of Eldemar, you know – have been hit by some sort of attack recently. A weirdly brutal attack. Rumors are saying it was a total bloodbath, with hundreds of people killed.”

Zorian's mood immediately plummeted.

He supposed they finally got a clue as to what Red Robe had been doing all this time.

* * *

Later that day, Zorian returned to Imaya’s place, his thoughts still on what Benisek had told them. He and Zach had immediately dispatched a pair of simulacrums to Holakor to check up on this situation, but it would take a while for them to reach the villages in question and investigate things. In the meantime, they could only speculate what Red Robe had been doing there and for what purpose.

He didn’t have a lot of time to dedicate to his musings, though, because he was soon interrupted by Taiven, who sought him out for recruitment.

Zorian didn’t want to tell her about the time loop. Like Kael and a lot of other people that once made up their group of temporary loopers, she couldn’t actually help them in any way and telling her about the invasion would just expose her to danger. Well, more danger than she was already in.

Sometimes he wondered if it wouldn’t be easier to just tell everyone about the time loop and point the central government at Red Robe and the invaders right from the very start. However, when they had discussed that scenario back in the time loop, even the temporary loopers agreed this was a very unhappy solution to the problem. The central government was notoriously corrupt and power-hungry, and the current king favored a highly aggressive stance towards any internal threats. Once Eldemar’s forces were done dealing with Red Robe and the Ibasans, they were almost certainly going to turn on them.

And anyone who knew about the time loop and the invasion would likely suffer along with them.

Calling in the military was pretty much a guaranteed win… for Cyoria and its citizens. However, they, and people close to them, might end up paying the price for this good deed. This was not a choice they wanted to make. They were not selfless angels, after all. Thus, it was decided to only make the report once they were reasonably sure it couldn’t be tracked down to them. That would take a while to set up, but it wouldn’t take the entire month to do so. That was the main reason why Zorian was fine with Red Robe’s stalling for time. Unless Red Robe blindsided them with something, Zach and Zorian were guaranteed to win.

Of course, if Red Robe’s schemes did blindside them, they would rather unmask themselves than allow the city to be destroyed and watch as an ancient godlike monster is released into the world. That was why it was important to keep most of the former temporary loopers in the dark for now. If the army suddenly stormed into the city and started asking questions, the less they knew about what was going on, the better.

Still, he couldn’t just refuse Taiven’s offer and send her off into the tunnels beneath the city to die. Thus, he let her in on some of his secrets.

“What?” Taiven complained. “Why are you staring at me like that? Is there something on my face?”

She ran her hand over her face to check things and even glanced behind her to check if there was someone standing over her shoulder. Zorian didn’t know whether she was faking it in order to make fun of him or if she honestly believed these were legitimate possibilities… but he supposed he had been staring at her for a little too long.

“Taiven, this job of yours is a total setup,” he eventually told her. “You should stay away from this one.”

“Huh? What do you mean?” she asked, narrowing her eyes at him. “It’s just a simple find and retrieve in the tunnels below the city. Fight some giant spiders, find the lost thingy, get out.”

“The giant spiders are aranea,” Zorian told her. “They’re giant, intelligent, telepathic spiders. Unless you know what you’re doing and come prepared, they can blast you into unconsciousness before you can blink.”

Taiven took a step back at the description, her eyes widening at the description.

“Shit,” she swore. “Roach, how do you–”

“And that man isn’t some innocent wanderer that lost his expensive trinket down there,” Zorian continued. “He had been spying on the aranea and got caught in the act. That ward breaker device is currently safely stored in the aranea treasury, not carelessly dropped in some dusty tunnel and free for the taking.”

“Roach, how do you know this!?” Taiven asked, a little more forcefully this time.

“Huh. I’m surprised you didn’t just accuse me of lying,” he told her slowly.

“This is too serious,” she said, frowning. “I don’t think you’d joke around with something like that. And you’re not really the joking type, either. Now tell.”

“Well, I know about this because I’m friendly with the aranea,” Zorian told her. “They’re teaching me how to control my telepathic powers, after all.”

“Your… telepathic powers?” she repeated slowly. “As in… mind reading?”

[Among other things, yes,] he sent her telepathically.

She flinched back and gave him a frightened look afterward. For a moment Zorian thought she would bolt out of his room right then and there but instead she closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and forcibly calmed herself down.

“Damn, Roach,” she said, massaging her forehead. “You really know how to drop a secret on someone.”

“I had to make sure you take this seriously,” Zorian said.

“Well, you succeeded,” she responded unhappily. She gave him a suspicious look. “You didn’t read my mind without permission, did you? How long has this been going on, anyway?”

“I didn’t,” Zorian assured her. “I only found out about my innate mental powers recently.”

“Well good,” Taiven said. “Though I’m not too happy you’re keeping secrets like that. Especially something that sounds so… shady. I never knew there was a colony of sapient spiders living beneath the city. They’re not here legally, are they? And you’re just hanging around them and learning mind magic from them like it’s nothing? What else are you hiding from me?”

“You’re just mad I didn’t invite you along for this ‘shady’ adventure,” Zorian said, deflecting her worries.

“Yes, dammit!” she said, swinging her fist at his shoulder.

He flawlessly deflected her half-hearted punch to the side, causing her to stop and blink at him in surprise. His move wasn’t really all that amazing, but he suddenly realized he never used to do that sort of thing before the time loop. Oops.

“You know I’m right, though,” she said, ignoring the incident in favor of crossing her arms in front of her chest and staring down at him. “It’s crazy dangerous what you’re doing, and you should have at least taken a bodyguard when going down there.”

“You?” Zorian ‘guessed’.

“Who else do you know that is an amazing battlemage?” she ask asked rhetorically, straightening her pose pridefully.

“Well, I’ve been hanging out with Zach Noveda lately, and he’s pretty good at combat magic,” Zorian told her.

“The Noveda heir? Isn’t he one of your classmates?” Taiven asked dubiously.

“Yes,” Zorian confirmed.

“A third year student being able to compare with me? Please,” Taiven scoffed. “You’re looking down way too much on me Zorian. Looks like I’ll have to challenge you to a proper fight soon, just to broaden your horizons and let you get some perspective on things.”

Zorian couldn’t help it. He stopped himself from laughing out loud at her, but there was a wide smile stuck on his face that just wouldn’t go away.

“What?” she demanded. “What the hell is so amusing about what I said? You want to fight right now!?”

He couldn’t help it and simply burst into laughter at her.

Later on, Zorian reflected that Imaya was probably starting to think of him as some major weirdo. First it was that incident of him punching himself in the head earlier, and now there was a girl chasing him around the house and demanding that he ‘takes it like a man’ and whatnot.

Zorian wasn’t sure how his friendship with Taiven was going to fare in the future, considering that he could not possibly hide the full extent of his skills forever… but at least her current visit had brightened his day somewhat.

* * *

Red Robe had chosen his targets well. Although situated on the border of Eldemar and relatively close to Cyoria, Holakor was pretty difficult to access. It had rather unfriendly relations with Eldemar – not an unusual situation in regards to states bordering their country – and it was a mountainous country with poor transport infrastructure and plenty of isolated mountain villages. Reaching their destination was quite mana expensive, requiring lots of teleportation and other magic, and orienting themselves was a chore. The whole region was swarming with Holakorian soldiers searching for the culprits and trying to control the flow of news and people in and out of the place. Additionally, Holakor’s cartographers had apparently not done a very good job, because some of the villages hit by the attacks weren’t even marked in publically available maps and records.

Still, Zach and Zorian were resourceful people, and their simulacrums inherited their skills. Thus, it took them less than two days to reach the villages Benisek had told them about and investigate the situation.

The results of the investigation were grim. Benisek had said the worst of the rumors mentioned hundreds of casualties… but it only took one glance at the first village they visited to realize this estimate was, if anything, severely understated. The village was the scene of a total bloodbath – of the 300 or so inhabitants, most of them had been killed. Only a young couple that sneaked away from the village during the night and an old hunter that decided to sleep over in the wilderness had survived the slaughter. The attackers hadn’t even bothered to loot the place – the objective appeared to have been simple, indiscriminate killing.

The other villages they visited were pretty much the same. A sudden, overwhelming attack that aimed to kill as many as possible. Accounts of the attackers were hard to come by, since most people who got caught up in it died, but it was clear the attacker was a sizeable armed group. A group that contained war trolls, various monsters, and scores of undead. A group that seemed capable of teleporting themselves all over the place, because they had hit over ten villages in the span of a single night, before seemingly disappearing into thin air.

Adding everything together, Zach and Zorian estimated the death toll reached easily into thousands. Holakorian authorities had walled off the area from the rest of the country, fearing mass panic and unrest if the true scope of the slaughter became known, which was why the reaction to the attack was rather muted at the moment. Still, those kinds of measures were just stalling for time. Zorian would be surprised if they could keep it a secret for more than a week.

At first, neither Zach nor Zorian could understand this move. What was Red Robe trying to accomplish by killing Holakorian villagers like that? Was this some sort of large-scale sacrifice? Zorian wouldn’t call himself an expert on blood magic, but he didn’t think so. The killing was too quick and disorganized, and the villages hit by the attacks weren’t arranged into discernible pattern.

In the end they went to Alanic for help. Alanic was one of the people they had decided to inform about the existence of the time loop and the invasion no matter what, since he was highly competent and already in huge danger from the invaders no matter what. Thus far he still wasn’t convinced they were telling the truth about the whole time travel business, but the information they had brought him was pretty convincing on its own. After all, the little notebook that Zorian duplicated from his memory packets was written by Alanic himself, and listed all sorts of criminal groups and hideouts they had found over the restarts. Even if Alanic thought they were lying or delusional about being time travelers, he was still holding a book written in his own handwriting, mentioning things only he should know about and listing a variety of things whose truthfulness was easy to check.

Alanic took one look at the information they had compiled about the attack on Holakorian villages and dismissed the idea it was some kind of massive demon summoning or some other piece of blood magic.

“Blood magic fueled summonings are disturbingly easy, but not this easy,” Alanic said, shaking his head. “The victims would have to be herded into a central location. Their life force would have to be carefully mixed and funneled into a massive spell formula circle. The preparations would not be small and would be easily noticed and stopped. Holakor’s authorities would not miss such a thing, and you would have seen evidence of it even if they had.”

“Then what is this about?” asked Zach, sounding frustrated. “Why are they killing all these people? It’s not simply bloodthirstiness, I’m sure of that. This was clearly done with the full cooperation of Quatach-Ichl and his forces. There is no way he would have agreed to this unless there was some kind of clear benefit to this.”

Alanic looked at the papers in silence, shuffling them around while frowning deeply. This went on for a full minute, with Zach and Zorian quietly waiting to hear what he had to say.

“I almost want to say this is a soul-gathering operation,” Alanic eventually told them. “Except… gathering souls is not such a simple business, either. In order to gather the souls of thousands of people, the attackers would need thousands of soul containers. Even if they could afford to build that many, the sheer logistics of shuffling those soul containers around to the right place and the right time and casting the necessary spells to capture the soul before it moved on to the afterlife–”

Zach and Zorian’s faces became uglier the longer Alanic continued to speak.

“Shit,” Zach swore.

“What?” Alanic said, frowning. He was frowning a lot at the moment, clearly upset by the information the two of them just brought him.

“They don’t have to go through all that trouble because they have Sudomir’s Well of Souls,” Zorian explained to him.

“Well of Souls?” Alanic slowly repeated. He glanced at the little book on the side of the table. “Is that inside the notebook you gave me?”

“It is,” Zorian confirmed. “You must not have reached that part.”

Alanic quickly flipped through it until he reached the relevant part. Zach and Zorian waited for him to finish, discussing things quietly amongst themselves.

“Well,” Alanic eventually said, snapping the book in his hands shut. “Not only am I now certain this was indeed a soul gathering operation… I think I even know what they need all those souls for.”

“Yes. And so do we,” Zach told him grimly. “It’s pretty obvious at this point.”

“Sudomir is making his wraith bomb in advance,” Zorian finished for them.

* * *

Despite recent developments, Zach and Zorian decided to attend the first day of classes at the academy. There were three reasons for that. The first one was that Zach and Zorian wanted to scout out Iasku Mansion to see what they were dealing with before they commited themselves to anything substantial. The second one was that they should get access to Koth soon, which will greatly expand their capabilities and was well worth waiting for.

And the third one was that showing up to class today was probably their last chance to do such a thing for the rest of the month. After today, it was unlikely they would have time to mess around with schoolwork and attending classes. They might as well take this opportunity to reunite with their classmates for a moment, finish recovering, and mentally prepare themselves for the trials ahead.

“You’re late.”

Zorian looked at Akoja, dutifully standing in front of the door with a clipboard in her hands and taking note of incoming students. She stared at him coolly, tapping her foot impatiently against the ground.

He simply smiled at her in response, causing her to suddenly lose her cool and look away uncomfortably.

“Sorry,” Zorian told her. “Things are a little hectic these days, at least for me.”

“Well… just don’t let it happen in the future, okay?” she told him seriously, quickly recovering her confidence.

“Sadly, I don’t think that’s possible,” Zorian shook his head. “I’m probably going to be absent from classes a lot in the near future.”

“It’s not a good idea to miss the start of the school year like that,” she told him with a small frown.

“I disagree. The start of the school year is the best time to miss,” Zorian told her. “It’s all just repetition of things we’ve already learned in previous years and very easy study material. I’ll make up for it in a flash, you’ll see.”

“Just get inside already,” she told him with a long suffering sigh.

Zorian gave her a thumbs up and did as he was told, humming happily as he entered the classroom and picked a seat for himself. Zach was already inside, Akoja not having paid too much attention to him. Zorian greeted a few of the classmates he remembered being slightly more friendly with before the time loop, turning some heads due to how uncharacteristically happy he seemed, before going towards the front of the classroom.

He picked a familiar spot next to Briam and his fire drake, with Zach right behind him.

Just like he expected, the small fire drake in Briam’s lap immediately started hissing at him when he approached. Briam quickly enclosed the orange-red lizard with both hands and started whispering soothingly at his familiar. The drake calmed down a little but still kept both of his eyes on Zorian, alert and nervous.

Zorian ignored the spectacle, simply plopping down on his seat and calmly watching the scene. He still didn’t understand what exactly the fire drake found so upsetting about him in particular. He had once even peered into the fire drake’s mind to find the answer, but that didn’t help. The fire drake was not actually a sapient being. He was a creature of instinct, and something deep inside of him told him that Zorian was uniquely dangerous out of all people gathered in the classroom. The fire drake did not understand why, but it trusted its instincts.

Did the drake sense Zorian’s mental powers, despite not being psychic himself? Did Zorian have some ability he had no idea about? It was a mystery. From what Briam had told him, he wasn’t unique in this regard. Fire drakes could be very strange, temperamental creatures, and he wasn’t the first person that his familiar had picked out for some reason. Eventually, the influence of the mage they were bonded with tended to temper these kinds of aggressive urges, and mature fire drake familiars were apparently far more placid and reliable in dealing with strangers.

“Sorry about that,” Briam said. “He’s still a little uneasy around strangers.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Zorian said, waving the apology away. “Congratulations on getting your own familiar, I guess. Must be a milestone for you.”

“Yeah,” Briam said happily, patting the drake like some kind of scaly cat. The drake reacted to that sort of like a cat, too. “It’s great.”

He spent some time talking to Briam and waiting for the class to start. Though it was premature to worry about that now, he couldn’t help but wonder how to deal with school life in the future. His classmates were nice and all… some of them he’d be happy to befriend if possible… but he was so much more capable than them magic-wise that it wasn’t even funny. Plus, the classes themselves are bound to be mind-numbingly boring. Could he really pretend to be just a normal student for two years straight? Was it actually possible for someone like him – a guy with archmage-level skills and a decade of additional memories and experience under his belt – to befriend one of these people?

Perhaps time loop Taiven was right and his attempt to connect to his former friends and classmates was ultimately kind of hollow and patronizing…

Thankfully, his somewhat depressing thoughts were soon interrupted by Ilsa’s arrival to class. She did her practiced speech at the beginning of the class and then started the lesson. Zorian was already preparing himself for a boring but relaxing class the likes of which he had heard dozens of times inside the time loop when the classroom door suddenly burst open, and a teenage boy his own age swaggered inside.

He was tall, with messy blond hair and rumpled clothes that looked like they had seen better days. The door had been opened so forcefully that Zorian suspected the boy had kicked it open with his foot instead of using the handle. It rebounded against the wall with a loud bang and promptly closed itself behind him.

As he marched forward towards the front of the class, the boy swept the whole class with his gaze. For a moment, Zorian met his eyes and found himself staring at vividly orange eyes, their slitted pupils burning with barely contained anger and aggression.

Veyers Boranova had arrived to class.


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