The top public school in Evermarsh, Evermarsh High, came equipped with tactile screen boards to teach, top-notch biometric lockers, and comfortable velvet chairs. The Yellow Ministry of Concordia, which supervised all cultural and education activities, had heavily invested in the place, intent on making it the safest, most welcoming place for students to foster their skills in the Empire’s service. The school’s excellent academic reputation made competition for entry fierce. For Mathias, keeping good grades here was paramount to him.
Sitting at the left edge of the classroom behind an individual mahogany desk, right next to the pristine windows, Mathias glanced at the discreet, eye-shaped camera above the board, recording the students’ every move. Classroom C was big enough to accommodate thirty students, assembled in linear lines, but not big enough to create a blind-spot in the camera.
Ulysses and Perse were located further back in the classroom. The school’s staff had reorganized the students’ places to reduce talking during class in order to increase productivity, ensuring that close friends would sit as far apart as possible. To make up for it, the school put on beat music when the teachers weren’t present through loudspeakers, distracting the students from the surveillance.
The cameras and the security system hadn’t turned out to be a great investment. After hacking the school system on his first week, just to see if he could, Mathias had found a glaring blind-spot in the emergency exit and a glitch in the biometric securities. Cameras could be fooled by repeating previous footage, alongside other exploits.
Mathias had once thought about anonymously reporting the weaknesses he had found, but decided against it, at least while he was still a student. A tip would result in an investigation and he didn’t want any additional trouble during his school year.
And today, that decision had paid off. He wouldn’t have dared risk what he was about to do if he hadn’t disabled the classroom’s camera beforehand.
Mr. Barth caused the whole class to fall into silence as he closed the door behind him. “Good morning students,” he spoke with a strong, neutral tone, while carrying a pile of paper under his arm.
Like all Bullmen, Mr. Barth was more “bull” than “man,” a bipedal beast with clawed hands and hoofed feet. He was small for his kind, only two heads taller than Mathias himself, horns included, with a hide brown like chocolate. He wore a shirt and trousers instead of more elaborate metal plates and jewelry favored by his kind.
— “Shaping the citizens of tomorrow starts with the children of today.” Barth listened intently to his Yellow Ministry instructor. “Children have boundless potential, yet untamed. Try to assimilate into their culture by wearing local clothes, so they feel comfortable around you. Be fair. Encourage them to excel for the glory of Concordia.” —
When Mr. Barth went straight towards Mathias’ desk, his hooves causing the ground to shake under his heavy build, the young student straightened up and tried to hide his excitement behind a poker face. Mr. Barth never went to him first.
Others noticed. Mathias could almost feel the tension in the air as the teacher walked up to him, rereading the paper at the front of his pile. Mathias exchanged a few glances with his worried friends, but remained calm.
Finally ending the silence, Mr. Barth put a paper on Mathias’ desk.
“Congratulations, Mathias, you won the maximum score.” Murmurs went through the room, as he read the praiseful comments all over his research paper. “Excellent work, keep it up.”
Mr. Barth, no man to go into speeches, moved on to Samantha, giving her the first runner-up paper of her entire school year, distributing into descending order of score. Perse ended up third, while Ulysses managed to hang in the middle.
Mathias couldn’t hear the gossips going on around him, but Network told him his increased grades had increased his status somewhat, especially among the academic-minded students.
Downloading Premium Thoughts had proved an excellent investment. Everything Mathias saw or experienced, he could remember with perfect clarity, which turned him into a living database. A sleepless night checking trivia and online databases had been enough to get over lateness in previous assignments. The spell also increased his thought process speed enough to do quicker work for Dynamis.
However, Premium Thoughts hadn’t been his only purchase. Now that Barth was inside the classroom, the risks of outside intervention were minimal.
Mathias checked his laptop, setting a chronometer on. Experiment start, he thought.
“Blue World,” Mathias spoke out loud.
A bright, blue flash filled the room, and for a moment Mathias’ entire vision seemed to be shrouded through a blue lens.
The hurried whispers of the class turned silent. Mr. Barth had stopped dead in his tracks, one hand about to seize another paper from his pile and put it on Jack’s desk. The students remained silent, as if frozen in time. Mathias glanced around, just in case anyone had escaped the spell, and then turned his eyes to the chronometer.
The bluish light vanished, and the classroom once more buzzed with renewed activity. No one raised their eyes to Mathias, even to comment on his strange words. The spell must have paralyzed them before the words could register in their conscious mind. Perfect.
After experimenting, he had found that spells were divided into passive or active. Passive meant they were always on unless willingly disabled — such as Premium Thoughts. Active spells, such as Blue World, were voice activated.
When Mr. Barth moved on to the screen presentation, Mathias decided now was the time. His eyes quickly picked his intended target; an athletic, pretty, brown-skinned woman with striking amber eyes: Maggie Powells. Jack’s sister and the last member of Perse’s music band. She always looked ready for a fight, although Network told him that she lacked her brother’s hidden malicious edge.
— Maggie hated, hated herself for even asking, as Jack laughed his ass off, a cruel smirk on his face. Daddy took a deep breath, his eyes firm. “You really want to know what we’re doing, Maggie? Because the last person who asked me that question ended up going missing. Your brother can confirm it.”
“Maybe she could join,” Jack replied, his smirk growing ever wider. He didn’t bother putting on his charm with her, revealing his true face. “She could be another candidate.”
“We already have the proper vessel selected, son. A male vessel.” —
Yes, this confirmed his hunch about the police. Poor girl.
After calculating in his mind the time it would take to reach her, Mathias slightly pivoting to make rising up from his chair easier and took a deep breath.
As the blue flash filled the room, Mathias jumped out of his chair and dashed at Maggie. Thankfully, he had a straight line to her. He hurriedly poked her shoulder, feeling the energy surge of Network through his body, then got back to his chair, sitting down right in time for the spell to end with no one the wiser.
It could have been easy to bump into her at school, but Mathias didn’t want any possible trail to lead back to him in case his plot failed. Besides, he should get used to using his spells.
Keeping a poker face as he caught his breath slowly, Mathias focused back on Mr. Barth’s history class; for once he could listen without worrying about job deadlines in the back of his mind. He started listening intently to the political causes behind the Concordian unification, typing notes on his computer.
“ — During that troubled era four hundred years ago, our beloved Grandmaster Wyrde, greatest Sorceress among dragonkind, her apprentice Loctis, who would soon become the Green Minister, and the human explorer Halcyon, made a pact, swearing to unite the warring states of Midgard into a single whole. It took a full decade of warfare and diplomacy, but the trio, hence known as the Three Founders, pacified the Sphere. To commemorate their success, they founded the city that would eventually cover all of Midgard and become the center of our eternal Empire; Concordia. A city where all would be one.”
At what cost? Mathias thought, wise enough not to say it out loud.
“One of the founders was human?” Maggie asked.
“Yes. It is thought that Terra Firma and ancient Midgard were briefly connected thousands of years ago, allowing a few human tribes to cross the frontier and settle on the other world. It would be millenia before the Gates reopened ten years ago, but we will discuss this later. Halcyon himself descended from the primitive tribes, but we lack records on his past before the Founding, and his life was cut short during the Gintargo Pacification. We now move into the first age of — ”
However, Mathias grew bored, as his teacher rehashed the same information he had previously memorized from the online school database. He found himself opening Magik almost on impulse.
This website decreased his productivity more than social media.
Premium Thoughts and Blue World had been necessary purchases; the first because one couldn’t be too smart and the second to give himself a defensive weapon. He still had nine Spellcoins on his account, enough to buy three more Blue spells, or a combination of two other Color.
Mathias had noticed among Blue Spells; most involved manipulating skills or, in the case of Blue World, mind processes. Few had any direct offensive application. Perhaps higher level spells would provide more potent options, but they remained out of reach.
“ — The first challenge to Concordian supremacy was the rival Sphere of Gintargo, a burgeoning empire built on trade instead of military force. Ideological differences and competition over resources meant inevitable war — ”
Mathias noticed that he could follow the lecture as precisely as if he had focused on it… while his attention was equally set on Magik.
How much could his brain multitask while on Premium Thoughts? How fast could he compute information? If catching up to class took so little time, what else could Mathias learn?
Mathias found himself glancing at Samantha, noticing her staring at him blankly, still reeling from the shock of ending up in second place. It almost made the gamer feel bad about beating her, especially when she corrected her expression as not to look contrite.
— “Take your studies more seriously, Samantha,” Father scolded her. Her private tutor must have complained to him. “My government contacts told me several children at your school are being considered for Institute Membership.”
“Who?” Samantha replied. “My record remains unbroken.” She should have said it with pride, but she couldn’t muster the strength. Without credible competition, that boast sounded hollow.
… She wouldn’t mind some challenge. But who could provide it? —
Instead of taking her broken record as a personal affront, Samantha gave Mathias a sharp nod of acknowledgement, and smiled back. For the first time in a long while, she was truly staring at him not as Perse’s friend, but as his own person.
It felt nice.