Chapter 14 - New Job
The courtyard was filled with groups of eagerly conversing magi that occasionally erupted in a heated argument. Some would tinker around with all different kinds of constructs in their hands. For example, one magus held a rod made up of materials Aien could not identify. He was performing some sort of test as he tried to keep control over his construct.
At the will of the magus, the rod transformed itself into one of the five elements. The straight rod he had held in his hands turned into a ring of fire that circled around him, then shaping into all different kinds of forms within his vicinity.
Another Magus was holding a small pearl on his opened hand. Even from this distance, Aien could tell that its surface seemed to be impossibly smooth as it reflected the sunshine. When it began moving, it seemed as if it could roll on the air surrounding it and within the fraction of second, it disappeared with such speed that Aien lost track of it.
“They are both talented students here.” Zoris noticed Aien's curious gaze and explained what had caught his attention.
“It looks like they are giving their constructs the last polish before taking the test to become a certified First Step Magus.”
Aien looked at Zoris with some bewilderment.
Zoris knew what Aien was thinking about and continued. “Don't be mislead by its easy-sounding name, but a First Step Magus is quite an accomplishment that can take years of hard work. They are the most common Magi, and with each step, the number of human magi in the world drops tremendously. Most teachers here are between the Third and Fifth Step and our headmaster, who is renown through all human lands, is also at the Fith Step. But don't let that fool you either. There is a big difference between the field of studies a magus chooses. You can't judge them simply by the Step they are at alone.”
Aien thought about what he had heard of the headmaster of this academy. Zeristin Wezlak. Stories and rumors about him had traveled the entire world. More importantly, he was the man believed to be closest to the title of Archmagus, bearing the hope of humanity to usher a Golden Age for Ethena and the entire human race.
It had only been half a day, and Aien had already gained more understanding than an entire month worth of conversations. Seeing was believing after all. A lot could be told with words but experiencing it with your own eyes was entirely different.
The two continued standing at the gate hinge, while Aien studied his surroundings. Only by standing in front of the academy would one realize how tall it actually was. That also made Aien reminisce about a distant image of the past, where numerous buildings had touched the sky. Zoris didn't urge Aien and let him enjoy the feeling of seeing everything for the first time. The decorations were similar to what Aien expected, but it was interesting to see everything colored in a golden-yellow. The buildings in the distance, the flags, most of the stuff around here was gold-colored. He guessed that even the distant peak of the towers were colored in the same color.
“Is that him?”
A sudden voice came from above them. While Zoris had expected for her to arrive soon, Aien looked quite flabbergasted at the woman who casually stood midair as if it was the ground. Her dark hair that fluttered in the wind contained a tint of green, similar to her emerald eyes that had threateningly locked onto Aien. Instead of a white uniform, she wore a green one, and the embroidery of Ryeka was appended with a symbol that Aien couldn't recognize at first. But the answer soon showed itself as he felt the symbol imprinting itself into his mind, telling him of its meaning. Three. Originating from one point and spreading into three lines, it depicted her status as a Magus, using the Divine Language.
Aien's face was covered in astonishment and just the right amount of fear as he met the look of the fierce tigress. He could almost feel her piercing gaze, trying to slice him into pieces. But the fear on his face was soon replaced by an unyielding determination that would not succumb to anything. He returned the gaze to the woman, telling her that she was unable to intimidate him. Aien had thought thoroughly about what kind of attitude he should display and had already decided on his course of action and conduct. As expected the woman let out a faint sound of surprise as she continued studying Aien from head to toe.
“Is there a reason to put on such airs, Lea?”
Finally, Zoris pulled Aien behind him and looked at the woman above. All of a sudden, her threatening gestures disappeared as she landed gracefully on the ground, with one foot after the other. Her oppressive expression was replaced by a sweet smile that could melt the hearts of men, and her gentle voice filled the surroundings. Strangely enough, her voice sounded unusually close when she talked as if she was standing right beside you.
“I'm sorry about that, Aien. Zoris told me a lot about you.” She gave said Zoris one of her threatening gazes that clearly contained some annoyance. “He just wouldn't shut up about how great you are... You can't blame for putting you on the spot a little.”
She returned to look at Aien with her transformed behavior as she put him in the focus of her enchanting eyes.
Aien took all of this in stride as he further pondered how to respond and conduct himself, regarding her. Indignant or unbothered? Cold or caring? Indifferent or... charming? Aien guessed that he would surely come into contact with her a lot in the future; therefore, an excellent first impression was necessary.
“Of course not, Miss...?”
“You can just call me, Lea, short for Leathe.”
“It's a pleasure to meet you, Lea. You already know my name, but let me introduce myself nonetheless. I'm Aien. Recently I've come to refer to myself more as an apothecary as you're surely aware of.”
Aien reached out his arm to give her a firm handshake. He didn't let it show on his face, but he was very shocked when he squeezed her hand. It was soft... No, not quite. It was as if he had tried to grasp the wind, but it eluded his touch. Almost touching nothing, yet a softness out of this world enveloped his hand. There were no other words than to describe her hand as if it had become the tenderness of wind itself.
The handshake didn't last long. Aien gave her an absurdly confident impression when she met his eyes. They were focused, devoid of all distractions as they stared deeply into her own. Together with a charming smile that didn't contain any shallowness they made for quite an impression. She could tell that smile that wasn't for the sake of politeness alone, instead it beamed with cheerfulness as if he was truly thrilled to have met her.
Zoris, in turn, raised an eyebrow of Aien. The image of an impossibly impeccable person resurfaced in his mind. He'd never met a person that remained this collected when touching her skin for the first time. He didn't expect Aien to drool all over her, but most couldn't help losing themselves a little in the magical feeling that her touch provided. It wasn't a secret that she was somewhat unique, after all.
Lea didn't react out of the ordinary and continued to study Aien, who was a stark contrast to herself; there was nothing special about him. Wearing casual attire, the man simply waited for her to speak up without any signs of nervousness or discomfort.
“Zoris here told me about your special circumstances.” She eventually said. They had measured each other up for over a minute, the conclusions only known to themselves.
“It turns out, you might be quite helpful to me. However, I have to warn you that it can be perilous and I can't guarantee your safety. Are you still fine with this?” She asked, but it was merely obligatory.
“Of course not. Associating with Magecraft, danger is to be expected, and I'm fine with that.” Aien said without a shred of fear. His words filled with certainty, containing not a single strenuous sound that tried to hide some kind of fear.
“Alright.” She nodded in approval and another wide smile covered her face. Aien noticed that this time, it wasn't one solely for the sake of politeness as her eyes stretched into a more relaxed and comfortable position.
After walking through halls with ceilings Aien couldn't see the end of, they ended the tour in front of a door with an inscription.
- DANGER -
Only authorized personnel
- DANGER -
He'd been shown around the academy before they'd decided to tell him about the job he was supposed to do. For that, they'd led him into this room, where only very few were authorized to enter. Not because it was valuable, but because its dangers were beyond anything else that was found within the academy. Or so he'd been told.
"Don't leave my side," Lea told not only Aien but Zoris as well, in a tone that left no room for discussion. Zoris seemed unusually serious as he took out a disc from under his uniform. It had hundreds of tiny openings the size of which would only allow ants to barely crawl through. With the thickness of a finger and in an oval-shaped form, it was easy to hold onto it with his hand. Aien guessed correctly that it was Zoris' First Step construct but quickly put his curiosity aside. Since he'd pulled out his construct, which was only allowed within few places in the academy, Aien knew he had to focus on the matter at hand. He did take notice, however, that Lea didn't make any preparations that were visible to him. It merely looked like she grasped onto the air as if she was holding a handle. Something he'd have to ask Zoris about later.
"Alright Aien, this will decide whether you can enter the academy or not."
In response, Aien took a closer look at his surroundings. The sun had already begun setting, but within this dome, the 'sun' was still at his highest point within the sky. At least that was how it looked like. The dome was made of some kind of milky glass, and the source of light behind it must have been some kind of magecraft. His entire surroundings were filled with wild greenery, resembling a jungle of plants he'd never seen before. Trees of different colors were separated into their own territories and the same could be said about the various flowers.
The various trees' twigs moved despite the lack of any wind, crossing with each other at a speed that should have been impossible. It gave Aien the image that the trees of different species seemed to be... fighting each other. He became certain when he saw the plants below, that were far more obvious in their acts. Flowers with petals shaped like razor teeth bit at each other as they fought for no apparent reason. Those that lost were forced to uproot themselves and find a different spot, where the fighting resumed with other plants. This entire dome turned out to be one huge zoo of wild plants going at each other.
"Zoris go ahead and get some Cuelae. Aien you watch carefully." Lea ordered after they had found a higher spot that let them view everything in its entirety.
Zoris was startled at first before he cursed something inaudible. Reluctantly, he stepped into the direction of one of the trees that was preoccupied with fighting another. On it hung a single oval-shaped fruit that AIen had never seen before. With an intense violet color that most would deem poisonous and stay away from, it hung low enough to be easily grasped. Zoris, however, didn't just casually go over and grab it. He held his construct in front of him and after a short pause disappeared from Aien's sight. The unexpected acceleration was not something Aien could track, but the targeted tree most certainly could as it soon showed.
In a split second, the tree aborted its contest and took notice of the thief who closed in on it. Suddenly roots from underground shot up to try and catch Zoris but to no avail. As if he knew where each root would sprout up from beforehand, he evaded every thrust and was soon within the distance of grabbing the fruit. The tree was anything but pleased about that and as a result became far more aggressive. The twigs joined in, to pincer Zoris from all sides, closing off all paths of escape or advance. Realizing that the situation had turned for the worse, he pressed into the middle of his construct. A fierce wind erupted from the holes, and what AIen deemed to be blades of wind, cut through the incoming twigs and roots. This went on for a short while and the tree showed no signs of stopping any time soon. Zoris, on the other hand, slowly ran out of mana and became more mentally fatigued as a single misstep could end fatally. Deciding he could no longer keep this up, he focused his attacks to retreat back to Lea and Aien. Fortunately, after noticing his retreat, the tree relented in its attacks and chose to rest.
With a pale face and exhausting pants, Zoris shot Lea a fierce glance. He knew that she must have known how this would end, yet he'd still ordered him to go try and embarrass himself in front of Aien.
Aien was mostly confused about the current events. On the other hand, he was quite intrigued to find out about the existence of sentient and possibly magical plants.
"As you can see, these plants are quite protective of their fruits and territories," Lea explained to him, ignoring Zoris who was still indignant about being used as an example.
"It becomes quite a pain to take care of and harvest them. Usually, we need a group of experienced magi every other month to harvest everything we need. But that might change..." She looked expectantly at Aien who was still somewhat at a loss.
"Plants do not have eyes or ears..." Lea chuckled a little as she realized how obvious that sounded. "Well, to keep it simple they detect other beings through their senses that can detect mana. Since you don't have any, I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this."
Aien soon understood what his job was supposed to be. There was some hesitation about the truth of her words but there was no reason for her to lie to him.
"Go ahead and try it out." Lea eventually said after giving him some time to think. Without any other options available, Aien decided to comply. He didn't just walk in and try to grab the fruit, however. At first, he took out some empty vials which he threw as hard as he could to the nearby plants. The sound of them being shattered filled the dome, but there was no reaction from any of the plants. Thus, Aien carefully closed in on the fruit, each step on full alert, ready to jump away at any moment if necessary.
Meanwhile, Zoris was recovering on the ground as he watched Aien who was mostly ignored by the plants until now. He looked over at Lea, and unlike Aien, he could see how the air behaved differently in her presence. In both her hands, she held onto wind-made daggers. The rest of the wind gathered around her feet, ready to intervene at any given time. Given Lea's speed, that he was well aware of, he knew that Aien wasn't under any serious danger. Relaxed he watched Aien getting closer and closer to the fruit without any interference from the tree that had given him such a hard time.
The closer Aien got, the slower he moved. But eventually, he realized that the tree took no notice of him. It was still resting from its early actions and was casually rooted on the spot like any regular tree. After Aien arrived in front of it, he simply plucked the fruit from the tree. That's when the tree finally realized that something was wrong as each twig wiggled through the air, trying to find out what had just happened. However, the tree couldn't find anything as the twigs seemingly trembled in confusion. Without much trouble, Aien returned to the two and handed over the fruit to Lea who was exuberantly celebrating his success.
"Yes!" She exclaimed with cheerful laughter. "This was always such a meddlesome task that took away so much of my time!"
She then realized how she'd presented herself in front of the two and quickly resumed her calmness. With a small cough, she hid her embarrassment before turning to Aien.
“Congratulations, Aien!" She said with a beaming smile. "From today onwards, you are a student of this academy as well as my personal assistant!”