Chapter 15 - Problems
It took two weeks until Aien realized that his lucky streak had come to an end. Although Lea had said otherwise, he wasn't exactly considered an official student of the academy, but rather a guest listener. Shortly after his enrollment, the circumstances about how he'd gotten admitted quickly spread around, and the students didn't take it very well.
Many remembered how difficult it had been for them to get accepted by the academy, which made Aien quite unpopular among his fellow students. No amount of approach on his side was changing that any time soon. It didn't matter much to him; however, there was yet another, more significant problem. The teachers had the same attitude.
In their minds, they considered teaching Aien a waste of their time. Thus, when he'd tried to ask them questions, outside of lectures, they didn't bother much with him. That had lead to the third and final problem.
Regular lectures were focused only on the practical knowledge of Magecraft. This wasn't bad by itself, but what Aien sought was knowledge about the origin of talent. If he disregarded the possibility of being 'cursed,' then the other option was that there was something fundamentally wrong with his body.
However, it seemed that no one had bothered researching this particular subject. Lea explained to him that since the world was never at peace, magi focused more on the teaching of already existing talent. Studying the origin of talent could change things in the longterm for the better of humanity, but with the way things were, it just wouldn't happen. It was rather early for him to conclude this matter, but he became quite certain about the usefulness of the lectures.
Therefore, Aien was almost entirely on his own in studying a field that no one else bothered with. While he had planned to do so from the beginning, it did set him back a lot. At this point, he basically didn't go to the lectures anymore that mostly focused on practical experimentation and creating your first constructs. They were all focused on how to turn a human, with existing talent, into a magus - A natural course of action from the academy that was supported by the empire. All of their efforts were focused on the fastest way to turn a magus into an asset for the empire.
In the end, Aien realized the limits of his options and decided to spend his time in the library. There was no point in attending lectures that didn't adhere to him. Thankfully, the knowledge stored in the library was more than enough. It consisted of an entire tower that was filled with bookshelves, reaching so far that one couldn't see the end of it. He only needed to say the words out loud, and the appropriate books would fly into his hands by themselves.
On one of those days, Aien studied in a quiet corner he'd found for himself. His table was filled with books about the history of Magecraft. How it had come to be and how humans have become aware of the existence of magic. But the quiet wouldn't last long as he noticed three familiar men approaching him. Serak and Yasim were unusually happy, and with a wide grin, they sat next to Aien uninvited.
“Hey, bookworm! We got great news!” Serak declared cheerfully with a smile that nothing could wipe off his face.
“What happened?” Aien asked, slightly annoyed inside. The two had been a great help, but since he had direct access to the library, their usefulness dwindled. Despite that, he kept up his usual polite smile. In case they came in handy, it would be better to maintain good relationships.
“Serak and I will be sent to the Northern Garrison!” Yasim exclaimed without regard to upholding the quiet within the library.
This statement stopped Aien from his reading as he looked up. While he did look at Yasim, his thoughts wandered off and didn't focus on the conversation anymore.
“It's the best place to be sent to for your military conscription!” Yasim explained further, guessing that Aien was confused about what was so exciting about the matter. It still took some time for Aien to stop daydreaming before he addressed the nuisance.
“That's great for you guys! Though I bet, Zoris had something to do with that.” Aien looked at the man who remained taciturn. Until this point, Zoris still refused to tell Aien more about his background, but from what he could gather, it made him quite an important person in the academy. What Aien did know was that Zoris descended from a noble house and came to the academy not only for the sake of studying. He was likely on a sort of diplomatic mission that tried to close the chasm between the two parties. Since Zoris didn't want to tell him more, he had put the not-so-important matter aside.
“We are celebrating tonight! Drinks are on us, how about it, Aien?” Serak asked. The usually calmer of the two was just as excited. The whole ordeal seemed like a massive deal to the two of them.
“I'm afraid I won't go,” Aien said with just the right amount of hesitation in his voice. “You aren't leaving any time soon, right? I'll think of a nice parting gift for the two of you.”
“We'll leave in about a year,” Serak said, not too bothered by Aien's rejection. Ever since he had buried himself in his books over the last week, he grew more and more isolated. They were somewhat bummed out about that, but they could also understand how he felt so they didn't hold it against him. Thus, after bidding their goodbyes, the three guys headed out for drinks, leaving Aien alone with his castle of books. However, he could no longer concentrate on his studies as his thoughts were continuously drifting to The Northern Garrison...
What would she think of him?
“What are you doing here?”
“I couldn't study anymore, ” Aien said nonchalantly despite her slightly displeased tone.
“I'm sorry, I must have been too quiet. I asked, what are you doing here, Aien?” Lea was at a loss and didn't know how to feel about the matter of him invading her privacy. She was annoyed that he'd come here without permission, but at the same time, she felt guilty about his situation and didn't know how to interact with Aien because of that.
“I knew you weren't in your office, so I took this chance to sneak outside.” He said bluntly.
The two were at the peak of one of the towers of the academy. Aien relaxed on the floor of the vast terrace under the gaze of the countless stars in the sky. Meanwhile, from above, Lea stared menacingly at Aien, who met her enchanting eyes without flinching. This was her favorite spot in the academy that could only be accessed through the backdoor in her office, which made it for a reclusive haven of peace to counteract the stress of an exhausting day. It was unexpected to find Aien here after she'd returned from her workshop.
“Ugh... Fine, do what you want.” Lea relented. She sat down some distance away from him as they both stared at the night sky.
“...I'm sorry about this, Aien.” The uncomfortable silence had continued for a while until Lea couldn't endure it any longer.
“Sorry? What do you have to feel sorry about?”
“You've been a great help to me. I really appreciate that... But I know about how the other students and teachers are treating you.” Lea said, crest-fallen with a hint of anger. They were the academy that prided itself on its fairness, yet those people forgot their roots and began looking down on others.
“It's fine. You don't have to worry about that.”
“I know... It's difficult, and I can't really blame them either. After attending the academy for some time, their attitude naturally began changing. Whenever they go out to the Outer District, they are being stared at like they are the Gods themselves. Most are still youths, and it's bound to get to their heads eventually...”
Lea regretfully admitted how powerless she was about the discrimination. She, more than anyone, hoped for the doctrine of the academy to one day be upheld by all humans. Yet, she couldn't even prevent the rise of such thinking in her own academy.
An awkward silence filled the surroundings once more. It left her a little restless for reasons she didn't know, and she desperately searched for another topic of conversation. That's when she realized the scroll of paper that lay next to Aien.
“What is that?” She asked as she pointed to it.
“It's a map of the city,” Aien answered. From this spot, it was very easy to see the city in its entirety, as well as the sentries that darted around in the middle of the night. They became easier to recognize as they shone with a faint red light that resembled an eye. Aien guessed that it was necessary to make footage in the middle of the night. They were spread around the entire Magus District, creating one coherent net of surveillance.
Again, the conversation grew to a halt. Just when Lea decided to no longer endure it and leave, Aien spoke up.
“So I met this nun the other day...” Aien raised himself into a sitting position. He told her everything about the meeting he had. It was a sudden change to an unrelated topic, but she desperately went with it. Anything was better than the stifling silence. It was strange, really... Why was she unusually anxious in his presence?
“Was she telling the truth? How is the conduct with devils?” Aien asked.
“You know how it is with those things,” Lea said after thinking about the matter for a while. “Some are blind fanatics, others bend the rules a little. There are plenty of followers from Ryeka's church that would hunt devils on sight, regardless of a fair judgment. It is a contrast to their teachings, but they've always been a little vague.”
“But wouldn't you say devils deserve a fair treatment if that is what the doctrine is about?”
“Why are you so interested in this?” Lea asked with a frown. Then she proceeded to give him a fair warning, lest he'd one day do something stupid.
“Nothing good comes from interacting with devils. Even if you properly judge each devil before retribution, you wouldn't find a single one not guilty. You couldn't. That's why let me remind you, Aien. Don't ever make a deal with a devil.”
Lea turned out to be more serious about the matter than Aien had initially thought. He didn't intend to escalate the issue any further nor defend the lawful rights of devils. It was none of his business, nor did he care to get involved with some fanatics. But their slight dispute, if you could call it that, helped Lea calm herself in his presence. It reminded her that Aien was still new to the world of Magic.
"Don't worry, I get it. But I have to ask, what do devils get from this?"
"You can find this stuff in the library you have been frequenting lately, so I guess there is no harm in telling you." Lea thought about how to keep the matter simple before answering. "You can think of it this way. Everything in this world belongs to the world itself. That means the mana we use is never truly ours. The minor races that are capable of Magic are simply borrowing it, before returning it to the world. Even if what we have borrowed and return differs in its form, it all boils down to a zero-sum game. Devils are more privileged regarding this matter. If they fulfill a contract, they will be rewarded with mana by the world, that they can keep for themselves. We don't know much about the details, but technically, any contract they make has at least three participants, which must include the devil and the world."
Lea arrived at the end of her explanation when she added something she'd just thought of.
"Since we are at it, I might as well tell you something about demons. They exist outside the rules of this world - Outside its laws. Demons simply steal everything they need from the world without ever returning it. They threaten the balance, and that's why they've been imprisoned ever since the Third Beginning."
Aien listened with much interest as he thought about the matter for himself. From the way Lea presented it, and her attitude, it was apparent she wanted to scare him away from these subjects. Feeling more comfortable after assuming a teacher-like position, Lea then proceeded to change the topic.
“I wanted to wait before giving you this, but I guess now's a time as good as any.”
From within her robe, she took out a lengthy container that could easily be held in one's hand.
“I asked a friend of mine to make them.” She said, and handed over her gift. Without much fanfare, Aien accepted and opened the container, where he found a pair of glasses.
“Put them on.”
Aien did as he was told, and in the blink of an eye, his view of the world had changed. In between him and the sky, he saw a translucent ceiling in the shape of an enormous violet dome that covered the Magus District in its entirety. But more astonishing than that was the change in the night sky. Seven stars changed in color, shining brightly onto the earth, rivaling the moonlights in its brightness. To a magus, there was barely any difference between day and a cloudless night. He soon realized why the city was obsessed with the color of gold as he saw the Star of Judgment. Each shining brighter than the other, the seven stars aligned themselves, watching over the world of mortals from above.
“It mimics The Sight we magi have. Surely you've heard of it by now.”
'The Sight' and 'The Seventh Sense of Magi' were the first basics a magus had to learn. Without them, they'd be unable to craft their constructs as they were necessary to guide mana in the way they needed it to. It was one of the reasons that made it impossible for Aien to ever create a construct of his own.
“Unfortunately, this only solves the lesser problem of the two,” Lea said, and Aien knew she was right. To create a construct that could allow him to actually feel mana was far more complicated and with current knowledge considered impossible. This feeling was based on a comparison with the Aer inside the person and the wild mana in the world.
“I...I don't know what to say... Thank you, Lea.” Aien said with a sincere voice and flashed her beaming smile, full of gratefulness.
“It's nothing...” She answered hurriedly, avoiding his gaze. “You don't need to pay me back or anything. It's the least I could do after all you've done to help me out.”
“But I can't just accept this... That's right!” Aien exclaimed as if he'd come up with the best idea in the world.
“How about I take you out for dinner some time? It might not compare to the cuisine of nobles, but I know a few great places in the Outer District!”