Just a Bystander

Just a Bystander

by Aefraga

Everyone wants to believe they are the hero of their own story. But in a world where prophecies are real, what happens if you're not the Chosen One?

A budding arcanist named Caden enrols in the Academy, entering the same cohort as one of the legendary Chosen Ones, and finds himself caught in a tangle of fate that threatens to unravel the entire Empire. 

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Cover art by Fuyu Dust.

A number of people have asked about how they can support me, so I've started a Patreon page for those who would like to make a financial contribution.

"Just a Bystander" is a work of love and I intend to keep posting it for free on RoyalRoad for everyone to enjoy. As someone who has been blessed with a full-time job that has remained stable even in the midst of a global pandemic, I would like to stress that I am able to continue writing with or without financial support and that you should not feel compelled to put dollars into this. 

I've chosen not to offer early chapters because I'd like my readers to keep apace with each other, and there are time constraints that come with my situation. The best I can offer for now is the promise of special Discord privileges once I get the opportunity to get them up and running in the future.

Thank you for reading my work. I hope you continue to enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. =)

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Word Count (13)
1st Anniversary
Top List #50
Table of Contents
Chapter Name Release Date
1. On the Sidelines ago
2. A Thief of Memory ago
3. Precision Matters ago
4. Advanced Glyphs ago
5. Challenging Fate ago
6. Familial Ties ago
7. Dinner and Duel ago
8. Power Ladder ago
9. Bolts and Bonds ago
10. Thaumaturgy Trial ago
11. Kant Touch This ago
12. Unraveling Clues ago
13. Mania ago
14. Spillage ago
15. Venting ago
16. Freedom of Choice ago
17. A Breath of Relief ago
18. Cracks ago
19. Herding ago
20. Ensnared ago
21. Arcana Reframed ago
22. Ineffable Forces ago
23. Piercing the Veil ago
24. A Friendly Reckoning ago
25. Food for Thought ago
26. Bound ago
27. Making Peace ago
28. Puzzlement ago
29. Fey Afield ago
30. Chipping at the Fetters ago
31. Links in the Chain ago
32. Captained ago
33. Defiance ago
34. A Step into Darkness ago
35. A Plea ago
36. Force ago
37. Convergence ago
38. New Threads ago
39. Breaking Barriers ago
40. Snipping Strings ago
41. Lapses in Judgement ago
42. A Walk in the Dark ago
43. A Shadow of Life ago
44. Becoming ago
45. The Fulcrum ago
46. Forgotten Things ago
47. New Ground ago
48. Development ago
49. Raising Standards ago
50. The Beginning ago
51. Reviving Volition ago
52. Seismic Shifts ago
53. Streams and Shadows ago
54. Darkness Incarnate ago
55. Collapse ago
56. Unexplained Intervention ago
57. Sketching Futures ago
58. New Aspects ago
59. Navigating the Unknown ago
60. Beacons ago
61. Travel Plans ago
62. Domestic Affairs ago
63. Thwarted Plans ago
64. Building Blobs ago
65. Unseen Hurdles ago
66. Abrupt Departure ago
67. Intercepted ago
68. Possession ago
69. Delirium ago
70. Call to Aid ago
71. Frayed Threads ago
72. Undercurrents ago
73. Entwined ago
74. Giving ago
75. Eldritch Reasoning ago
76. Memories of the Ancients ago
77. Finding Common Ground ago
78. Avoiding Conflict ago
79. Familiar Chords ago
80. Invasion of Privacy ago
81. Alternative Threads ago
82. Certain Choices ago
83. Dire Pronouncements ago
84. Reversal ago
85. Broken ago
86. Violent Resolutions ago
87. Reawakening ago
88. Mending ago
89. Manipulated ago
90. De-escalation ago
91. Cover-Up ago
92. Complications and Consequences ago
93. Detachment ago
94. Consolidation ago
95. Faith ago
96. Tenuous Trust ago
97. Exchanging Information ago
98. Theoretical Issues ago
99. Prophetic Advancement ago
100. Anger and Agency ago
101. Transcendence ago
102. The Tempest ago
103. Charting a Course ago
104. Little Steps ago
105. Double Act ago
106. Support and Subjugation ago
107. Trepidation ago
108. Flight and Fire ago
109. Forced Violence ago
110. The Cost of Thaumaturgy ago
111. Patching Up ago
112. Diametric Powers ago
113. Fragility ago
114. Double Desperation ago
115. Augeric Assistance ago
116. First Principles ago
117. Foresight ago
118. Plans of Engagement ago
119. Soul-Searching ago
120. Mystery at Dawn ago
121. Depths Unknown ago
122. Prophetic Doom ago
123. The Question ago
124. Transfiguration ago
125. Purpose ago
126. Sighted ago
127. The Shape of Thought ago
128. Unlocking Secrets ago
129. New Heights ago
130. True Sight ago
131. Caught ago
132. Layers and Layers ago
133. Changed Plans ago
134. Inner Turmoil ago
135. Eldritch Reckoning ago
136. Self-Determination ago
137. Monstrous ago
138. Fragments of Humanity ago
139. Unchosen Paths ago
140. Breaking Frames ago
141. Unveiling History ago
142. Cosmic Confrontation ago
143. Bereft ago
144. Demiurge's Urges ago
145. Revision ago
146. Parsing History ago
147. A New Compact ago
[Chapter 148 Delayed] ago

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Solid magic theory, rest lags behind.

Reviewed at: 26. Bound

Certainly a nice well written story, though it could be more, this is certainly a good first story for the author, and i hope they can improve on this all, to make it an even better story.

The characters are quite well written and are shown as competent, intelligent characters, though given the rather lack of focus on them and the surprisingly few details, they are less than what they could be, something i hope is set to change eventually.

The thing i would praise the story the most for, is the magic system, it is seriously well built and in-depth, to a level i have seen rarely before for webfiction. I feel like the magic system in this story can rival even the likes of Mother of Learning's with time. There is just so much potentional here, and i hope it can be written right!

Though as others have said already, the magic also sort of overshadows everything else about the story, it is basically central to the story currently, and though that is not a bad thing at the moment, as it is done well currently, but i hope that the story does progress beyond the heavy magic theory and that we can get to see the world in more detail, as what already has been shown, is quite promising, especially with how well the author has been writing so far.


Dont have any complaints with the grammar for this story, its perfectly readable to me, without having any problems, though that may be because i started reading after the author cleaned up the story and changed the dialogue tags to the American standard of "" instead of ''.

Also good, if somewhat fast pacing for this story, and the story reads quite well, even with the heavy magic theory being present like everywhere so far, which somehow didnt feel that overwhelming to me, which is a nice plus.


Id recommend to the author to improve on their writing and details, and give more time to the characters. And to somehow strike a balance between the magic, and the rest of the story.


Basically the main reason to read this story so far is if you want to read about magic, which this story does REALLY well, sadly a bit to the detriment of everything else though, but i can see that changing with time. So i would absolutely recommend this story to readers interested in reading about magic, and to a lesser extent would recommend it to other readers, to atleast give it a try.


Overly Focused On Magic System; Uneven Story Pacing

Reviewed at: 26. Bound

Do you like stories where the magic system is more of the main focus than the real characters?  The author is into their version of the magic world, and it shines brighter than all other story elements.  If you like that stuff, you'll love this.  

It's the equivalent of a home-schooled guy going to magical Harvard.  Despite the title, he's more than a bystander as his nickanme is 'Top-Scorer' since his test scores are the highest in the new class.  His Dad is also a big deal in that neck of the woods.   'Chosen ones' are in the story, but the main character hates/opposes prophecy, which seems nothing like a bystander.

Excellent the magic system, intricate detail, praises here.  Reading some chapters that are 'talk and sometimes eat a meal', my mind kept wandering because the story wasn't keeping my attention.  (Telling and not showing.)  This happened too many times for me to give more stars, and I don't plan to follow this story.   Note, I found the first chapters of higher quality than the rest of the work, so don't let this review discourage and please try the story.



Magic system that blows me away

Reviewed at: 43. A Shadow of Life

Sure, there might not be much in the way of characters and plot, but the system within it all makes it all okay. I love how intricate and detailed it all is, to the point where the author spends all his time on it.

I know how that was worded, but it was done to show off an important aspect of this story and the people that would like to read it. Not everybody loves it. I am personally a die-hard fan of magic-system, and would love to have 5k pages entirely dedicated to an full study of it. Others.... want another kind of story. They want wath plenty of others already give. And that is fair, I suppose. Everybody has a right to their own desires, taste in stories included. But... I like this one and there's nothing that will change that.


An Intriguing, Dense, Mystery Box

Reviewed at: 50. The Beginning

I've really enjoying this so far, mostly because the magic is imaginative and the author has presented a number of mysteries that all seem related, except so far what's happening underneath the surface is still unclear. It's fun because there are so many questions; what made the prophecies? how are they related? what do they mean for Caden's future? The author has done an excellent job grabbing the reader and it is easy to keep reading to try to find out more.

Of course, it is difficult to review the story at this point, because we still know so little. However, there have been a few narrative bumps already that I feel warrant a degree of caution. In particular, the story has had trouble with foreshadowing things in a satisfying way. The first reveal of the story is so maddeningly obvious it's almost hilarious when the MC finally realizes it. The second big reveal comes so far out of left field I'm still confused about what happened. Ultimately it's hard to judge the story because as the reader we are for the most part left in the dark, so there could be reasonable explanations for what has happened so far, but there also might not be.

Part of the issue is the magic system. While many have praised its detail, I feel the density sometimes becomes more convoluted than clear. The whole system is interesting, it feels almost like a computer language applied to magic, but sometimes all the repeated attempts to describe the glyphs and arcana at work inundate the reader with details instead of providing clarity. And despite the fact that so much time is spent explaining the magic, at critical points in the story the mechanics are pretty much ignored, which makes a lot of we've learned feel a bit pointless.

In terms of characters, I've been enjoying our MC, Caden. He has an interesting backstory and purpose, as well as some character quirks that work decently. He seems to experience manic episodes, which is a good idea, but usually when he does he jumps to crazy conclusions that always seem to be right. It's good for the MC to be actively searching for answers, but as a reader I find the reasoning dubious at times, yet the narrative so far seems to indicate that he is correct.

The rest of the cast is decently fleshed out. I enjoy Caden's family, as well as his roommate. The rest of the students still feel a little vague. The author often tells us about characters rather than showing, having Caden recount arguments and conversations that would be opportune moments to explore the characters more deeply. Instead, most of the actual conversations in the book center on magic or what I would consider rather boy-ish banter. However there are hints at depth so I am looking forward to hearing more about these characters.

While I feel I have been quite critical, it's only because I've enjoyed what I read so far and am anxious for it to soon reach some satisfying answers! As the story continues many of the issues I have raised may turn out to be unfounded, given that there is so much left to uncover in this world. Recommended!


Excellent worldbuilding, amateur plot

Reviewed at: 28. Puzzlement

The biggest mistake this story makes is that it substitutes internal, emotionally-driven conflict resolution for external, action-driven conflict resolution. 


It feels like the author can't quite figure out how to make his 'not-a-main-character' protagonist the main character of his own story. Rather than having agency that drives his own actions, the protagonist is buffeted back and forth by fate & occasionally explains some (to be fair, very interesting) magical wobbly bits.

However, since a main character that does nothing is boring, it feels like the author then is trying to compensate for that lack of agency by making the protagonist's inner emotional life very complex, overwhelming, and going all over the place. Sure, they aren't actually doing anything with the emotions, but look at how strong they are! 

There's a certain sort of 'emo' presence to that sort of storytelling but it swiftly breaks down as emotions fail to drive actions, and conflicts that should have required the protagonist to actually do something, such as arguments with friends, are instead resolved by the friends deciding to get over the argument, or the friends doing something equally bad so that everyone is square, and so on; the sheer lack of initiative the main character displays eventually grates and pushes the boundaries of suspension of disbelief.

(Also, characters of the opposite gender appear to have been completely forgotten about, which is fine except for when the author suddenly remembers them and there's a "oh yeah, and she existed too" effect.)

Other than all that, however, the story is quite good. A+ worldbuilding, a great high concept, cool magic, interesting characters. Once the author gets some more practice and figures out how to make characters interesting without overcompensating on the emotional aspect, they've got a bright future ahead of them.


Setting runs on Narativium, Nothing but info dumps

Reviewed at: 15. Venting

The characters are constantly told that "They HAVE to figure things out for themselves" to the point where they are deliberately lied to as children on how basic fundamentals of the world work.

Beyond that, most of the chapters are 1/3rd pure information dumped on the reader, no plot or characterization, and the MC has a "Sherlock" jump to the correct conclusion perfectly every time he needs to special ability.


Very Nearly Perfect

Reviewed at: 60. Beacons

I first added this to my to-read list back when the cover artist posted the cover; it strongly appealed to my mahouka koukou no rettousei-loving soul, and I do so love me a techmagic world.

Having now finally gotten around to reading it, I can safely say the promise of the cover was delivered upon tenfold. I have very rarely found myself so entranced by a story, so caught up in its world.  The exposition never felt like too much, the premise is fascinating, and the situations are truly novel.

Style and grammar are excellent. Concepts and events are conveyed clearly, even when using in-universe terminology without any shoehorned or unnatural explanations squashed in there. There may be an occasional typo or homophone in there, but they're largely absent and the story overall is clean and easy to read.

Story is perfect. It's a whole new twist on the chosen one genre, and one I can't wait to see to its conclusion.

Some reviewers have mentioned that the characters seem under-developed, but I'd argue that's an artifact of the actual in-universe constraints they're acting under. Everything has a reason, and in this case it's a highly unique one. (*I cannot address anything regarding physical description; as someone on the aphantasic spectrum, I think in words not pictures, so if there were anything missing I didn't notice it.)

I highly recommend this story.


The strengths of this story is that it has a great premise and a unique magic system. Solid writing with little to no grammatical errors. Characters also seem interesting albeit a little superficial; its only been 25 chapters or so, which is understandble.

However this story is bogged down by many info dumps, which could have been spaced out a lot more to give the reader more time to absorb the information. 

But it is still an enjoyable read.


A no-paced character-driven story with paper thin characters.

Reviewed at: 16. Freedom of Choice

What is the basis of a story? Stuff happens.

Here we see our MC go to a magical school and learn with him how the magic system work. The END. So don't expect anything like action/conflict/romance/mystery/ect.

Now you'll say me: "Well the magical system is pretty nice and the tags are clear: it's a psychological drama/slice of life. They are character-driven, not plot-driven."

There is just one major problem: all characters can literally be described in one word. This "story" transcends slow-pacedness (that would have been appropriate to a slice of life) into no-paced where the rare and uninteresting conflict between secondary characters fell flat because you don't even remotely care about them.

At least the grammar is good, I guess.



This is the most frustrating novel I have read in my life.

 Every aspect that could be interesting is jingled in front of the reader and then taken away by stuff like "can't tell".

 It's like the author told the reader:

 - "Behind this door are the answers to your questions".

 Then very visibly pulls out a key, locks the door and walks away.

And it applies to everything.

- The Prophecy? "Can't tell" says the character.

- How to do magic? "Can't tell" says the character.

If teaching magic bogusly "stunts" you, what the hell is the point of the academy?

The story basically establishes that the best way of learning magic is doing it independedly and everyone insists in it.

 What is the point of the academy?

And almost as equally infuriating is everything relating to the Prophecy because it gets the same treatment.


I hate this novel.

The Overall rating is a reflection of my enjoyment with this story.