I can hardly believe it’s tomorrow.
"Kai, it's finally time for you to continue your training at the Academy,” Emdos says.
I raise my arms in the air with a big smile on my face. "Yeah! I can't wait!”
"Now listen, Kai, I know you're excited to finally enroll into the Academy, but you can't let anyone see you use the Mana I have taught you to control."
I hesitate a moment before quirking an eyebrow and then ask, "Why?"
"Didn't you want to make friends? If your peers find out you have something they don't, they'll be jealous and won't want to be your friend. But you should continue doing the training regimen you have been doing every day."
I frown and speak in a soft, conceding voice, "I do want friends… I guess I'll have to listen to you, Emdos. I just need to practice expelling Mana outta my hands and controlling how much comes out, right?"
"Yes, you've been doing an excellent job and almost have completed the first step. After you've mastered controlling your flow of Mana, you can begin training more advanced forms of Mana manipulation. You can practice expelling Mana from different parts of your body or cover certain parts of your body with Mana at will."
"Okay, then what comes after that?" I ask with a grin.
"Oho, don't get too ahead of yourself now. But once you've mastered that, you can open this book and read it. You can take this book with you to the Academy tomorrow," Emdos says as he grabs a book from the top of the shelf. He holds the book in front of me as he narrows his eyes into mine. "But you have to promise me. Don't let anyone else read this book, don't read it until you can manipulate your Mana freely, and don't lose it. Do you promise?"
Emdos' tone suddenly deepens, and I feel that the air around me gets colder as I stare into his eyes. I sense that I'm not talking to the kind Emdos that I know. My heart races and I can't help but quiver my eyes as I gulp, all while reaching for the book with my hand, eventually grabbing it. "I… I promise."
Emdos continues to stare into my eyes, but I don't dare to move a single muscle while frozen in place as I hold my breath. I feel so scared that I completely lose track of time; with every passing second feeling like years. I don't know how much time passes before Emdos finally lets go of the book as he smiles, speaking in a tone much lighter compared to his last words, "That's good. You can put this in your backpack, keep it safe."
Upon hearing that, my shoulders relax as I take a deep breath. Emdos walks out of the room and now I hold the red, tattered book in my hands. I look down at it, touching and squeezing the book, and realize that the binding is loose. I squint my eyes, concentrating on the words in front of the book, but I lose focus and sigh when I see that they are unfamiliar characters. Should I open it and just sneak a quick peak if I can read the contents?
My fingers slide through the edge of the book firmly clenched in my other hand. Eagerly, I stroke it and gulp. Since Emdos wouldn't like me breaking the promise, I crouch down and rest the book on the ground. I take off my backpack, open it, and store the text inside.
I spend the rest of the day training my Mana capacity. I stand still while keeping my eyes closed as I take deep breaths. I fully extend my arms as I keep my hand stretched back all while channeling Mana out of my palms starting slow, but changing the speed of the outflow every few seconds. I try to switch between a very fast speed and a very slow speed, but I fail; whenever I let out too much Mana it becomes hard to control and the rate it comes out is uneven.
After training for an hour, I lay on the floor with my arms by my side staring at the ceiling.
This feels similar to five years ago…when I first learned to release my Mana in the air for the first time. I smile. I was so excited that I did it that I forgot to concentrate on controlling it… I became exhausted from the loss of too much Mana and laid on the floor, kinda like now.
I take slow, deep breaths as I close my eyes. Images and scenery from earlier training days play out in my head, and my consciousness fades into my memories.
The next day, I wake up early morning in bed. I sit up and yawn as I turn my head left and right becoming more lucid when I realize that I'm in my room. Emdos must've carried me to my room after I fell asleep yesterday.
I turn my head towards the clock. 5:59 a.m...
While frowning, I turn my head back and sigh as I lie down. I stare at the ceiling motionless, but then I start to roll back and forth towards the edges of the bed with my arms and legs stretched out like a line.
I turn my head towards the right to look at the time again; it's 6:00 a.m. When I turn my entire body over resting on my side, I make an attempt to shut my eyes so that time would pass faster when I'm asleep, but my mind races. In just two hours I could make friends! I wonder how many I'll have! What'll they look like? What time is it?!
I open my eyes widely to glance at the time again, but it hasn't changed. I squeeze my eyes shut and lie still. Even so, I sneak another peak from the corner of my eyes. And another. And another. Once I close my eyes, the past comes flowing back to my restless mind.
Emdos was kind, but he was really strict with my training. He often scolded me for not training hard enough and wouldn’t let me go outside to play with other kids. He was even reluctant about letting me go to the Academy, but after I worked really hard, he changed his mind and turned in an application for me.
I grin as I roll around in my bed trying to shake off my excitement, but suddenly an idea hits me, and I lie still with closed lips. Sorry Emdos… I wanna try something even though I haven't completed the first step…
I decide to get up and do a different type of training. An hour passes while I'm in a state of complete focus, but I can't stop my Mana from leaking out before it reaches the tip of my finger.
"Ugh!" I stretch out all of my limbs as my back falls to the floor. I think about giving up, but an epiphany hits me.
I was too focused on my finger and didn’t restrict on other places where it could leave… I’ll make a barrier so that no Mana can get outta my hand!
I focus my Mana again and try to release Mana from the tip of my right index finger. Nothing comes out as I expected, but then I make an opening at the tip of my finger in which Mana begins to flow out. I examine my hand more closely and distinguish that the only part of my hand that Mana escapes from is at the tip of my right index finger.
I did it! I grin and clutch my left fist in celebration of my success. Mana is flowing out too fast out of my right hand. I force myself to stop smiling, but my lip can't stop trembling from the excitement. I slap my left cheek with my left hand in an attempt to regain focus. Afterward, I try to concentrate on slowing down the pace of Mana flow as much as I can.
My attention on my right hand is suddenly broken when I hear a voice from behind me. "Oh Kai, you're awake already? What're you doing?"
I promptly stop releasing my Mana and put my palms on the floor behind me to let them support my weight. I can't afford to let Emdos know what I was doing, though I figure that he couldn't see me from the angle he called out to me anyway. I turn my head around and pretend that I was just taking a breather from my usual training routine. "Yeah, I got up an hour ago and did some training. I'm resting now."
"Oh is that so? Don't tire yourself too much before your first day." His footsteps gradually get farther away as I turn my head back. I sigh out of relief, but then I hear them stop. "By the way, you were doing some interesting training…"
I feel my heart stop for a second while maintaining a stiff posture.
He found out… Is he gonna make me eat carrots again for my punishment? Or maybe one of his concoctions… My lips shake as I frown and gulp.
"I'll let you off this time since you've done well. You're free to practice whatever you wish, but don't forget about the basics," Emdos warns.
I thought he was going to be harsher for going against his instructions. I take a deep breath and stretch out my arms over my head while my back falls to the floor. I think I'm done for now… I'm gonna take a nap…
I fall asleep immediately.
"Kai you're going to be late," Emdos says.
I yawn while I slowly get up and stretch. "What time is it?"
"WHAAAAT?!" I yell at the top of my lungs, instantly becoming alert.
There's no way I'm gonna be late for my first day! I can still make it if I sprint there! I get up and look for my backpack. I turn my head around and again, but can't find it. I run to the main room and find it against the wall. While panicking, I put it on my back and start to make my way towards the front door.
From the kitchen, Emdos says, "Kai, before you leave you should eat some breakfast."
"Ah I'm not hungry. Besides I'm gonna be late!" I put my hand on the door handle, turn it, and start to sprint, but my head hits the door, and I fall down. I rub my head on the place where I hit the door. "Ow… What the heck?"
I knit my eyebrows as I frown, unsure of what happened. I get up and try turning the door handle again, realizing that it doesn’t budge. In an angry fit, I kick the door as hard as I can with my right foot. Damn you, door!
I feel a hot puff of air escape my nostrils as I turn around. "Hey Emdo—"
I rear back in shock when I see Emdos standing right in front of me. His expression seems grim at first, but then it melts into an easygoing grin.
"I'm not letting you leave until you eat the breakfast I made you… It's your favorite," Emdos says with a smile and then giggles.
"That isn't a funny joke! I'm gonna be late as it is!"
"This isn't a joke. Would you rather not go at all?" He looks at me with narrowed eyes and frowns.
Geh… He's serious… I sigh before answering, "Okay okay… I just have to eat it right?"
I reluctantly run to the kitchen. If it's my favorite, it's definitely soup. I'll gulp it down, and I won't be too late.
In the kitchen, I find a bowl ready for me on the table. My eyes widen, and my jaw drops in shock as I look down at the soup. I take a spoon, stir the soup, and then scoop up random pieces of the ingredients. "Emdos wha…what is this?"
Emdos laughs. "It's soup of course… but I just changed a few ingredients."
"A few?! What did you put in this?!"
"Hmm…let's see… I used milk, lemons, Harpy meat, carrots, potatoes, broc—"
"Stop!" When I think about what he said, I feel the contents of my stomach turning sour as I imagine what they each individually taste like. I gulp and taste a trace amount of stomach acid. I guess I'm being punished after all… This soup is made with ingredients I despise.
I sigh and sit down. I decide it's better if I get rid of the liquid first, so I grab the ends of the bowl with both hands and begin to drink it. I try my best to not think about what's in the broth and use my teeth as a filter to stop the solids from going into my mouth. I purposely hold my breath in so I don't taste any of the warm, milky liquid. With every gulp I drink down, my insides turn, disagreeing with what went down. I finally gulp down the last of it and take a deep breath, but it backfires on me - I immediately taste hell. I drop the bowl and instinctively cover my mouth with my hands. I feel the rush of hot, sour air traveling up my esophagus. I think about delicious food trying to oppose the awful feeling.
Bread…steak…hamburger…rice…soup— I immediately think of what I just drank and another rush of hot, sour air stirs in my stomach. Emdos is still laughing. It seems that he's enjoying my misfortune.
I look at the time; it is 7:49 a.m. I uncover my mouth, take a deep breath, grab the spoon, and then start to eat the solids. Unlike the milky broth, I have to thoroughly chew the pieces before I can swallow them. I start with the hardest ingredient; Harpy meat. This type of meat is really chewy, and it forces me to taste it while I grind my teeth against it. I close my eyes thinking about making friends as I chew each piece of meat. I already prepared my stomach with a large amount of liquid, so I don't feel any added discomfort of swallowing the Harpy meat.
I…I finished… I look at the time again; it is 8:00 a.m. That meant that the Academy is starting right now. I wipe my mouth and run to the front door again. I turn the door handle and push. I see that the door actually opens this time. I turn around, smile, and then wave at Emdos. "Well then, Emdos I'm leaving! I'll see ya in five years!"
"Yeah…" Emdos smiles and says nothing else. I run out the door and go north on the main street. I turn my head back while running and notice Emdos still smiling at the entrance of our home. I don't pay too much attention, but I feel that he is a bit distant. It worries me, but I soon forget it thinking about making new friends.
Hmm, since my house is near the edge of the city of the Residential District, it's gonna probably take me at least 30 minutes to get to The Academy area while running non-stop since it's on the opposite side of the city… Sometimes I wish Drymo wasn't so big…
Up ahead is the marketplace, crowded with people despite still being quite early in the day. I know that it opens for 12 hours starting at 6:00 a.m., but I have only been here with Emdos in the afternoon to pick out ingredients for dinnertime. I squeeze through the hordes of people, not caring for invading their personal space. I drool at all sorts of appetizing fruits, vegetables, fish, and meat on sale around me. I fight the urge to eat them and move on.
I manage to reach a less crowded area out of the marketplace and continue running at my full speed. Five people in armor carry some type of monster meat past me. I stop running and stare at them with sparkling eyes with a smile. Cool! They must be adventurers! One day, I'll be one too!
I take a deep breath, wipe off the sweat on my forehead with my shirt, turn back towards my path, and continue running. Eventually, I come to an intersection where going straight would lead me to the Royal District and turning left would lead me to the Trade District. I choose the latter path and run still having plenty of energy left.
I recall a memory with Emdos at the restaurant called 'The Green Boar' on my right side. It was the first time we ate out and I experienced all kinds of foods I never had before. I swallow a mouthful of saliva and shake my head trying to rid the feeling of good nostalgia at this settlement. I run around the people on the street and avoid the occasional obstruction, like carriages along the way.
Just a little more and I'll be in the Trade District…then I won't have to think about what I could've eaten instead of… A cold chill goes down my spine when I think back to the soup.
This district really is big… I didn't believe Emdos at first when he told me it took up nearly 35% of the city… Oh, I see it, a weapon shop ahead of me! I widen my eyes and smile. Wow! There are so many different shops I've never seen before! I wish Emdos took me here so I could've explored a bit more! Oh yeah, I think I need to go this way…
I make a right turn and go straight. Unsure of how long it has been, my legs are getting heavier. I shift my weight on every new step I take. My chest and throat burns from not being able to get enough air into my lungs. Sweat drips down my face with every step I take, and a few drops unfortunately make their way into my eyes. It burns a little, but I feel better after rubbing them with my finger. I feel my heart racing extremely fast, but that doesn't stop me from moving my legs.
Ahead of me, there's an enormous building which stands on top of a hill; it is The Academy. A smile emerges while I'm still running towards the building. I think I'm still around ten minutes away. I don't know how long it's been, but I haven't stopped running since I started so not that much time should've passed… Just a little more!
It is only ten minutes away, but it feels like an eternity as it doesn't feel like I'm getting closer to the building at all. Eventually, the path that leads directly to The Academy is in front of me. It's a curved path that slanted upward so it would be more difficult to traverse. I get on the path and with every step I take, my legs feel like they weigh twice as much. I stop running involuntarily, and it's difficult to even slowly lift my legs to the next step. At some point, I slump over and collapse while frantically gasping for air.
"Haaa… Just a little more…" I immediately get up and slowly limp my way towards the top. I completely lose track of time, but that doesn't stop me. I will make it!
I grit my teeth as my vision starts to get blurry. With every muscle in my body aching and fatigued, I find myself swerving left and right unable to walk normally. I discover that it's getting increasingly more difficult to keep my balance. So…close…
The two people equipped with armor and weapons stand outside the entrance. They turn their heads to each other. I squint my eyes and discern their lips move, but I'm unable to hear anything. They continue talking while glancing at me.
"Hey you! Who are you?" one of them asks.
As I continue to lumber my way to the entrance, the two figures run towards me.
"Are you a new student?"
I slouch to grab both of my legs with my hands. With my head facing down, I shift my body weight towards my arms.
"My…name…is…Kai…" I take a couple deep breaths between every word I say and hear something drop to the ground, driving me to move my head slightly up. One of them takes a book out of a backpack on the ground. I listen to the flipping of pages, doing nothing other than struggling to get enough air into my lungs.
"Hmm… Oh, there you are, Kai. It looks like you properly registered to start this year. You know school started over an hour ago right? They probably finished all the tests by now... I will take you to where the first years are right now and explain the situation to the instructor."
I barely hear any of the words coming from his mouth, but I decide to follow him anyway. While still gasping for air, I attempt to stand up straight, eventually managing to take a few steps forward, when suddenly, I feel all my strength leave me, and I fall forward.
"Hey… Alright?" The words from one of them fade out as my vision goes black.