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185. Aspiring Elites

“The Crux Symbol forms the very base of any modern artifact. It is what binds together the subsequent runes etched onto the Clean Medium— the object you wish to enchant. There can be minor modifications made to the Crux Symbol, depending on what you wish to do with it. However, its main purpose is to create a funnel for mana to enter and be stored within the artifact. After all, for any artifact to function, it requires the use of magic. The simple act of activating a basic enchantment is something everyone is capable of doing, whether they are a [Mage] or not.”

Professor Lisbenon said a lot of things which barely registered in my head; I tried my best to listen. But there was too much chatter. And he didn’t bother trying to get anyone to listen to what he was saying.

“I’m going to approach her after class.”

“That’s not a good idea. Diamond Ranks hate it when you do that.”

“But think of what advice she can—”

They kept whispering about me. Which was nice. But also distracting. And I was really trying to listen.

So, there is a Crux Symbol, and it looks like this. And it’s a good conductor of mana, right? Ok, I think I got that. Then I need to imbue it with… mana? Wait, that doesn’t seem right. Or is it right? I’m right, right?

Too frustrated with myself not understanding what was going on, I raised a hand to ask a question. Professor Lisbenon glanced at me for a moment, but he continued his lecture. I waved my hands from side to side, trying to draw his attention, and I was pretty sure I did. Still, he continued.

“As I’m sure you’re all aware, mana is woven into the forms of magic we want it to take. The process of enchanting an artifact is similar, in that you want to—”

The bell rang.

Lisbenon glanced up, blinking.

“Ah, would you look at the time. It seems class is dismissed.”

He quickly packed his things and left the room. I sat there, hand still raised, eyes twitching.

“Seriously?”

 

—--

 

My first day of classes have been bad so far, yes. But it could be better! I knew now that professors and lecturers didn’t care too much about helping students… for some reason?

Whatever! I was prepared to learn; I didn’t care about what these lectures did or did not teach me. I was going to study, regardless. First, I had to—

“Excuse me, sorry, coming through!”

“I was just wondering how—”

“No clue, sorry!”

I pushed my way through a sea of students trying to assail me questions.

“Is it true that you’re the one who—”

“I’m Salvos! That’s all you need to know! I need to get to my next class or I’ll be late!”

I reached the door just in time for a small figure to bar my path. A blonde girl dressed in a second year uniform curtsied, raising the edges of her skirt.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Salvos the Liberator of the Plaguelands. I do hope that is your preferred Title, if not, feel free to correct me for any mistakes I may make.”

I blinked.

“Um, that’s right, but—”

“I am Valda, a young genius such as yourself. As you can see, I am quite high-leveled for my age.”

I identified her. She was… how old? Maybe fourteen or fifteen? And yet, she was—

[Mage - Lvl 53]

“I was hoping to ask for any advice you may impart someone who is sure to head down the same journey as—”

“You’re barely even Level 50.”

I narrowed my eyes. She paused, taking a step back.

“Uh, yes. But that’s—”

“That’s quite low, isn’t it?”

I was at that level when I was only three! Or was I four?

Valda sputtered.

“Wha— no! It’s high… for my age?”

She seemed less certain than she was just moments ago. Her face burned red as she shrunk back. I shrugged. I guess it was different for Humans who were useless and weak as children.

Smiling, I placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t do what I do: you can make your own decisions. If you’re already in Mavos Academy, you must be doing something right. I’m sure you’ll become someone special.”

Valda’s eyes widened. Her jaw tried to work, but nothing came out. I ran past her, heading out of the door.

“Sorry, gotta run, bye!”

 

—--

 

The next class was alchemy, held by [Alchemist] Raymond. I wasn’t sure what to expect of him. He wasn’t a professor, but an [Alchemist]. What was the difference?

I didn’t know.

I would soon find out.

I ran into him just as I was about to enter the alchemy lab. We were in the Ladder Towers; it had an odd name, although it was fitting. For whatever reason, the building was shaped like a ladder with two tall buildings connected by multiple thin tubes made of glass. There were different biomes in each of the tubed connectors: some were lush green and overgrown with plants, while others were murky and covered with fungi.

My class wasn’t held in said locations. Rather, it was in a regular room in the left building of the Ladder Towers. [Alchemist] Raymond was an older man, quite high-leveled too. He adjusted a single monocle as he saw me outside of the lab room, about to enter.

“You! You there! You’re my new student, aren’t you?”

“Are you [Alchemist] Raymond?”

I glanced up at him. He nodded, wheezing a laugh.

“Yes, yes I am! You must be the famed Salvos. I must say, I am surprised that you managed to enroll into the School of Aspiring Elites in the middle of the first academic term. You must’ve given Headmaster Skyshredder a good reason!”

He pumped a fist. Although with how fragile he was, he barely moved his forearm.

“I did, yep! Is this your lab class?”

I gestured at the room ahead of us. The door was still shut, so I pushed it open for him. He nodded.

“It is, it is. I am sure your fellow students will be excited to hear of a new classmate!”

“I just hope they’re not too excited…”

I murmured quietly to myself. I stepped in after him and furrowed a brow.

“Um, wait, isn’t your class supposed to start in a minute?”

“Yes, yes it’s starting.”

[Alchemist] Raymond tilted his head slightly, a puzzled expression on his face. I stared at the classroom.

“It’s just that… why are there only three people here?”

Three faces looked up at myself and Raymond. They weren’t particularly keen or interested. There was a woman who looked like she was twice my age— if I was a Human. Seated next to her was a gruff man with a scruffy beard. He had scars all over his cheeks and under his eyes, the clear sign of a grizzled veteran. The last man looked like he was in his thirties. He flicked his blond hair back and winked at me as I met his gaze.

I ignored that and looked back at the [Alchemist]. He nodded, nonchalant.

“This class is only available for those in the School of Aspiring Elites. Come, come, we still have some time. Mingle with them and introduce yourself. I will prepare the class material.”

It wasn’t just that there were so few people in this class. The lab room was large, with multiple desks full of beakers, vials, and tools for alchemy and potion brewing. Everyone was gathered at the same desk, so I joined them, sitting next to the woman and across from the blond man.

“Hi, I’m Salvos.”

I nodded at each of them. The first to speak was the blond man.

He stood up rather than saying his name. Starting up to me, he kneeled to the ground, a charming smile crossing through his face.

“How beautiful. And such an elegant name too. I am Nolan— you may know me as the Mighty Warrior, but I’d prefer you to call me ‘darling.’”

He took my hand and kissed it. I cocked my head.

“Hi, Nolan. It’s nice to meet you.”

I would’ve called him by the name he wanted, but Daniel and Edithe warned me that some people would try to trick me into doing things that I shouldn’t do. This, for whatever reason, felt like one of them. Also, his name sounded familiar.

I was pretty sure I’d heard of him before, as he said.

With a flourish, he returned to his seat. The next to introduce themselves was the woman. She sat with her back straight, sipping from a cup of tea which wasn’t there moments before.

“I am Veronica Adash, sole heiress of the city state of Adash. I have not heard of your exploits until today, but I must say, I am very impressed by what I hear.”

“Thank you— wait…”

I paused, registering what she said in my head. She didn’t state it outright, but it was implied. She was… a princess! I wanted to exclaim and point at her— however, it’d be rude. And princesses liked properness. If I wanted to be her friend, I had to act like an adult!

“I truly am humbled by your sentiment, princess of Adash.”

I got to my feet and bowed. Nolan scowled as I did, but Veronica simply chuckled.

“You misunderstand. I am not a princess. I am an heiress: my city has been razed to the ground, and there is nothing left to rule over. Only its remains are left for me to inherit. Nothing more.”

I went cross-eyed.

“Oh. I’m s-sorry?”

What else was I supposed to say? Veronica didn’t seem bothered by it.

“It is fine. Perhaps I should have been more clear.”

I turned to the last man. The gruff man. He wore his badge for the School of Aspiring Elites alongside numerous other badges on his uniform. And it was a uniform. Just not for Mavos Academy. It was a black vest that looked familiar.

He grunted, glancing up to face me with his arms crossed.

“I am Gallus of the Vaun Qieur Empire’s Swordsguard Forces.”

I blinked. I had been trying to maintain some composure to give my classmates a good impression. But I couldn’t help myself now. I stood up and pointed at him.

“You— are you Alex’s friend?”

Gallus— who had been so stoic a moment ago— nearly fell over in surprise at my sudden action.

“I-I… who?”

“Alex Cromerth! He was part of the Vaun Qieur Empire’s elite Swordsguard Forces too!”

It took the gruff man a moment to gather himself. When he did, he cleared his throat.

“C-Cromerth? I have heard of that family. A family of former commoners who were rewarded by the Emperor himself to become nobles. Although, I do not know of this Alex myself, I know that their family produces many notable individuals such as Hamlin Cromerth and Brielle Cromerth. If I may ask, how did you meet Alex Cromerth?”

“Oh, he’s dead.”

I spoke simply, and Gallus’ eyes widened.

“He is?”

“Yep! He was my friend… I think? But he died repelling some Kobolds from the Vaun Qieur Empire.”

“Those bastards— of course they would act now, when the Watcher has gone to the north. Did he die a valiant death?”

I was about to answer bluntly, saying that I had no idea since I only saw his decapitated head. But I was pretty sure that even though Gallus didn’t know Alex, there was a sense of camaraderie here, so Gallus must’ve wanted a certain response.

I decided to technically tell the truth.

“He fought bravely to the very end against those far higher-leveled than him.”

“Then he has brought honor to his name.”

Gallus lowered his head as a moment of silence blanketed the table. Nolan seemed annoyed that he held the shortest conversation with me. But it wasn’t my fault he gave me nothing else to say!

Veronica was uncaring, probably too desensitized by her own circumstances. I didn’t care: I just didn’t want to blow my cover. I remained quiet even as Gallus leaned back on his chair.

A voice spoke up, drawing all of our attention.

“Now, now. Introductions are over. Let us begin our lesson, shall we?”

I dutifully turned to face the old man as he laid out various vials of colorful liquids onto the table. As he did, Gallus whispered something my way.

“And Salvos—”

He pursed his lips, showing a very different expression from the stone-cold look he had earlier. I cocked my head.

“Yes?”

“It is the Swordsguard Forces. Not the elite Swordsguard Forces.”

“Huh.”

Alex must’ve lied to me.

 

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