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220. Reputation

Valda sat with her friends in one of the private study rooms of the library at Central Square. It wasn’t an unusual place for her to be in; she’d normally bring them to one of Mavos Academy’s multiple libraries to tutor them for class. And yet, today, she sat there, nervous.

It was like there was a knot in her throat. She could barely speak. Sometimes, she’d forget to breathe. Her fingers trembled like they’d been dipped in a frozen lake for all of winter, and her gaze flitted around the room like a butterfly during a warm spring day. Valda was unfocused— too anxious to even know how much time had passed since she entered the room.

She was acting completely differently than she usually was. Her poise was gone. Her aura of confidence was shattered. Because she was faced with someone who was far better than her in every way.

Salvos.

The Diamond Ranked adventurer who liberated the Plaguelands. A true prodigy— one who, without any formal education, could ace all her tests in Mavos Academy. She was everything Valda ever wanted to be. And here she was, tutoring Valda and her friends.

There was no way Valda could keep her cool. So, she stared, awe-struck, as Salvos flipped through the pages of the textbook. It’d been a minute. Or three or five or ten or even an hour. Valda didn’t know. All she knew was that whatever was going through Salvos’ mind had to have been nothing but the wisest thoughts. Sage wisdom that Valda couldn’t comprehend.

There Salvos sat, in deep thought. Pondering the quandaries of life. Philosophical ideas— a dialectical debate with herself. Surely, any moment now, Salvos would impart her wisdom to Valda and her friends.

Any moment now…

 


 

I had no idea where to start.

I didn’t even know how to teach anyone anything. I looked over the textbook, organizing the information of everything within it in my head. And I’d read most of this already five times over. I’d even annotated it all and taken notes. It all made sense to me. So, what was the problem here?

If I taught them anything, I’d be regurgitating the exact same things they could find in the textbook. I tapped a finger on my chin, trying to figure out what I was supposed to say. Then a voice spoke up.

Jonas. A young man— roughly 25 years of age, with about twice that number in his levels— raised a hand.

“Excuse me, uh, Ms Salvos—”

“It’s just Salvos!”

I replied, almost by instinct. I pursed my lips. I probably shouldn’t have been that informal with them. Smiling, I clapped my hands together and leaned forward.

“Yes, Jonas? Did you need something?”

“R-right, Salvos. Are you, uh, going to teach us anything? You’ve been sitting there, silent, for the past ten minutes.”

“Huh? Oh, um, yep! Of course!”

I tapped a finger on my chin; I didn’t know what to say. Did I begin with how Crux Symbols worked? Surely they knew that much, right? It was pretty much the foundation of the entire class’ theory!

I shrugged, deciding to start with something a bit more advanced than the bare basics.

“So, does anyone here know about the side effects of a tainted Clean Medium? Do you know the twenty three historical examples, and the crux of their individual cause?”

Three people shook their heads. Only two nodded. Valda and Jeremiah. I blinked. That wasn’t even that hard yet; I’d taken something from the middle of the textbook. I turned to another random page, looking at my abundance of notes before asking my next question.

“Oh, um, you don’t know that. Hm. Ok, what about—”

Four of them shook their heads this time. Only Valda nodded.

I cocked my head.

“Alright, what about—

All five of them shook their heads this time. Valda did it slowly, almost ashamed. I crossed my arms.

I was stumped. I had absolutely no idea what to do here. Alright, the last question was probably the hardest one— I didn’t even know the answer to it during the midterms. I got partial credit for it, but not full credit. However, upon looking over my test and the answers Professor Lisbenon provided, I now knew what it was.

However, none of them understood it. And as such, I didn't understand what I was supposed to do. Did I just say the same thing as in the lecture? Did I say something different?

I needed to distract them with something as I tried to figure things out. I glanced over at Eve’s unopened textbook. She looked the most confused out of my five students. Her textbook had some notes in it, but not a lot. Not nearly as much as mine.

I snapped my fingers, an idea crossing through my head.

“Alright, to help each of you out individually, I need to know how well you’re doing in the class. Read up on your textbook and I’ll give you a short quiz afterwards, alright? I’m going to go, um, prepare some study notes outside.”

Yes, that’d distract them for long enough for me to work this out. I needed to go around and maybe ask for some advice. After all, I still had no idea what I was doing.

 


 

Salvos was a genius.

Valda was convinced that she was a genius. Personalized teaching? That was something that Valda never would’ve thought of. Whenever Valda helped tutor her friends, she’d give them all a general outline of how she studied. Of course that wouldn’t apply to everyone. It was how she studied, not how they studied.

So, they failed, while Valda passed, just missing out on a distinction grade.

“I don’t get it.”

Marie whispered.

“Can’t we just show her our tests? She can surmise how well we’re doing from that, can’t she?”

“What are you saying?!”

Valda looked hurriedly towards the door. Salvos didn’t teleport back into the room at the disrespect, thankfully. There was no way she could hear them. Or if she did somehow hear them, she didn’t care about what they had to say because of how lowly they were compared to her.

The blonde girl shook her head.

“Obviously, she can’t use our test score because we’ve learned since then. She expects us to at least improve from our mistakes. She’ll compare our current standing with how well we did beforehand, and make an assessment from then.”

“You think so?”

Jonas stared at her, slightly dubious. Valda nodded.

“I know so.”

Jeremiah and Eve seemed taken by her idea, instantly throwing themselves into their textbooks. The other pair were more hesitant, but Valda pressed them to begin studying.

After all, Valda knew what kind of person Salvos was. She’d return soon, and begin teaching them. So, Valda studied. She read through her textbook, flipping through the pages with determination. The clock ticked in the corner of the room as time continued to pass. Ten minutes became thirty. Thirty minutes became an hour. Salvos would be back with Any… time now.

Surely she was just grabbing a cup of coffee on her way back, right?

 

***

 

I massaged my temples, at a complete loss of what to do. I went to see Profesor Lisbenon, however he wasn’t of any help as per usual. He just recited his class lectures and sent me on my way. Then I went searching for Saffron, but I couldn’t find her.

I didn’t know anyone else who’d be able to help me here, so I wandered the streets of Mavos Academy, pretending that I couldn’t find my way back to the library. I sighed.

“Maybe I’ll just do as Lisbenon suggested. Just repeat the lecture until they get bored and stopped asking me for my help.”

But wait, that would lead to the exact opposite effect Saffron asked me to achieve: I’d ruin my own reputation amongst them. I didn’t want that.

“Should I confuse them instead? Make them think I’m too smart for them?”

However, they clearly expected me to be able to help them. That was why they asked me to be their tutor.

“This sucks. Managing expectations with who you really are sucks.”

Why was that even a thing? Why couldn’t people just recognize me as who I was? I was Salvos!

I avoided Central Square, instead heading down a street full of shops. Maybe I could just go back? Pretend I forgot. Or say that it was all part of a test!

That was what teachers did, right?

I thought about everyone who taught me in Mavos Academy so far. Certainly, most of them just improvised and succeeded. They seemed to go over pretty much all the same motions they previously did, varying it only slightly for their new students.

None of them truly worked with their students. Not like… not like Lily did with me. The training I underwent with her was the most refined and tailored lessons I’d had so far. She was a good teacher.

I paused as I passed by a shop. My eyes focused on something in its display.

“Huh.”

If I wanted to be a good teacher and uphold my reputation, I had to be like Lily.

 


 

Valda was beginning to doubt herself. It had been two hours, and Salvos was not back yet. Could Salvos have abandoned them, realizing that they were all so foolish they weren’t worth teaching? That was what Marie kept saying. The only reason she and Jonas remained was because Valda forced them to stay.

“I’m telling you, Valda, she’s not coming back.”

“She will. She said she’d help us.”

“And Father once said to me that I’d be a [Trader] like no other in Warrington. Look at where I’m at now. A [Mage] in Mavos Academy.”

Valda gritted her teeth. Marie was right. Salvos had a million other better things to do. Why would she waste her time helping them?

There were a multitude of reasons as to why Salvos could’ve left them alone. And they all raced through Valda’s mind. What if Salvos was attacked on her way out by a group of Elite Elves? What if Salvos was expelled by Headmaster Clayton Skyshredder for an unfounded reason? What if—

The blonde girl hesitated as the worst possibility popped up in her mind.

What if Salvos wasn’t actually as much of a genius as Valda thought she was?

The thought simmered in the back of Valda’s mind. It couldn’t be true. Salvos was a Diamond Ranked adventurer. She was a peer to Valda— no, better! And yet, she hadn’t told them anything substantive since she brought them to the library. And yet she wasn’t here, even after two hours of Valda self-studying. And yet… and yet—

The door swung open, and Valda looked up with wide eyes. Marie blinked, and Jonas frowned.

“I’m back!”

Salvos sauntered in, carrying with her a Bag of Holding. Jeremiah and Eve looked jerked up, having dozed off while studying on their textbooks. The both of them immediately tried making up some kind of excuse.

“I was just resting my eyes—”

“Yep, yep, sure, whatever.”

The silver-haired woman placid the Bag of Holding on the table, causing it to shake. It looked heavy, which said a lot, since Bag of Holdings typically had some kind of weight enchantment to keep them light.

Valda went cross-eyed as she stared at it.

“Uh, S-Salvos… what is that?”

“This is your study material.”

Salvos beamed, opening the bag. Valda exchanged a glance with Jonas who shrugged. He spoke apprehensively.

“Ms— I mean, Salvos, what exactly is in that bag?”

“Here, I’ll show you.”

Salvos poured the contents of it out onto the table. It all fell in a clatter, dozens of tools designed to create a basic artifact. Valda furrowed her brows, surprised by the items.

“What are these for?”

“Things designed for enchanting. But not just modern tools. Look, you have old tools as well like this little weaving pin.”

The blonde girl watched as Salvos picked out an item from the clutter of tools. Then she reached for what looked like a dead artifact.

“And look, this is a real tained Clean Medium. You can see how it has a Crux Symbol etched on it, right? But the enchantment failed to latch on because the item itself isn’t good for keeping in mana.”

She continued to sort out the various items, showing it to Valda and the others. Marie frowned.

“Wait, why are you showing this to us?”

“Because it’ll help you have a better grasp of how each and every one of these things work. We learned it in class, right? But we never once did any actual enchantment. It’s all theory, no practice. And I believe that, sometimes, it’s better to learn by doing rather than by, well, studying in a classroom.”

“But these cost…”

Valda spoke softly. These weren’t just modern artifacts you could buy at any [Crafter]’s shop. Many of these were antiques. Things you could no longer find in the current era.

“This is from the Melissian Era… and this is from the Alexandrian Era…. how much did they…?”

“Um, a few dozen platinum?”

Salvos scratched the back of her head.

“Or something like that. I’m not really sure.”

Valda’s jaw dropped, and even the nobles gaped. That was expensive. Anyone would know that was expensive. Yet, Salvos brushed it off like it was nothing.

“Y-you didn’t have to do this…”

The blonde girl pursed her lips, feeling slightly guilty. Salvos shrugged.

“It’s nothing. I promised I’d help you, right? Well, this is one of the best ways I can. I’m not just going to put in the minimum effort to help you after offering you my help. It’d reflect poorly on me!”

This was Salvos.

Valda stared at her, completely taken aback. The Diamond Rank went above and beyond for Valda and her friends, going as far as to buy all these items to help teach them. It wasn’t just a lesson designed for them. It was more than that.

Salvos placed a hand on Valda’s shoulder, smiling like the sun.

“Don’t worry too much about it. Come on, let’s get your friends a passing grade, alright?”

“Right.”

Valda nodded.

 

—--

 

The tutoring session ended, and Salvos parted ways with Valda and her friends. The five of them were silent, in awe of what Salvos did for them this evening, while letting everything they learned slowly settle in. It was an act of more than just kindness— of the kind of altruism discussed in philosophy books.

She was Valda’s hero. No—

“She’s a [Hero]...”

Valda whispered. Eve blinked, turning back to face the blonde girl.

“Did you say something, Valda?”

“Salvos is a [Hero].”

The blonde girl repeated herself, this time with more confidence. Her four friends looked at her, slightly confused. However, she spoke insistently.

“There’s no way someone like her can exist naturally. Think about it. All the [Heroes] of the past share the exact same trait as her. She’s altruistic, she’s high-leveled, and she’s a genius.”

“Right, Valda, but we can name literally a dozen other people like that just in this school.”

“But she's different. She’s better than them. And—”

Valda bit her lower lip. This was something that had bothered her for a while now. But the pieces finally fell into place.

“Even more than that— no one has ever heard of her before the past few years, and her levels have only rapidly risen since then. Don’t you think that’s strange? As if she suddenly appeared in this world with no levels, and grew quickly ever since? Kind of like how a [Hero] is summoned?”

Her friends opened their mouths. Then they exchanged looks.

“That…”

“I can actually see that.”

“Exactly.”

Valda crossed her arms.

“Salvos is a [Hero]. I’m certain of it.”

 

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