The tip of the knife shone with a bright spark as it cut through the metal. Jennifer traced it across the chest plate in front of her, the thin engraving knife leaving narrow lines in its wake. A dozen careful strokes neatly inscribed the first layer of enchantment and with the telltale sign of a complete enchantment, the inscription lit up. She felt the mana pulse through the piece, like water flowing into channels, it coursed through the armor as the metal took on a blue-ish hue.
“[Twofold Enchanting]” Jennifer muttered, placing her hand on the chestplate as it lit up, the inscription on it glowing even brighter for a second before it settled down. She picked up the chestplate and set it aside with the rest of the armor on the table next to her.
“Done already?” her Master asked, opening the door with a creaking noise. “Huh, ye’ve gotten quite a bit faster. Color me surprised,” he said, walking closer to inspect the armor.
“I’ve been practicing a bit,” Jennifer replied as she set the engraving knife on the table, wiping the sweat off her brow. Sitting in a cloying and closed off room for an hour wasn't the coolest place to spend her day. The heat from the furnace just below didn't help either.
“Neat work. Lot more mana in there than I expected. Yer skill's more potent as well. Did you gain a level or something?” Haireth asked, picking up the chestplate as he traced a finger over the inscription lines.
“I did. A little while back actually.”
Her master set the armor down, looking at her as lines formed between his eyebrows. “Is something wrong? Stuff back home? You sound like someone found yer old diary with that story of the attractive mag—”
Haireth tilted his head, dodging the mana stone Jennifer threw at him, a grin covering his face.
“You told me you’d never talk about it again,” Jennifer said, levelling an accusing glare at her master.
“I’m the master here lass, I decide to break or follow my words.”
Jennifer snorted, puffing her chest out as she glared at him before turning away from her master. Yet her amusement didn’t last long as the hollow exhaustion from before began to creep back in. A creaking sound came as her master settled on a chair nearby.
“What’s wrong lass? You love to hide things from people, and I wouldn’t pry normally, but this is different, isn’t it?” Haireth asked, rusting his beard, a short one by dwarven standards.
Jennifer turned to look at her master, sitting across from her while his forge burned down below. Yet he sat patiently for her to tell him what was worrying her.
I wish I could tell you, master. But I don’t want to repeat the mistakes I made last time. As long as that mark is walking around, I can’t trust people with this information.
Jennifer sighed, clenching her hands once before she looked back up at her master. “I went to the academy, to take a test. I managed to get a mage to agree to teach me, so I have classes with him. There's another boy, Livian, who agreed to help me settle in. And I need to go into the dungeon with him to get a Light-spirit beast.”
Haireth looked at her for a few moments, his expression unreadable. “That wasn’t what I expected. Why did ye not tell anyone? And the depths are no place to stroll. Ye know that already. Why agree to follow some brat in there? I thought ye were a smarter child than the academy brats.”
Jennifer winced at his words, looking up to meet his gaze. “I want to get better, Master. Sitting around won't help me improve. I’m too weak to change anything. A single incident, a high tier beast attack or war could break out at any time. And none of us will be able to do anything. We’ll just be swept away by the currents and drowned in them.”
Haireth hummed curiously as his eyes bore into hers. “Ye say that as if there’s any man who can do anything about such things. Well, perhaps there are some, older folks. Much higher level ones. But these people write history Jenn, and we don’t. In the end none can defy fate, can we?”
“I won’t stop ye from going on your little adventure,” her master added. “As long as I know that you're not jumping into danger without a thought. I’ve known you long enough to know that ye're a smart girl. As long as you keep that clever head working, ye’ll be fine.”
Jennifer nodded at his words, a smile threatening to sneak onto her face.
“But, let me do something for you at least,” her master said, getting up from his seat as he walked out of the room.
Jennifer sat in silence for a minute before he came back, carrying a set of lightweight enchanted armor bundled in his arms. “Take this with ye. Now, I’m not giving this to ye. My money bag’s not that heavy with gold. You’ll bring this back to me when ye’re done, or I’ll run to Elphion himself to pry it from yer fingers. Got it?” Haireth said, in a deep grumble and Jennifer's smile blossomed in full force. She nodded, picking up the armor.
Slipping it over her head, a few straps set themselves in place as the armor snugly shifted to fit around her form. “Thank you, master,” Jennifer said and Haireth waved her words with his hand as he shook his head.
“Just good business. Yeh getting injured will lose me money, so don’t ye go getting into any scuffle ye can’t handle,” Haireth said and Jennifer laughed giving him a single-armed hug. The man patted her shoulder, not returning her hug. But he'd never been one for hugs.
“I know ye’ve got some stuff going lass. I can tell. You’ve changed in the past few days. It’s fine if you won’t tell me, but know that I’ll be here for ye if ye need me.”
“I know,” Jennifer replied, as she pulled free.
“Now, get back to work. There’s been more and more adventurers flocking in for the dungeon business and every second standing around is lost money,” Haireth said, knocking her gently on her head as he walked out.
Jennifer smiled at her master’s awkwardness, before she turned back around to return to her work. The sound of steady hammering filled the room once more and Jennifer let her hand move freely to the rhythm.
She'd do her best. For all of them.
It had been close to half an hour since she’d arrived in the room Nathaniel was supposed to meet with her, and Jennifer finally found her patience running thin. She tapped her feet, looking around the neutral yet pleasantly decorated room. The Academy’s mixed cultural background showing through the clashing regional decorations and vases that adorned the room.
It still has a very human feel to it though, which isn't a surprise.
Jennifer sensed Nathaniel outside the door a moment before the gate clicked open. When Nathaniel walked in, he eyed Jennifer briefly as he closed the door behind him.
Remember, he doesn't know me.
Jennifer got up from her seat, dipping her head slightly as she greeted him, “Thank you for coming today, Magus Nathaniel.”
“Jennifer Laine, is that correct?” Nathaniel asked.
“Yes,” Jennifer replied, keeping a straight face as she refrained from addressing him with his shortened name.
Nathaniel hummed in response. “Very well, Jennifer. It’s nice to meet you. I must admit I’m very curious about why you picked me for a mentor when I’m not even a faculty at the academy. Or how you found out about my spell shaping trick,” he said, raising an eyebrow at her.
Jennifer went through the answer she’d rehearsed for him once more before she recited, “I was reading some old articles, and there was one from when you were younger. A prodigious mage with three affinities. And in there it mentioned your peculiar methods of spell shaping. I read that and surmised it was extremely similar to the technique I’d developed. Looking more into it, I found out you had a mix of affinities that could help with mine.” Jennifer eyed Nathaniel, who was looking at her thoughtfully as he tapped his fingers.
“Can you show me?” Nathaniel asked and Jennifer nodded. A spell matrix weaved itself together, forming a simple mana bolt, then she focused on the spell and with a sudden shift the bolt turned to glass, light glistening off it’s reflective surface.
She turned towards Nathaniel who was frowning as he watched the spell in stasis hovering over her hand. She could see him mutter as he used his skills to break the spell down. “Curious, that is very curious. This is almost identical to the shaping trick I use. So much so that I’m half a mind that it is mine,” Nathaniel said, looking at her as he furrowed his brows.
Jennifer slightly bit her cheek, but she didn’t let her expression shift. Lying here would be a really bad move. He'll be able to tell instantly.
“It is based off of yours, Magus, yet the glass affinity usage and the spell itself are definitely mine,” Jennifer replied carefully as she checked Nathaniel for any signs that her half-lie was caught out.
“How old are you again?” Nathaniel asked, folding his arms.
“I’m... umm, seventeen,” Jennifer replied, as she mentally calculated her age. Almost two months of reversed time, so, yeah my birthday is still a while away.
“Fairly high level for your age. And an unconventional class for someone of your mana capacity. You’re one bag full of mystery aren’t you?” Nathaniel asked.
Jennifer just looked at him, unsure of how to reply.
“I'll be your Mentor. Although, I may not always be around. People pay a lot of gold for my time after all, and my work may interfere. So, I want you to be aware of that. Keeping that in mind, let’s start shall we?”
“Now?” Jennifer asked with surprise.
“As I said Jennifer, I'd be earning a lot of gold for taking classes like this by the sheer virtue of being a Ranked plate team's member. So, I'd like you to appreciate the value of my time. I’m here, and you're here. I don’t see why we cannot start today?” Nathaniel said, as he got up. Jennifer stared at the adventurer in surprise for a moment before she got up, following behind him.
The two of them moved out of the meeting room as they made their way towards the training halls. Jennifer watched Nathaniel’s gaze drifting around the area.
“I’d forgotten about that whole area... not that I miss this place,” she heard him mutter as they walked ahead.
“You're a graduate, right?” Jennifer asked.
Nathaniel glanced back at her before he nodded. “Yes, I graduated here. Most mages born in Lienmont do. Although I didn’t have much of a choice.”
She noticed the frown on his face as he talked, his hands clenched slightly by his side. “Is it because of your affinities? Or because of the guild head?”
Nathaniel tensed as he came to a sudden halt. “You... I suppose you already told me that you looked into my background,” he said, sighing as he continued. “Yes, it was the guild head’s wish that I study in the academy early. And graduate early as well. I never had another option,” Nathaniel said before he looked at her with lines forming between his brows.
“Not exactly a topic I expected to discuss here or now,” he said, his voice slightly harsh and Jennifer nodded, following behind him silently as they continued.
He doesn't know me. I’m a stranger to him. Of course he won’t talk about this stuff with me.
A strange melancholy filled Jennifer at the thought. The realisation that no one would remember any of the events that happened, that Meiphor Wings and her little party never existed.
If that’s what it takes to prevent the invasion… if that’s what it takes to prevent that monster from harming Rumina this time. Then I'll do it. Over and over again. Till the integrity runs out, I'll keep doing it.
Jennifer let the feeling fill her chest for just a moment before she let it go. This was no time to be indulging in sentiment. She needed to make the best of this reset and find a method to privately contact Irwys.
How do I ask Nathaniel about it without giving myself away though?
Jennifer chewed on the thought as they entered the training hall. Nathaniel sent a pulse of mana across the room before he turned towards Jennifer.
“Alright. First things first, I’ve had a brief talk with Magus Beritross and he's told me of your ridiculous methods for gaining an [Expanded Mana Pool] skill. We’ll be addressing that first of all. Do you have any current circulation methods?” Nathaniel asked. Jennifer shook her head in reply, she’d never needed a circulation method before.
“I guess that’s fair. I only learnt mine when I could use Tier 5 magic. Goes to show how ridiculous that skill of yours is. I’m frankly envious, I had something similar but it wasn’t until I was level 20 that I got a proper [Mana Pool] skill,” Nathaniel said, looking at her for a moment.
“Anyways, we’ll start now. Take a seat if you’d like,” he said as thin crystals rose from the ground, quickly forming a smooth chair next to her. Jennifer almost shook her head at his habit of extravagant displays. But perhaps it wasn’t all that extravagant for someone like him to summon a chair out of thin air.
“Alright, now, this is a mixed technique I’m going to teach you. It’s my teammate Anghul’s. This will not only circulate your mana but your blood as well,” Nathaniel said as Jennifer nodded, taking a seat on the chair.
“Close your eyes, and then circulate your mana through your channels once,” Nathaniel said and Jennifer followed his instructions. She sensed her mana pool, a much larger bundle of mana collected in it compared to before. Slowly she prodded it into moving through her body, making it’s way through her mana circuits.
“Now focus on your heart, and the way it beats. You will hear a rhythm of two beats, if you listen closely. Let the rhythm guide you, as you imagine your blood gathering in your chest, filling it to the brim.”
Jennifer tried to cut off her senses, directing her attention towards her heart. At first, she couldn't concentrate, her attention drifting toward her breathing, or the low hum of the nearby enchantments. But finally, she managed to close it all off and focused on her heart. It beat rhythmically, and its beating started to send a pulse of mana that followed.
She felt her blood pulsing through her body, it shifted and moved out of her control as it flowed. She tried to picture it gathering in her chest. Filling her chest as it coalesced in one singular pool. Jennifer frowned as her concentration started to break, the rhythm starting to turn erratic. She let out a deep breath, calming her heart as her mana once again pulsed to it’s own beat. Her blood followed, mixing in with the rhythm of her heart as it gathered in her chest. Vaguely Jennifer heard Nathaniel say something. Yet the words drifted past her ears as she continued to sink into the rhythm.
Her mana core began to contract and expand. Like a heart of its own, it pulsed with its own rhythm. She sat, admiring it and she felt it expand a tiny amount with each pulse of the core. Jennifer guided her mana through her circuits, the mana now in synch with her blood as the two began to mix. A strange jolt of energy went through her body as her blood and mana moved as one, pulsing together with her mana core. The rhythm of her heart governed her body, as her very being moved to it’s sound.
A cracking sound came as something collapsed. Her mana core shifted, turning denser as a dense ball of glass formed at it’s centre. A wave of glass mana filled her system as it poured out. Jennifer’s concentration broke, her mind turning free once more as the glass mana filled her to the brim, pouring out every pore of her body as she soaked in its sensation.
Jennifer felt a hand grab her shoulder and she turned over to see Nathaniel smiling at her. “Congratulations, you did it. Although try not to leak so much next time?” he said, motioning around her. Jennifer turned to see shards of glass rising from the ground all around her within several paces.
Sweat dripped down her forehead, a strange exhaustion filling her body as she stared at the glass spikes. “How long... has it been?” she said, surprised to find her throat oddly dry.
“About an hour. Took you a bit longer than I’d expected but it’s about normal. You’ve formed an affinity core now, and it will keep your mana pool centered. Yours will be extremely fragile as of yet, since you're barely into Tier 2 capabilities. But continued circulation of your mana will ensure that it grows smoothly. And that you won't end up straining any single part of your mana pool,” Nathaniel said, as a pulse of mana from him made the glass shards around her fade away.
“I think that’ll be enough for today’s lesson. We’ll deal more with the specific spell matrix in the next class, and I’d like to see a demonstration of your spell control as well,” Nathaniel added with a smile.
“Thank you for the lesson,” Jennifer said, dipping her head. “I also had a request. Do you know a way I can use the Academy’s message scrolls for a private warded message?”
“Yes, although I don’t see a reason you—” he froze mid-word. Jennifer suddenly felt mana swirl around him in a churn as the mage muttered something.
A small crystal appeared in his hand which he promptly threw towards Jennifer, “You can use that to contact whoever you want privately once. I need to go now,” the man said in a clipped tone, hurriedly turning around as he stormed off.
Jennifer stared at his back for a moment. What could’ve made him react like that? In the end there was no way for her to find out, so she put Nathaniel out of her thoughts as he slammed the door behind him.
She rolled the purple crystal in her hands, finding a message spell inscribed inside it. Now to find a contact point for Irwys. Maybe then I can finally get some answers.
She stored the crystal safely inside her jacket, wiping her sweat away as she got up to continue her training. A little spell training never hurt.
A ringing noise filled her ears as Jennifer felt a headache assault her. Something seemed to push against her, as a muffled and horribly distorted voice spoke to her. The words were lost within the torrent of mana that sent them however.
Then with a pop the message vanished, the pressure fading away. Jennifer stared blankly around her, clutching her head as the world spun for a moment.
“X-xar?” she mumbled, trying to grab onto the link yet nothing remained of the message. The link was still broken.
T-that was Xar. Does he still remember? But how... I need to find him. I just hope he stays safe till then.
Jennifer clenched her hands, turning around as she began to circulate her mana. There would be time to find Xar, and she'd make sure that she could take on the Serpent. Or anything else the dungeon threw at her.
I’ll find you Xar, I promise.