“What?!” screamed the catgirl in shock, only to put a hand over her mouth after she realized how much she’d raised her voice.
“I’m not an idiot, Keira. I know the thing in your back is a soulstone, and there’s only one way that would’ve gotten there. There’s no way you wouldn’t be aware of that, either.”
“… You can’t tell Rowie. Or miss Hilda. Or anyone!”
“I imagined you didn’t want anyone to know, which was why I kept silent about it. You have my word that I have not, nor do I intend to tell anyone such a heavy thing. I can even swear it on Teresa’s name if you want.”
“Your word will have to do. Me and that Goddess, I doubt we’d get along, all things considered.”
“Ah, right. The Hero Killer thing…”
A heavy silence hung in the air as the catgirl and the wolfboy took sips of their tea.
“So, uhm,” stammered Keira, “as I was saying, I ended up picking a Level 25 Wizard Job in one go.”
“You did, did you? Dare I ask how?”
“I said I’d rather not talk about it. Look, the thing is, I have all these new incantations in my head, but I’m scared to give them a try. I’ve done magic through Skills and stuff before, but this is different. Spells are like… official, you know? I’m afraid I’ll hurt myself or those around me if I start playing around with the mystic arts.”
“Oh, I see. That’s a good attitude to have, I suppose. Lots of people forget that magic is not a toy and… You want me to be your tutor, don’t you?”
“Mmm, s-something like that. I just, I figure if I’m given this power, then I should probably learn to use it responsibly and safely, you know?”
“Well, sorry to say, but I’m not a holder of the Wizard Job myself. I have my hands full with the Scribe, Alchemist and Enchanter already, so… yeah.”
“I already know you’re a wimp. You made that clear when you wet yourself yesterday.”
“But you still know stuff about things, right? About how magic works?”
“I would certainly hope so! Otherwise I might as well be the Hero of Muffins!”
“Seriously though, why not just go to one of the guilds for lessons? They’d be able to do a lot better than I would”
“Oh yeah, that’ll go over well. ‘Hi, I just instantly got 25 Levels of a Job because I’m special.’ I’d rather not.”
“It’s not that bad. Anyone can get Level 25 in a combat Job if they work on it for one or two months.”
“I’m not just ‘anyone’ though. I’m the Hero of Chaos. I don’t want any more horrible rumors spreading, especially about how I’m an entitled brat that had everything handed to her. That’s the last thing I want to be known as. They can call me violent and crazy all they want, but at least I’m willing to admit there’s some truth to those.”
“And don’t get me started on the glory hogs who just want to ‘teach’ me in order to elevate their own status. I have to beat those pricks off with a stick as it is. So I’d really rather not invite a bunch of wand-twirling pajama-wearing twinkle-fingers breathing down my neck!”
“Sorry. Heard that from a dwarf recently and it sort of slipped out.”
“No, I’m not mad. That’s actually surprisingly apt, all things considered. But, you’ve made your point. I suppose since I’ll be here for another week I might as well show you the basics. Until then, please consider getting a proper teacher.”
“I will! Thanks a lot!”
“Don’t mention it. I actually needed something to keep busy before my ride home showed up. Before we start though, I’m gonna need a few things from you.”
The wolfkin stood up and reached into his robes, pulling out a notebook and an enchanted quill.
“Wait, we’re starting right now?”
“No, no, I’m far too tired for that. This is just prep work,” he explained. “Here, I want you to note down all your Attributes, Jobs, Skills, and any relevant Perks.”
“Uh, what? Why?”
“Because I need to know what I’m working with.”
“No I meant-”
“I know what you meant. I’m just not a Scribe capable of Full Appraisal just yet. I can barely even do a Basic one, to be honest. All your non-caster Jobs and Skills would fly over my head since I lack a great deal of knowledge in that area. Besides, I wouldn’t want to put you through that gross-feeling process. Nobody likes being Appraised, y’know?”
“Yeah… Thanks for the consideration, Nao. That’s very sweet of you.”
Nao blushed ever so slightly at Keira’s bright smile and kind words, both of which were positively oozing with charm.
“D-d-don’t mention it. Hah! Ahahah! Ahah!”
The wolfkin ended up stuttering his way over to some cabinets with a forced, nervous laugh, as he was unused to this sort of treatment from the opposite sex. He began rummaging through them while Boxxy, who was currently feeling like it dodged an arrow, began writing out Keira’s Status in his notebook. Or at least, the part of it that it wanted Nao to see. The wolfkin, in the meanwhile, had some trouble finding what he was looking for, as he was a visitor here and didn’t know where everything was quite yet. He finally found it a few minutes later, which had given Keira plenty of time to finish her task.
“All done?” he said while taking back his notebook. “Let me see here…”
“Uh, Nao? What’s that crown-looking thing in your hand?”
“It’s an aptitude scanner, don’t worry about it. More importantly, your Job Levels are kind of ridiculous.”
“Uh, what? Why? What’s wrong with them?”
“You said here you’re Level 41 Ranger, a Level 39 Blade Dancer, a Level 23 Artificer. Skills are all reasonably developed as well. And that’s not even counting the Level 25 Wizard Job you said you got lucky with.”
“It’s just hard to believe this is the Status of a sixteen year old who’s only been an adventurer for- How long was it?”
“Little over half a year?”
“Well! It’s extremely impressive you managed to get so strong this quickly. What’s your secret, if you don’t mind my asking?!”
“… Taking part in a war and going on grueling month-long treks through the monster-infested wilderness. People tend to go up in Levels with that much death around them.”
“Ah… I apologize. I said something insensitive.”
“It’s okay. A lot of things happened, but I’m stronger for it. And if there’s anything being Jordan’s Hero has taught me, it’s that you can overcome ‘fate’ or ‘destiny’ or whatever as long as you have two things - mettle, and the power to back it up. If I’m going to make the world stop treating me and my loved ones like its playthings, then I need to harness every weapon I can. Be it the bow, the blade, the bomb, or a Wizard’s magic.”
“… You are a lot more complicated than you initially let on. You know that, Keira?”
“Yeah. Story of my life.”
“Ahem! Right! Speaking of magic and blades and whatnot, I was wondering about something. Is it true Blade Dancers can evoke Spells purely through motion?”
“What? No, not exactly. I mean, there might be a high-Level thing that can do that, but the most I can do right now is conjure flames and ice through a Skill, not a Spell. I’d even say it’s more of a Martial Art.”
“Ah, so it was a Skill! Sorry, I heard it was magic that scaled with one’s Intelligence Attribute so I assumed Spell, but if it’s not, then that makes me even more curious about it! I would be quite interested in seeing it sometime, if you don’t mind.”
“Oh. Sure, I don’t mind.”
“Until then though, I still need to- Wait, what are you doing?”
“What does it look like?”
“It looks like you’re holding one of the old swords used for Enchanting practice while taking up a fighting stance…”
“Glad to see being such a bookworm hasn’t impacted your powers of observation,” said the catgirl with a wink. “Better keep putting those to good use, you hear?”
“I said I would like to see it ‘sometime!’ Not here and-”
And before Nao could do anything to stop it, the genius at showing off that was Keira Morgana was already at it. The dull blade in her hand was coated with a pure white sheet of ice and let off a fine mist as both it and its wielder danced gracefully around the room. A series of long, flowing movements blended together into a single sequence, each pirouette, spin or jump leading into the next motion.
“Nanananaaaah, lah-lah, lah-lah. Lararara-daaah, lah-lah, lah-lah. Narananaaah! La-la-la! La-la! La-lah!”
She also made her own music to dance to, with a combination of her humming voice and the beautiful sounds the ice-imbued sword made as it cut through the air. It was undoubtedly something meant to end lives, yet the elegance, grace, and slow tempo with which the girl performed the technique gave it an air of class and charm. It was a performance worthy of being in a palace, not a stuffy laboratory. Even though she was moving so much in a cramped space with all sorts of apparatuses strewn about, she never once bumped into or knocked over anything. Her limbs and her weapon came within millimeters of colliding with various objects, but never so much as touched them. It was a feat that could only be described as a masterful display of depth perception and precise movement.
Which was probably a good thing, otherwise Nao would not have been as enthralled as he was. Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, or the oddity of his company, but he couldn’t help but feel as if he was staring at a dream as he sat, mouth agape. He almost wanted to ask who was this mysterious creature that had replaced the ‘complicated person’ he was talking to mere moments ago. It was as if someone had distilled elegance and beauty into a physical form. Even the one-size-too-large plain blouse she was wearing almost seemed like a billowing gown as its hem flapped around randomly. As for the head of crimson hair, it was as if it had become a piece of living flame that flickered amidst a misty winter wonderland.
“Pam! Pam! Tadaaah!”
And then, with a final flourish and a kneeling finish, the performance finally ended.
“So? What’d you think?” asked Keira as she jumped back to her feet, already back to her usual bubbly self. “I’ve had plenty of chances to practice my moves lately. I’ve gotten pretty good, haven’t I?”
Nao didn’t think they were ‘pretty good,’ no. In his humble opinion, that performance just now was marvelous. Beautiful. Stupendous. He would even go so far as to say it was literally enchanting.
Unfortunately, that weak response was all he could muster. Truth be told, he had already seen a Blade Dancer in action once before. However, that was in the field during combat. Watching it from this up close and in such an intimate setting had been a rather extraordinary experience. It opened his eyes to the otherwise obvious fact that Keira was a young woman, and an extremely attractive one at that. It reduced him from a scholar to a hormonal teenager whose mind had trouble thinking about anything other than ‘I’m alone with a pretty girl!’
“Ah, it feels good to move my stiff body around first thing in the morning,” said Keira as she happily stretched her arms out. “Now that that’s out of the way, you’re going to teach me about the tool in your hands, right?”
“Right! Yes! Yes, of course! So, the, uh… the aptitude scanner…”
His thoughts were still somewhere else entirely, though, and he ended up unintentionally staring at Keira’s face, especially her lips. They were thin, but looked incredibly soft all the same.
“Nao?” called out the catgirl, her sweet voice waking him from his stupor. “What’s wrong?”
“S-sorry. I’m, uh, still quite sleepy,” he deflected nervously. “So, like you said, this crown-looking thingy. It, uh, you see all these colorful jeweled rods sticking in- out of it?”
“Yeah? There’s fourteen of them, right?”
“Yes, yes, quite right. So, uh, this tool samples a bit of your MP - just a tiny bit, nothing to worry about,” he added in a hurry. “It then determines which magical element you’re most in tune with.”
“And… this is important?”
“Quite a bit, yes. Magic comes in all shapes and flavors, so it’s important to know what you’re naturally good at before you start. Luckily for you, Wizards have the potential to use all of the elements, so you should be able to stick to your strengths. Usually our people are predisposed towards fire, wind, and light, but those can vary from person to person. Hence why this thing is necessary when teaching new magic users.”
“Wow. Sounds complicated.”
“It’s really not. Here, let me demonstrate.”
The Hero of Magic then placed the ‘crown’ on his head. Four of the gems lit up instantly, though the pink-ish one was much brighter than the white, deep blue, and dark green ones.
“See, in my case my strongest element is space, followed by cold, water and scourge,” he explained by pointing to each glowing stone in turn. “It’s a bit of an awkward combo, but normally it would mean I should look into becoming a Cryomancer rather than a Pyromancer.”
“Oh, I get it! So it lets you know what your talents are? That’s pretty neat!” noted the catgirl while leaning in closer to Nao as if to get a better look at the thing on his head. “There’s quite a lot of these gems, though. Is each one representative of a different element?”
“Y-yeah, something like th-that…” he stammered nervously, unsure how to deal with the invasion of his personal space.
“What happens if I use, uh, an unattuned element?”
“Well, st-statistically speaking you’ll be more prone to messing up the Spell, or it may produce a lesser effect than expected. Experienced Spell-slingers can overcome this after several years of, well, experience. For a rookie like you though, you should definitely, uh, stick to your strengths.”
“Hmm, hmm, I see,” said Keira while vigorously nodding along. “Can I give it a go, then?”
“Be my guest,” he said weakly as he handed over the item.
Roping in the shy wolfkin aside, Boxxy was quite eager to find out how this would turn out. It had no idea this aptitude test was even a thing, but then again it hadn’t really looked into applying for a magic-centric guild as a newbie. The only thing Hidden Arrow asked of Keira before letting her sign up was a basic fitness and hand-eye coordination exam. One that was so easy that only those with crippling disabilities wouldn’t be able to pass. Which was probably the point of it in retrospect.
Either way, even if the shapeshifter used magic quite a bit, it had no idea what its ‘strongest’ element actually was, so it put the aptitude scanning device on with high expectations.
“Well?” asked Keira excitedly. “Which one is it?”
“Huh. Now that’s weird,” said Nao scratching his left ear. “I mean, usually you’d see anywhere between two and five of the things to light up, but in your case… I don’t see any.”
“Uhm, okay? What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Hmm, let me think,” said Nao while tapping his chin. “The magical charge extracted from the user… path of least resistance… can’t be none of them… maybe too many paths? … Okay, tell you what, Keira. You know how to work magic tools that run on MP, right?”
“Yeah, my Artificer Mentor showed me how to work her spot-welder.”
“Then try to channel some MP into the item. Only about five or so points, though. It’s quite sensitive, so it might break if you overdo it.”
This was going to be hard. Nao didn’t know it, but what he was asking of Boxxy wasn’t as simple as it seemed. What the Mimic had to do was akin to tipping over a bathtub full of water until precisely three drops landed in the cup below. Hence why Keira had to close her eyes and concentrate as hard as she could.
But, in the end, she couldn’t do it. She had overloaded the aptitude scanner, cracking all fourteen crystals at once.
“So it’s like that after all,” mused the Hero of Magic.
“Sorry!” apologized Keira while taking the thing off. “I’m still a newbie so-!”
“No, nevermind that. See here,” he said, taking the item from her head. “Notice how flawlessly you cracked all of these right down the middle? Well, aside from the one for lightning. That one seems like it put up a bit of a fight, but it still got an equal charge as the rest.”
“… And that’s a good thing?”
“It is! I think I’m starting to understand why Fabio is so interested in you! Keira, you have a rare gift!”
“I do?! What is it?!” she asked, her face brimming with anticipation.
“You’re something us scholars like to call a polymagus! Meaning you’re completely average in all the elements! Not a single one is special!”
“… I’m going to slap you now.”
“… Okay, in retrospect, I probably should’ve phrased it better.”