Episode 138 – Bad Luck
After the three old men settled their argument (or rather, they got tired of arguing), they brought out several more artifacts for Elaru to break, each one trickier than the last.
They stared with their maws gaping and eyes wide as she broke them with seemingly little effort.
“Is that all?” Only when her question fell did they regain their senses. They shared a look and then abruptly their bodies shook with what seemed to be sudden enlightenment.
With utmost effort they controlled their mouth from blooming into a grin, however, their excited aura gave their true feelings away. Still, they continued posturing. They cleared their throats and with an air of the wise, older generation they informed Elaru they needed to privately discuss her performance.
Thus, they huddled together like a group of bandits, set up a sound isolation barrier, and turned their backs to Elaru to conceal their crafty grins. Seeing their hunched backs and heads almost pressing together, even an idiot would be able to tell that they were up to no good, let alone Elaru who had spent the majority of her life beating up scoundrels.
Briefly, she pondered whether it would be worth the effort to concentrate her Aethernea of Sight on their mouth and attempt lip reading. But in the end, she decided against it. They didn’t seem evil, merely a bit mischievous, like oversized children. And they didn’t have any enmity with her, on the contrary, they seemed to be very satisfied with her abilities. They were probably thinking about which hard to break artifact to bring out next.
Meanwhile, under the sound barrier…
“Quick! Where is the list of things headmaster asked us to break by the end of this week?” Mustache slapped his thighs.
“I’ve got it right here.” Eyebrows hurriedly searched his pockets and pulled out a folded piece of paper.
Beard snatched the paper right out of his hands, wet his thumb with his tongue, and quickly unfolded it.
The three pressed their heads tightly together reading down the long list for several seconds.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” Mustache was first to speak up.
“Hehe, if you are thinking that we’ll be hard-pressed to finish all this by Monday then yes.” Beard chuckled coyly.
“Indeed, indeed, imagine how much sleep we’ll lose. This stress isn’t good for our old bones.” Eyebrows added with enthusiasm that created a sharp contrast with the severity of his words.
“Might cause hair loss too.” Beard was better at controlling his facial expression thus he nodded gravely. Unfortunately, the lightness of his voice didn’t match the heaviness of his face.
The three shared a knowing look and looked back at the pretty redhead. The more they looked at her, the more pleasing to the eyes she was. They turned back, their eyes unconsciously squinting.
“I’ll supervise the young lass and cross things off the list…” Eyebrows screamed dibs for the easiest task. The other two looked at him disgruntled but in the end, let it pass, they were in too good of a mood to be petty.
“I’ll go search the cabinets,” Mustache added with eyes squinted into a clear smile, stroking his long white mustache.
“I’ll go bring more stuff.” Beard volunteered, rubbing his hands together like a merchant who just made a lucrative business deal.
And so, what followed next was bringing out one artifact after another. Shelves, closets, and pockets, everything that could be overturned and emptied was quickly emptied, the contents piling in front of Elaru.
More enchantments she broke, the more excited the three became at the prospect of finding an artifact she couldn’t break. Their faces went through several different phases: shock, admiration, reverence, excitement, glee, curiosity.
In the end, Mustache could barely sit still, rubbing his hands greedily. Meanwhile, Eyebrows couldn’t hide the blissful look on his face as he continued crossing out items from his list with incredible satisfaction. Just as Elaru emptied the pile in front of her, Beard came back to the room with a cart full of miscellaneous stuff and resumed watching Elaru break one artifact after another with glittering eyes.
At some point the trio found themselves cheering and clapping as if they were three cheerleaders supporting their favorite airbalt team, the shattered remains of their dignity couldn’t even be scrapped off the floor. Therefore, they decided to thicken their skin and go even further – they kindly asked her if she was running out of mana, and whether they should visit the alchemy department to get a mana replenishing potion.
Elaru’s eyebrow twitched at their feigned worry as she once again squeezed a polite “No, thank you.”
Even if she did run out of mana, she’d rather stop this exam than take a mana replenishing potion. It’s not like these few meagrely points would be the difference between success and failure of her exams. And mana potions squeezed out mana that had seeped deep into the flesh and bones to nourish them. If used too often the prolonged mana deficiency would cause serious damage to one’s body. Mana potions were something mages used only when the stakes were very high. Mostly as a life-saving trump card. Yet, these three old fogies actually wanted her to take one just to continue spell breaking?!
Luckily, the three old men were perfectly aware that spell breaking wasn’t an activity with a large mana consumption, so they didn’t actually insist on it.
After all, unlike spell casting, spell breaking didn’t directly consume mana. The only loss was caused either by mana dissipating naturally with time, or mana dissipating due to the damage caused by the repeated collision with solidified mana. Thus, while spell breaking required the mage to have a large amount of mana available to form a dense mana construct, only a negligible amount of all that mana would dissipate after a single spell breaking attempt. Running out of mana was highly unlikely to happen. Fainting due to mental fatigue was a much more realistic scenario.
Fortunately, or perhaps, unfortunately, Elaru’s mental fortitude was pretty high so she kept breaking and breaking, all the while longingly looking at the clock on the wall, hoping that it would tick just a bit faster.
If only time dilation magic wasn’t far beyond her capabilities…
When the final item was crossed off from the list, the trio of old men was too drunk with glee to stop. One after the other, they ran towards their personal studies and brought back everything they could find. (“Eh, eh, how about this one?”, “Oh, oh! I found another one!”, “Ooooh! I lost this one ages ago.”)
And then they would once again watch and cheer on, gazing at the redhead with gentle eyes as if they were looking at their long-lost kin. Lovable, so lovable! The little lass was saving them days of hard work, who wouldn’t find her endearing?
Coupled with the increasingly disturbing looks and the never decreasing pile of items, Elaru finally reached the edges of her patience. As politely, yet as meaningfully, as she could, she glanced at the clock and commented. “We are running out of time. I am afraid I won’t manage to break all of these.”
Unfortunately, the three old men had shed their dignity long ago, so they just looked at her comfortingly and reassured: “Don’t worry. We don’t have anything scheduled after this.”
Elaru’s face fell. You give them an inch and they ask for a mile…
“I know you, three esteemed experts…” Elaru squeezed out “…just want to test me to the best of your abilities…”
The three nodded their heads appreciatively, showing absolutely no sign of shame or regret.
Faces thicker than the city walls! Elaru’s eyebrow twitched, yet her voice still remained pleasant as she continued: “But since I’m sure your time is very valuable, I can’t bear to waste it.” She didn’t dare to give them any time to respond, firing another statement right after. “So how about you pick the most difficult thing to break you have and I break that?”
“How about this one?”
“No, no! This one is better!”
“You call that difficult?? Not only does this one have higher mana density but it also contains more spell fragments!”
“Tsk! The quality of mystification in this one is much higher than that one!”
“I’ll stuff mana density and mystification down your…! This one uses secret arcane magic that no one has seen before!”
…Elaru’s vision turned dark.
Meanwhile, Kiel’s professors were finally finished measuring all of the stars he had enchanted. Thus they gathered together to see the results, however, before they could inspect them, the old grandma’s eyes flashed and she folded the paper. “Patience! Let’s inspect the mines first.”
And thus, another apparatus was placed on the table – a silver box.
“Clay Mines are an important weapon in the Purge arsenal with strict quality control. A non-functioning mine could cost a Purger his life, thus the Purge check the quality of every mine.” The grandma patiently explained. “This device… is a modified version of the apparatus used to inspect Clay Mines. It is enchanted with an enchantment higher in level than the enchantment on the Clay Mines and it will cause strong spell interference with Clay Mines.” While the old lady continued her explanation, the middle-aged man placed the example Clay Mine inside the box and closed the lid.
“When the apparatus is activated the two sides of the box will flatten the Clay Mine, and the mine will activate. However, due to the strong spell interference, the temperature increase caused by the activation of the mine won’t reach the required level to make it explode.”
The middle-aged man twisted a switch under the meter on the front face of the cube and activated the apparatus. As the meter jumped and settled on a number, the old lady elaborated. “The temperature of the mine will still increase, and the box will measure this increase to calculate the quality of the enchantment on the mine.”
The middle-aged man deactivated the apparatus and opened the lid of the box. However, instead of removing the mine, he placed both of his hands inside the box and kneaded the flattened clay mine back into the shape of a pebble. Only then did he remove the mine from the box and place it back into the briefcase.
As the professors busied themselves with measuring the quality of his Clay Mines, Kiel sat in his seat deep in thought. Why were they interested in the quality of his enchantments? Why were they measuring all these things? They checked the quality and speed of his spell replicating as if this was nothing more than a spell replicating exam.
But this was wrong! Weren’t they supposed to be testing for some special ability? Did they really need all those numbers? What could those numbers really tell them about the presence or absence of a special power?
If such a special power manifested there should have been some obvious sign of it. Like glittering lights, pulses of power, or anomalies in the fabric of reality.
Yet, what were they doing?? Data mining? Were they looking for some kind of anomaly in the data? But what kind of anomaly could there possibly be? They were only measuring time and spell quality.
Well, whatever, they would probably explain these things for him, so he would understand why he got a zero on the exam. He should just be patient, since they didn’t give him any more things to enchant, it should mean that this exam was coming to a close.
And so, the last Clay Mine was put inside the metal box.
The middle-aged man activated the apparatus and everyone eagerly awaited for the end of this exam. Unfortunately, things seldom go as planned.
For just as the box was activated…
The ground shook and Kiel almost fell out of his chair.
The fragments of the box flew everywhere like snowflakes.
The hourglass on the table crashed on the floor, spilling sand on the carpet.
The professors rolled on the floor, their faces black, their hair all over the place.
White, mostly intact, papers rained all over the room, covering the furniture and the floor.
As Kiel stared at the chaos, his mouth dropped open, his pupils dilated and his mind stalled.
…fu**! Don’t tell me Elaru passed her bad luck onto me?!?