Episode 139 – To see the Light
Luckily, the silver box absorbed most of the explosion, so no one got injured. After several seconds of dizziness, even the old grandma got up to her feet by herself.
The professors shared incredulous looks coupled by sour faces and collectively glanced back at Kiel.
Kiel gulped inaudibly. The professors disliked him already for wasting their time… and now… he just hoped they wouldn’t expel him from the exam. He wasn’t even at fault here. Elaru caused so much more trouble and she was still fine. Surely, he would be fine.
The old lady, although the frailest, was the first to recover from the shock, she coughed awkwardly and made the scattered papers fly into her hand. Her action seemed to awaken everyone else and they huddled together over her shoulders anxiously, hoping that the papers were alright, praying that they wouldn’t need to redo the test.
In fact, they were so worried about redoing the test that they didn’t even take the time to tidy up their sorry appearance. They looked over the papers with black faces and hair standing up like it was a tiwi nest.
The grandma’s hands shook. Judging by the paling faces of the examiners, things didn’t look good. The results probably got damaged.
Before anyone could erupt, saying something inappropriate, someone erected a sound isolation barrier around the examiners. Just in time too, for not a moment later, one of them started yelling something.
Another one grit his teeth and glared at the first one. Granny was frowning, as the rest erupted into an insult-spewing clamor, giving Kiel sneaky glances from time to time.
Kiel’s back was already drenched with cold sweat, they wouldn’t take their irritation out on him, would they?
Yet, judging by their black faces… they were cursing him for sure!
Kiel anxiously concentrated on their expressions, hoping he’d be able to lip read what they were saying. He couldn’t just silently wait for their verdict! If he wanted a chance to defend himself, at least he ought to know which ones were cursing him and which ones were reprimanding the cursing ones!
Unfortunately, the little words that he managed to recognize with his poor lip-reading attempts weren’t enough for him to make sense of the conversation.
“… go off… theoretical limit… is unlikely… artifacts malfunctioning… impossible… data… perhaps… wrong… ability… ”
The more they argued, the more shaken they seemed to be.
“…already… 3… not talented… personal… not willing… going to expel…”
Kiel’s blood chilled, becoming colder and colder with each word.
Finally, just as Kiel was about to become a popsicle, the grandma opened her mouth and strictly said something that made everyone shut up. (“…argue…later”)
She glared at each and every one of them daring them to say something else. Her look was so intimidating that not one of them managed to hold her gaze.
And thus, the matter seemed to be temporarily settled.
The sound barrier was removed, and all pairs of eyes looked towards Kiel. He could almost feel their gazes poking holes into him. They looked at him as if he was a piece of meat on the chopping board, like they were a pack of hungry lupaxes staring at a little meep.
He barely restrained himself from stepping back in fright.
The grandma coughed, her eyebrow twitching. She reached into her robe and pulled out a smoking pipe. It seemed like she had been restraining herself from smoking for the duration of the exam, but the recent explosion was too much for her to handle. She needed her pipe to relieve the stress.
Her deep inhale broke the dense veil of silence covering the room.
After several seconds of stillness, her closed eyes snapped open and she reached into her robe once again, this time pulling out a small jewelry box.
She flicked her hand and an empty piece of paper, followed by a pen, came flying towards Kiel’s desk.
“This is the last test we have for you.” Grandma declared solemnly before the jewelry box in her hand came flying towards Kiel as well.
Suppressing his fingers from shaking, Kiel grabbed the pen with one hand and the box with another.
“Your task is to sense the enchantment on this artifact and draw out its spell pattern as accurately as you can.”
The solemn gazes of the examiners made the atmosphere in the room turn suffocating. Kiel felt as if something heavy was pressing onto his chest.
“Do your best.” The grandma wished him luck, as if this task was his last attempt to redeem himself. The last attempt to show his worth. The last attempt to avoid getting expelled from the exam.
Kiel regretted signing up for this special exam, he regretted it so much his intestines turned green.
Slowly, he opened up the little box to reveal a small azure bead with a golden hook. It was either an earring or a pendant.
Kiel closed his eyes, swallowed down his saliva, and concentrated on sensing the enchantment.
He almost snapped the pen in half.
For he realized that no matter how hard he concentrated…
The enchantment on this little bead remained blurry.
It was so intricate, so small, so complicated, that his mana sense simply wasn’t good enough to see it. Lines were too thin, packed tightly together blending with one another into blurs of various densities of mana.
He felt like a person who had taken off their prescription glasses, squinting with all his might to no avail.
He sat rigidly, his back drenched with cold sweat, his black hair sticking to his forehead, his already fair face turning even whiter.
His fingers almost dropped the jewelry box. He was forced to put it down and hide his trembling hands under the desk.
Ticking seconds stretched, every next moment lasting longer than the previous.
Kiel felt the eyes of the examiners burning holes on his body. Waiting for him to pick up a pen and start writing.
Yet, he couldn’t pick up that pen.
Not because his fingers were shaking too much to write. But because he couldn’t see.
He just couldn’t see it!
His heart thumped hard against his chest, each beat reverberating like a drum inside his head.
He had no way out.
They never left him a chance to begin with.
Such an intricate enchantment… very few mages would be able to accurately sense something this small. He doubted that even they, themselves, would be able to draw it out.
It was now clear to Kiel that they were just looking for an excuse to kick him out. Their mind had already been made up.
Kiel opened his mouth gently, yet no sound came out from his throat.
What was he supposed to say?
That he couldn’t do it?
That he couldn’t see?
That he gave up?
Words of forfeit were something that just couldn’t come out of his throat. It was as if his very existence was refusing those words.
He didn’t have a special power. He didn’t have an incredible talent. All he had was his perseverance.
All he had was built upon never giving up.
Even when he knew that it was hopeless, that he couldn’t do it, he still couldn’t say those words.
His entire mind, entire will concentrated on that little azure bead. As if doing so could help him see. As if his will would be enough to make impossible possible.
His mind spun and spun in circles.
His teeth clenched, his nails almost cut into the palm of his clenched hands.
With every fiber of his being, he wished he could see the spell.
With every drop of blood running through his veins he wished his eyes could be like Elaru’s.
He wished she were here, wished that he could hear her warm voice, wished that it could bring comfort to his spirit, wished that perhaps that melodic voice could solve his troubles.
But there was something inside of him that held him back from speaking to her. Like tight thick chains, binding around him, preventing him from calling out. No matter how he tried, he couldn’t send his thoughts towards her.
He was alone. He had never stopped being alone.
Therefore, he stopped reaching out, returning to his empty and cold world, where nothing existed other than him and this infernal bead.
He imagined how this bead might look like in Elaru’s world, recalling those vivid, bright memories Elaru had shown him, as if by doing so his gray world would gain color.
He didn’t know if his heart got too tired and slowed down, or if his perception of time was getting warped…
…but everything in his world seemed to slow down.
He “stared” at the pearl with all of his mind, stared until he felt as if his entire Mind would congeal.
Like he was forcing too much water into a bucket that was his head, making it on the verge of exploding. It was so painful, so tight, like an overly stretched balloon.
Time continued to slow down until the world stood still.
Turning everything into lifeless, gray, ice sculptures.
Even his blood seemed to coagulate.
Everything other than him and the azure pearl faded out of existence.
And then… in the darkest of night… a bright flash of color invaded his gray world, dazzling his eyes.
So many different colors wrapped around him, almost strangling him with the power of their presence.
It was only for a moment. An incredibly excruciating moment.
And then they were gone, like they had never existed.
Yet, in that brief moment, an incredibly beautiful image imprinted itself deeply into his memory.
And as he recalled it, he knew. He knew that every line, every pattern, every breath of color, it belonged to the azure bead in front of him.
He could see it.
The enchantment that had eluded him.
Before he even realized what was going on, that brief moment passed, and time started flowing again. His closed eyes snapped open to reveal the gaping maws of the examiners in front of him.
Only then did he register that his hand was gripping the pen tightly, finishing drawing the last lines of the enchantment onto the paper in front of him.
His eyes moved down to the picture he had drawn, and he felt relief flood over him, followed by self-satisfaction, glee, and excitement, setting his spirit free.
And right after that what followed was pain and exhaustion. He felt like he had been run over by a rampaging herd of girls after a several-days-long chase. Every muscle on his entire body screamed in agony, his head feeling like it would split.
He swallowed down a hiss of pain and slumped back in his chair.
The silence in the room was broken by excited exclamations of:
“This is it! No doubt about it!”
“Such accuracy! Incredible!”
And the examiners ran towards him, hounding him like a group of fangirls, squealing out exclamations of surprise, amazement, and praise.
Kiel stared at them dazed, weren’t they going to expel him from the exam a second ago? What is with this sudden shift??
“I already called dibs!”
“And we collectively vetoed it!”
“You can’t call dibs on a person!”
“Young man, do you have a master already?”
“Even if you do, it doesn’t matter! I’m willing to share! How about you join our engineering department?”
“Boy, if you are willing to join our spell replicating department I can take you as my only personal disciple!”
“Whatever he offers, I’ll double it! Our enchanting department is a much better place to go!”
“Succeeding disciple! I can take you as my succeeding disciple!”
“Aya… I have a pretty and talented daughter your age… I know that the position of the main wife is impossible… but a concubine is fine!”
The examiners started to argue with their teeth bared, like starving hounds fighting for a fresh piece of meat. They even started tugging and pushing each other like a bunch of kindergarten kids.
And then it occurred to Kiel that…
What the bloody meep???
…he had absolutely no idea what was going on!