Episode 143 – 5 stages of grief
The trio of old men almost choked on their own spit, their eyes looking as if they would pop out of their sockets at any moment.
The anti-cheating contract was a mass-produced item that wasn’t of high production quality. Neither the density nor the quantity of mana used on it was high, making it last just enough for the exams to pass. However, the quality of the spell design, as well as the quality of mystification, was high.
Therefore, although any of the top-ranked spell breakers were capable of breaking it, the amount of time it would take them to do so would range in weeks. By that time the exam would have already ended. And even if that wasn’t the case, it wouldn’t matter. Every examinee that was detected not to have the anti-cheating contract active on their mind at any moment in the exams would be disqualified.
The trio of old men, if they joined hands, could manage to break the contract in less than a week’s time. However, this little redhead was all alone, so even if her skills were on par with theirs and she had been studying the contract for days, she shouldn’t be able to break it.
If she had the help of a spell breaker in studying the contract, the anti-cheating contract would have prevented her from even suggesting breaking it as a part of the exam, for that would constitute as receiving outside help.
Naturally, this suggestion of the little girl made all three of them very agitated. Wasn’t this redhead making light of their decades of study? Fine, they had to admit that she was a genius when it came to spell breaking. They would be idiots if they couldn’t tell that much. However, this idea was simply… making light of the entire spell breaking profession!
If a little girl could reach such a level in her teens then all of them three old men should just go and die.
And so, the faces of the trio went through all shades of color, black, white, green, purple, finally settling on an agitated red. The healthy flush contrasted sharply with their pure white facial hair making their faces seem even redder.
Eyebrows was first to speak out and the other two were quick to follow:
“Lass, don’t make it hard on yourself. That contract is something even we can’t break!”
“That’s right, that’s right. It is the highest form of a limiter spell the Arite family can produce.”
“Don’t bite more than you can chew!”
If matters had continued going as before, Elaru would have still been able to endure their antics. However, right now, time was of the essence, Kiel needed her. And thus, her patience evaporated into thin smoke, her previously pleasantly polite tone turned solemn and authoritative.
“Do you give me your word that you will take care of any future problems that breaking the anti-cheating contract would cause?”
The abrupt change in the warm presence of the redhead startled the trio. Her imposing and majestic aura that commanded obedience made their minds sober up, their backs unconsciously strengthening.
Mustache grit his teeth and jumped on his feet, his palms slamming against the table. “If you can break that, not only will I take care of the problems but I’ll even be willing to hail you as my master!”
Worried that he would be outdone, Beard slapped his chest with enough vigor to cause him to have trouble holding in his coughs. “Ha! Not only will I hail you as my master, I’ll even throw in a tuition fee! Cross my heart and hope to die!”
Eyebrows also stood up and exclaimed with fervor: “Set your heart at ease! I promise all that and I’ll double his tuition fee! If I break my promise let the nine generations of my descendants be turned into porklings!”
Elaru almost choked on her spit. Who would want you three old men as their disciples??
She shook her head but had no intention to waste any more words with the trio. Time was of the essence.
Like an endless ribbon, her Mind unraveled around her, just enough to reveal the anti-cheating enchantment placed on her mind.
The arcane enchantment spun around her like a silver hallo made out of countless intricate symbols, connected into a dense pattern. The symbols were decorated and stylized to the point where their original shape was unrecognizable.
Her eyes scanned over it, her mind spun trying to decode the hidden meaning, to calculate the position of the critical points. So many variations, so many combinations. Her mind was filled to the brink with symbols, pushing out every other thought.
Like a machine, she kept crossing over the possibilities one after the other with the highest speed she could muster.
Every time she felt Kiel’s form falling deeper and deeper into the darkness, her mind would speed up.
She had to be faster, faster!
What was the purpose of her spell breaking? Why did she study it so hard?
It was all for this! To remove all limits and chains from herself and those she loved. So that no one would be able to control her fate and the fate of her loved ones!
The ticking sound of the clock turned into a slow beat of drums when it reached her long ears. The beats synchronized with her heart, or perhaps it was the other way around. Even the revolving halo seemed to be pulsing in the rhythm of the slowing beats.
It went slower and slower, until it completely stopped.
And the entire halo of silver light stood still.
It was not shifting, rotating, dripping, writhing, nor flickering.
No. It stood completely deathly still.
And as the entire picture stood in place, those fluctuating defects in reality showed themselves clearly like black ink on white paper.
Elaru’s arms rose into the air as if she was a conductor directing a song.
The coat of mana surrounding her body, so dense that it almost seemed tangible, turned inwards on her, aiming for the center of her mind. Ten pikes materialized from the sea of mana, mercilessly ramming themselves into the silver halo.
A single collision. And the exquisite silver brand fell apart like glass, showering her with beautiful silver snowflakes. A cage around her mind tore as if it was made out of thin paper all along.
Her lips turned upwards.
She would finally be free to grab his hand, to speak.
Yet, just as she was about to reach out to him, a bomb went off in her head.
Her smile froze, her mind crumbling as if it had been struck with a hammer, as if she too was made of paper.
Her slim body slumped back in her chair, her pretty eyes turning clouded, unable to take in the beauty of the falling silver lights.
Her limbs turned weak, her raised arms falling lifelessly down.
Her dull eyes stared straight at the gobsmacked trio of old men in front of her, but she couldn’t see them.
She didn’t know for how long she sat there dazed, her consciousness running in circles like a headless cluckling. But by the time she came back to her senses, the darkness brewing inside was nowhere to be seen.
Her mind moved towards Kiel, and his glee and relief swept over her turning into her own.
Everything was alright.
It turned out he didn’t need her help after all.
The smile that had long vanished from her face returned to it, more beautiful than ever. She opened her mouth to let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding, but she ended up choking.
After several coughs, she managed to swallow down the sweet, metallic taste that rose in her mouth. And then she finally took in several large, fresh breaths.
Unfortunately, fresh air gave her no release, on the contrary, it stung her lungs like a winter chill.
Luckily, her sharp intake of breath was covered up by the louder sound of inhales of the three old men. All the veins were red and visible on their round eyes as they stared, their jaws open so wide that they might have gotten dislocated.
Eyebrows rubbed his eyes as if trying to rub the sleep out of them. Yet even after rubbing them to the point they started tearing, the scene in front of him didn’t change.
A squeal resembling a porkling getting slaughtered cut through the tension. “What are you doing?!”
Apparently, Beard pinched the skin on Moustache’s hand causing the latter to jump up and screech. “Checking whether I’m dreaming.”, was his response.
“Why did you pinch me?!” Mustache didn’t let up, his glare turning even more vicious. He then pointed towards Eyebrows. “He has more skin on his bones. Much easier to pinch.”
The person in question finally stopped rubbing his eyes instead starting to wail: “What have I been doing all my life?!”
Seeing his miserable face full of tears, the other two couldn’t help but join in, like lupaxes howling at the moons.
“Decades of spell breaking! Only to be outdone by a little lass!”
“Why the heck did you apply for student exams?! Shouldn’t you be applying for a teaching position instead?!”
It took the trio a while to go through all five stages of grief, which was fortunate, because Elaru needed this time to recover from the crippling pain that wrecked every inch of her body.
Finally, the trio wiped away their snot and tears and calmed down their breathing.
Eyebrows sighed and spoke up with a trembling voice that turned steady and commanding by the end: “Girl, apply to join our spell breaking apartment as an associate professor!”
The other two nodded their heads in agreement.
Heatedly they stared at Elaru, awaiting her answer, only to receive a disinterested: “Thanks, but no thanks. Spell breaking is just a hobby of mine.”
One can only imagine how heavy of a blow her words delivered to the already fragile psyches of the three poor old men.
In a desperate attempt to recover from the critical hit, Beard squeaked out weakly:
“Then why did you apply for this exam?”
Yet, it was all for naught. For the redhead licked her dry lips, swallowed down her saliva in order to wet her throat, and then delivered a knock out hit: “Easy points.”
After almost coughing up blood (Spell breaking is just easy points for you?? Lass, could you not hit us while we are down?!), the trio of old men turned into frozen popsicles. And then they spent some time dazed, with mourning expressions and slumped shoulders.
Finally, after they recovered into a state a bit less miserable, they shared a helpless look.
And then they looked back at the patient redhead, who seemed to be waiting for something all this time.
And then it fully dawned on them what the redhead was waiting for!
It was as if a switch got flipped in their minds. Their dejected forms suddenly straightened, their eyes lighting up like torches, looking at the redhead as if she was a juicy piece of meat.
The three simultaneously bowed down deeply and yelled. “Master! Thank you for accepting this one as your disciple!”
Elaru, who had been forced to remain sitting there, waiting for her body to recover, felt as if a lightning struck her from the clear sky. What is this?! How come no one ever asked me if I agree with this arrangement?!
“Don’t you worry, master. I am a man of my word. I’ll go prepare my tuition fee right away.” Beard rubbed his hands in glee thinking about what gem he had accidentally managed to pick up on these exams.
“Master, don’t you worry about the seniority. I’ll go talk to the head of division right away to make you an honorary head of the Spell Breaking department.” Eyebrows rubbed his chin thoughtfully. Better tie this one down before other departments stretched out their greedy paws.
“Hey, hey! Don’t make such a decision on your own!” Elaru’s protests fell on deaf ears. “I am not accepting disciples!”