“You need my help to become a first class mage and a student of Ashar University of Magic.”
Kiel’s eyes narrowed, he fought the urge to step back.
He shaped words ‘Not interested’ but they never left his mouth. And no matter how much he struggled to push them out of his throat, reasoning that he was done with that silly wish of his, they never vocalized.
He swallowed the lump that formed in his throat.
“What makes you think I would be interested in attending the University of Magic?” Kiel asked, his face turning into a cold mask.
“I’ve been observing you.” She stated as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.
“You mean stalking me?” Kiel smiled coldly.
“Call it what you will.” She shrugged.
“So, what was it that you ‘observed’ that gave you that impression about me?” – Kiel wondered. He had been trying to bury that dream for the past year. There shouldn’t have been any remnants of lingering sentiment left for the world to see.
“You are a Rroda. Not wanting to be a great mage while being raised as a part of a famous mage family would be downright bizarre. And yet, although you finished high academy you did not apply to the University of Magic. Now, that is quite strange, considering the fact you enjoy using magic so much.”
So she knew who he was? Well, that part was not difficult to figure out. Everyone called him either ‘Kiel’, ‘Master Rroda’ or ‘Young Master’. He also lived in the Rroda mansion.
“Attending the University of Magic is a waste of time. I want to be a quest seeker.” Kiel reasoned. How did she know he didn’t apply? Because he was not getting ready for the entrance exams?
“Do you really?” She smirked. “For days I’ve watched you complete numerous mundane quests with a straight face. But then, every once in a while, the quest required you to use magic. And then, in that single brief moment, you transform from a bored, empty doll to a shining star!” She did a graceful pirouette for emphasis.
“Are you insulting or complimenting me?” Kiel raised his eyebrows.
The girl chose not to answer that question and continued on with her explanation.
“You love magic so much you want to learn everything about it. You crave it to the point of wanting to devour it.”
Kiel gave her an icy glare. His aura transformed into a chilling snowstorm; dark and frightening.
She infuriated him; a stranger, thinking she knew him.
His fury gave him a push to finally say what he should have said from the start
“You know nothing about me. I am not interested.”
She just smiled softly, undisturbed by his glare or the sudden change of mood. Not many had an ability to stay composed when faced with Kiel’s cold fury. That girl was either clueless or had nerves of steel.
“Then let me tell you what I know, and you can be the judge of how much I know about you.”
Kiel quietly dared her to continue. Her confidence disturbed him. Did she have him investigated?
“You hate your life. You hate doing these simple repetitive quests you do every day. You hate people around you. You hate this town. You hate being a Rroda. And most of all, you hate the mask you hide behind.”
Kiel stood frozen.
It was a perfect performance! He never showed any signs of how he truly felt. He smiled and laughed and not even his own father would be able to tell how much hate brewed under his skin. How did she deduce all that? Could she see through his poker face?
“You are withering away in this town. You want to be mentally, magically and physically challenged. You wish to discover, learn and achieve new things. You yearn for the top, to excel! To show everyone who you truly are! You want to go far away, to fly freely through the sky, to see and get to know all the magical things in this world!” She stated, her eyes glittering with excitement.
It was as though she was no longer talking about him but rather herself. Is that why she thought she understood his underlying desire? Because she projected her own goals onto him?
She looked back at him, coming down to earth. She stared right into his eyes, unwavering. Even though his eyes were still narrowed into a most chilling glare he could muster, she didn’t look away.
“How do I know that much you ask? It’s because, on some level, we are the same. I could have easily been you.”
He didn’t know how to respond. It was a rare occurrence for Kiel.
Was she really able to see under his skin to the demon hiding deep down? Was she fearless or just stupid? Did she lack common sense? How else could she look him in the eye so calmly, without batting an eyelash?
Because they were the same?
She is nothing like me! – Kiel thought.
Her smiles were not just pretty deceptions. Those were genuine smiles. As a master of deceit, he would surely be able to tell if they were fake.
Not waiting for his response, she continued:
“Now, since you like magic so much, why didn’t you apply to the University of Magic?” Her eyes glittered. She was about to answer her own question. “Simple. Because you can’t pass the entrance exam. You can’t even pass the bare minimum requirements of entry.”
Kiel did not respond. How did she find out about that? Including him, there were only three people in this world that knew about it.
Last summer, his older brother ventured to take Ashar University of Magic entrance exam, Kiel tagged along. He was hopelessly curious about how he compared to his brother as a mage; they had always been quite competitive. So Kiel decided to take the entrance exam along with him under a false name, just to feed his own ego. Of course, he wouldn’t have enrolled had he passed – he still had one year of high academy to finish. Since Ashar University of Magic allowed almost anyone to take the exam, it was a perfect opportunity for him to get a feel for what to expect the next summer when he took it for real.
The result completely shattered all his hopes and dreams.
“Most people would have spent this summer preparing and trying to improve so they could pass the exam. But not you. Why? If you can’t do something, it is natural to seek to improve until you can. Unless…” She tilted her head to the side in delight.
“Unless the result was not something you could change no matter how much you tried.” She smiled a knowing smile. Kiel opened his mouth to respond, but she beat him to it.
“…or so you thought.” She smirked.
“Who are you?” Kiel wondered.
“I am Elaru Wayvin.” She responded.
Her name didn’t ring a bell. Wayvin was not a famous family name.
“How about I try to guess what your exam score might be for Ashar’s exam if you took it as you are now?” She clasped her hands in excited delight.
Was this a game to her? Did she enjoy twisting his nerves and insides like this? Kiel wanted to yell at her and stop her. He didn’t want her to voice what was most painful to him. But that would be out of character for the person Kiel tried to be. So he missed his chance to stop her.
He should have stopped her. He should have definitely stopped her, back when it was still possible for him to just walk away. This stranger seemed to know so much about him, it was both ironic and ludicrous.
She started her explanation. “Ashar University of Magic is the most prestigious University of Magic with the hardest entrance exam. There are, in total, 9 areas which they test and award points for on a scale of 0 to 25 (Horrid to Exceptional):
· Mana Pool Size and Mana Regeneration
· Mana Flow Speed
· Magic Casting Speed
· Mana Weaving (a.k.a. Mana Control)
· Spell Control
· Simultaneous Cast Count (a.k.a. Multicast)
· Knowledge and Understanding of Magic
· Practical Usage of Magic
· Special ”
She didn’t need to explain those areas to him. Every mage knew those terms.
To cast magic, pure energy was needed – mana. Without mana, there was no magic. Each living being had a Mana Pool. It was a place within one’s spirit where mana accumulates. Larger Mana Pool means more mana readily available for use. When the pool is not full, mana regenerates – faster mana regeneration means the mage will be able to replenish spent mana faster.
To cast magic one first needs to transfer mana from the soul to the target of the spell. The speed with which one can do so is known as Mana Flow Speed. The faster one can transfer mana into this world means they can gather enough mana to perform the spell quicker and even perform multiple spells in rapid succession.
Once one gathers enough mana to cast a spell, raw mana needs to be woven into a particular pattern that will make the spell. Weaving mana into a spell requires a lot of control and precision. Ability to weave mana is directly proportional to the mages ability to cast magic spells. Mages who can weave well can learn to perform spells easier than those who can’t.
Better control of weaving also makes spells more potent, faster to cast and overall better. Mana weaving is like handwriting. You can write a sentence with bad handwriting, as long as it is readable it would be meaningful, though writing the same sentence in good handwriting would make it easier and more pleasant to read. In the case of magic weaving, better weaving means more potent magic.
How fast one can gather enough mana to cast the spell and how fast one can weave mana directly affects magic casting speed. It is important for a mage to be able to cast magic in time – there is no use in casting acceleration magic to slow down your fall if you had already hit the ground. In dangerous situations, casting speed is of life-or-death importance.
Once the mana is woven into a meaningful pattern, the mana stops being individual drops of energy and condenses into a dense form, a single entity known as a spell. Once created, the spell needs to be wielded and used by the mage until it expires and disappears. How well one can control a spell, as opposed to controlling raw mana, is called spell control.
Good spell control means the mage is able to hit his target with the spell and manipulate the behavior and trajectory of the spell.
People have only two hands so they can write only two things simultaneously, however, weaving mana is done with the mind and not the body, which means it is possible to simultaneously weave multiple magic spells – to multicast. How many spells you can cast simultaneously is known as simultaneous cast count.
However, a good mage is more than just a sum of his magical abilities. A good mage should be able to make quick and right decisions on what magic to cast when and how. The ability to cast the magic well in the classroom does not mean that one will be able to perform well in real life situations. Which is why practical usage of magic is considered a very important skill and is tested in the university entrance exams.
Of course, skills are meaningless if the person has no knowledge and understanding of magic. Which is why the theory of magic is tested as well.
The exam also gives bonus “special” points for unique skills such as being able to use secret types of magic which are not taught in school or having a genius level of talent in a specific area. There aren’t many people who get special points. The ones that do usually come from a famous family or clan that has studied and perfected the usage of a unique branch of magic.
Regretfully, Rroda was not one of those families.
Elaru’s voice snapped Kiel out of his thoughts.
“Minimal threshold required to be considered as a student candidate is 145. To ensure passing the exam, you need at least 160 points.”
She walked slowly around Kiel as if appraising him.
“You are highly intelligent, observant, quick witted and adaptive. Not only that, you have an exceptional skill in magic. In high academy, you were easily the top student.”
Kiel snorted. He didn’t usually snort, his fake persona allowed no room for snorting. Nonetheless, this individual managed to make him lose the grip for a short moment.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that much. – He thought. She didn’t need to investigate a lot to find that out. His grades spoke for themselves.
She continued, paying no attention to his snort.
“However, you have one and only crippling flaw. The flaw you tried your best to hide.”
She stopped talking, looking straight through Kiel to the secret he frantically tried to hide all his life.
“You have almost no mana.”
Her words struck a painful blow to Kiel. One of the reasons why Kiel preferred lies was because the truth hurt.
He hated the cruelty of fate. He hated how everyone else around him was gifted with an abundance of mana while he was severely lacking. He hated that no matter how hard he tried, he could not change his fate. What he lacked was not something that could be learned, but rather something he needed to be born with. He hated how he had always miserably clung to hope that someday he could be more than a third class mage.
Because in this world, where everything revolved around magic, if you weren’t a mage, you were nothing.
And he was less than nothing – he was a non-mage. A person unable to use magic on a regular basis.
The stranger, going by the name of Elaru Wayvin, either did not notice the change of mood in Kiel or chose to ignore it. She continued, her each word hitting closer and closer to the goal.
“Ironic. To be such an incredible mage and almost not be a mage at all. It’s like having an ability to paint better than everyone else, yet not be given any paint.”
Kiel felt a stabbing pain in his chest.
How could she say it so bluntly?! The fact that haunted him all his life!
If only he had been born with a normal-sized mana pool, just like everyone else. What he would be able to achieve if only he had the basic ingredient!
If he had been born into a normal family, maybe he would have grown up without much care for magic. He would have found a satisfying non-magic related job, and would have never thought twice about the cruelty of fate.
On the other hand, he had been born into a family of first class mages. Being an excellent mage was not considered as lucky or skilled – it was expected.
He felt all those expectations shatter around him because of something he could never change, no matter how he tried. His existence was but a mistake, something that his family threw away into a small desert town in attempts to forget and hide the disgrace.
“All that skill and knowledge is useless if you don’t have the basic requirement to use magic. I know it, you know it, and people running entrance exams know it. Other universities, which don’t even have a proper exam, have a minimum mana amount as an entry requirement. Which you, with your lack of mana, can’t possibly pass. The Ashar University of Magic is your only hope because they actually have a full exam, which could allow you to enroll if you scored high in other areas.”
Shut up. Just shut up! – Kiel screamed inside his head. He did not want her to continue reminding him of the painful truth. But bound by the shadow of a person he tried to be, he was unable to voice his plea.
“The size of your mana pool and your mana regeneration is so small that it is a wonder you are able to cast magic at all. Not to mention that any non-basic spells are impossible for you because you don’t have the mana to cast them. In your current state, you can’t even be a third class mage, let alone anything more.”
Third…class…mage. Third class mage.
Those words echoed painfully inside Kiel’s head. His pupils dilated, his mouth unconsciously twitched. He took a step back. Another step soon followed.
Elaru watched him closely and opened her mouth to say more. But Kiel didn’t want to hear more. His body reacted before his mind could catch up with it. His legs darted into a sprint. Away. He just wanted to get away. Away from the truth. From his own flaws. From this cruel stranger. An ancient instinct to flee from pain. Something that could even defeat his self-control and pass through his poker face and the house of lies.
Kiel had never run that fast. He even used magic to speed himself up. The magic that he loved and yet hated at the same time. The magic that has controlled and ruined him and his life.
He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t care where he was going.
He just ran…
And jumped tree branch to tree branch…
And climbed the hill…
And then ran some more.
And jumped up and up, as if trying to reach the sky…
But fell back to earth and then ran again.
Third class mage. Third class mage.
Time held no meaning for him. Seconds, minutes, hours. It all blended into one.
The only sound he could hear were her words and his own pounding heart.
Third class mage…
His breathing became shallow, although the air temperature was warm, each breath stung him as if he was breathing in pure ice.
You can’t even be a third class mage…
His limbs wavered and failed him.
He had run, jumped and climbed through the dense forest until both his mana and his strength ran out. Until his own Mage Armor faded into nothingness, exposing him to foreign spells.
His legs gave out under him and he fell to the floor in a battered heap of nerves.
He could still hear faint echoes of her words inside his head.
He looked at the moon above the trees. Judging by its position, he had ran for hours. Which made sense, since he was in peak physical condition and would never get this tired otherwise.
He closed his eyes in pain. His entire body hurt like he had been pulverized by a fierce dragon. Each breath he took hurt like thousand needles piercing through his chest. His limbs felt like they were on fire. He could feel each excruciating heartbeat pulsating through his entire body shaking it with its intensity.
First time in a long, long time, Kiel felt like crying. The same Kiel that never cried. No matter how much he was hurt and how much he bled, Kiel didn’t cry.
He thought he had finally let go of it – the disappointment and hope. Truthfully, he had just buried it deep down, just like every other troubling emotion. That’s what he did best.
Thankfully, he didn’t have the strength to cry. He just wanted to be left alone to drown in his unshed tears, misery, and self-pity.
However, the demon had other plans.
She sighed and sat down on the ground next to him. He never felt her coming. She had completely erased her presence, hiding her mana behind a barrier.
She sat there quietly, she wasn’t even out of breath. Such is a difference between a mage and a non-mage.
Kiel could feel her eyes on his face, yet he refused to acknowledge her presence. He wasn’t able to keep his poker face in place anymore, and he did not want her to see him. The real him.
He thought that if he opened his eyes, she would be able to tell just how devastated, weak and broken shell of a person he truly was.
He wanted to scream at her to get out of here and leave him alone, but his lungs still hurt too much to even breathe.
She put her hand lightly on his rapidly rising and falling chest. He didn’t have the strength to push her away, even though he wanted nothing more than to push her away, perhaps murder her, and then never see her again.
From her hand spread tiny drops of pleasure, calming his broken flesh. It was warm and chilling at the same time, expanding through his body in gentle waves.
She dares to mock me?? – Kiel’s sorrow quickly morphed into fury.
At that exact moment, she started talking again. Cutting down his fury just as it showed its ugly head. “No, it isn’t a wonder that you’re able to cast magic.” She proclaimed, continuing the conversation right where she left it. As if hours hadn’t passed by at all.
“It is pure skill.” She mused softly.
Get over yourself! You’re full of it, thinking that you can manipulate me like a child! Was that your plan? Shock me with your harsh brutality, and then lure me into your trap with sweet words? – Kiel screamed inside his head. However, the words never left his mouth.
“You’re actually quite lucky. It is exactly because you were born into a mage family with such a small amount of available mana that you needed to develop an exceptional skill in using it. You needed to savor every little drop of mana and milk everything you could out of it. ”
It is true – Kiel always tried harder than anyone else. He tried so hard to hide the fact he could not really do much magic. He practiced and practiced every day, hoping that his mana would suddenly appear out of nowhere. That his true power would suddenly awaken. He knew that it didn’t work that way, he knew things like that do not happen. It was illogical and stupid to expect them to. And yet, he couldn’t help but hope.
“You relish each drop of mana like your life depends on it. I have never seen such an incredible mana control before. The way you use mana is…true magic…” Her lips parted softly as she whispered the words “true magic” in a husky tone filled with strange emotion.
She paused, savoring the taste of “true magic” on her lush lips. When she continued, her voice and eyes were filled with determination.
“You use as little mana per spell as possible, 100% utilization rate. Compared to the way a regular mage utilizes mana and weaves spells, you are in an entirely different league. If you had enough mana, there would be no spell you wouldn’t be able to cast. Your mana weaving is nothing short of perfection.”
“And even after you create the spell, your spell control is flawless. After all, you need to make your each spell count. Missing your target or failing is not an option. Because you cannot simply recast it, like normal mages.”
“Your spells are at maximum efficiency and your weaving is flawless – which results in you being able to cast spells pretty fast!”
“Magic Casting Speed, Mana Weaving, Spell Control, Knowledge and Understanding of Magic, Practical usage… you have them all! You are exceptional in all magic skills!”
Kiel laughed a quiet bittersweet laugh. If he wanted to help himself, if he wanted to ease his pain, he wouldn’t know how. There was no one he knew that could help him ease the sorrow suffocating him. And yet this demon of a woman so easily sprouts words of completely blunt honesty that turn pain into pleasure, flaws into skills.
At that moment, Kiel became completely aware just how dangerous that elibu really was. A person who could manipulate people easily, just by stating the truth. He manipulated people with lies. But she was different.
She didn’t need lies. For her, the truth was enough. Because she could see right through you, to your darkest and deepest secrets. That person could heal you or destroy you with truth alone.
He was completely aware that he should run. If he stayed in her net any longer, he would not be able to escape. He was aware that she had a power he could not comprehend or defend against. And for the second time in his life, he experienced an utter and devastating hopelessness. He was not the predator, but the prey.