Episode 70 – Mana Crystallization
Did he see this redhead before somewhere?
Eruan Arite had an impeccable memory. If he had seen the girl before, he would have surely realized it, if not remembered where he had seen her. Yet, he was sure only of one thing – this was the first time he saw her face.
Which meant that the sense of familiarity should be caused by the resemblance of her face to someone he knew.
Yet, no matter how he searched his memory, he couldn’t come up with the face of a person that this redhead reminded him of.
He even tried concentrating on specific features. Such as her hair and skin color. There was, indeed, several people he knew quite well that had a matching hair and skin color, but that’s where the similarity ended. No matter how he looked at the girl, her face didn’t resemble those individuals at all, not to mention that her race was wrong.
If he covered the rest of her face and looked just at her eyes, the sense of familiarity grew, but at the same time, he couldn’t point out a single person with eyes like those.
The more he thought about it, the more puzzled he became. Perhaps her features were in the exact boundary of being similar enough to invoke the sense of familiarity while being different enough for him to be unable to point out who they reminded him of?
Eruan shook his head. Was this matter really worthy of his time? For all he knew Elaru Wayvin’s looks could be just a façade. Not her true appearance.
Regardless, he could just ban her from participating in the exams, and the matter would be dealt with.
Or would it?
What if, later on, it turned out that he banned her without just cause? That he pinned the blame on her that wasn’t hers to bear?
And what if the face he was looking at was indeed her real appearance? What if his subconscious mind was trying to tell him that remembering who she reminded him of was important? That remembering would allow him to pinpoint her origin. And that her origin was important?
If I ban her, would that draw out the person standing behind her in the shadows?
Or would that… just make her disappear?
Eruan’s frown deepened.
“Icya… Tell me, does this face remind you of someone?”
He could feel his vice-principal frowning deep in thought. “I’m not sure. Perhaps… Vaguely it reminds me of…”
She didn’t need to continue. Eruan could tell who she was referring to. “Ignore the hair and skin color. Concentrate on the face.”
“The lips are also similar…”
Eruan closed his eyes and sighed. He could tell that his vice-principal also felt a sense of familiarity, but it was much less potent than his. It was so slight that it might as well not be there.
She couldn’t help him with this matter.
Eruan Arite rubbed his tired eyes and sighed again. Ban or not to ban?
Eruan’s mind suddenly cleared. I don’t make uninformed decisions. The optimal course of action would be postponing the final decision until I have more information on the matter.
He wasn’t worried about the potential destruction of his property. Material things were easy to fix. Even if the entire building was demolished, his abundance of resources would result in it being fixed in a matter of days.
On the other hand, elusive things such as reputation and relationships were much trickier to fix once damaged.
Eruan Arite would much rather sacrifice the material to save the elusive.
The temperature in Ashar was still rather warm, yet, there was a room inside the Rroda manor where that warmth seemed unable to reach.
Judging how deathly quiet and still the atmosphere inside the room was, judging by the omnipresent chill permeating the air, one would think the room was empty.
One would be wrong.
Venric Rroda sat at his desk, a deep frown etched onto his face. His butler Lawrence stood to the side, as motionless as a statue.
Venric was usually in a bad mood, but today, his mood was unusually foul.
If any of the other nobles found out that he had spent several days and countless men trying to find his own rebellious grandson, and still failed to catch him even though he knew exactly the place where he would be at – the amount of ridicule he would receive would be never-ending.
To say that Venric Rroda was furious would be an understatement.
Yet even though he was bursting with rage, he could do nothing about the facts.
No matter how many men and trackogs he sent out, no matter where he sent them, the only result he received was a no result.
He even sent out “camouflaged” men that blended with the crowd and tried their best to look in no way related to the Rroda family nor like they were looking for someone.
Yet all his efforts failed to catch any scent of his grandson.
He even caved in and bought another D.I. report, hoping that the famous Etezza family of spies and assassins could enlighten him as to why his efforts returned no result.
The report mentioned places where the two rebellious teens were seen such as the Black Pearl restaurant and the public library, however, it too contained no information on their current whereabouts.
He didn’t know whether he should feel pleased or frustrated. Pleased that even the Etezzas couldn’t find any information, meaning that it was natural that his men failed. Frustrated that he had paid for a report that contained no useful information and still had no clue of their whereabouts.
What baffled Venric Rroda was that Kiel Rroda and Elaru Wayvin didn’t miss any of their exams, which meant that they had to enter Muni. Yet his men were stationed at all entrances and saw no trace of the two.
Venric concluded that the two brats had the means to avoid detection.
Thinking further about the issue, his men were either unable to recognize them or see them. The two also had to control their mana so precisely to not leave any of it behind that could be tracked. Thirdly, they had to have means to not leave any scent behind them.
If his men ran into someone whose mana and scent couldn’t be detected, they would have stopped them.
Since they reported no such person, it would mean that they didn’t see Kiel Rroda at all.
As in, he was completely invisible.
Since his useless grandson couldn’t possibly turn himself invisible, this invisibility was either granted to him by a magical artifact or it was the doing of someone else.
Elaru Wayvin came to mind.
The mastermind behind all of this had to be her.
And if it was her that enabled the two of them to remain undetectable and untraceable for several days, her skills were nothing to laugh about. It is one thing to hide in the large city, it’s completely another to constantly pass right under their noses when they were vigilantly looking for any possible trace of them.
Venric Rroda’s frown deepened and he let out a frustrated growl.
Elaru Wayvin doesn’t exist. No past or background. Untraceable and undetectable.
All the information slowly connected inside Venric’s mind.
“We are…dealing with a Shadow.” Venric mused to himself.
Shadows were a special existence among mages – individuals who could completely conceal their presence and avoid all attempts of tracing them.
They were an existence everyone dreaded – ultimate spies, thieves, and assassins. Shadows usually worked for the Shadow Lodge, a mysterious quest lodge that Peacekeepers have unsuccessfully tried to root out for centuries.
A Shadow was the worst kind of mage to deal with. Just thinking about it gave Venric a headache.
There were only two ways to deal with a Shadow. One, lay a trap for the Shadow. Two, deal with the employer behind the Shadow.
But how could he lay a trap for Elaru Wayvin when he had no idea what she was after? Without knowing what she was after, how would he even find her potential employer?
The only thing he knew was that she was participating in Muni exams. However, Muni wasn’t his turf. He was limited with what kind of traps he could lay there.
Venric grunted. “Lawrence, send someone to see a Shadow Lodge agent. Find out anything you can about Elaru Wayvin including whether she is one of the Shadows. And if she is, information about her employer.”
He paused slightly before continuing. “Also, post a high priority Shadow Lodge mission. Surely they have agents inside Muni. I’d like to hire one of them to apprehend Kiel Rroda. Preferably without making a scene.”
Venric’s sharp eyes landed on Lawrence. “I don’t care about the cost. Kiel Rroda needs to be stopped from taking the exam.”
Tomorrow’s exam tested Mana Pool size. If he couldn’t stop his grandson from participating, it would be revealed that he is a non-mage. A stain in the Rroda family name.
Venric Rroda would spare no cost to wipe away that stain before it can sully the reputation of the Rroda family.
“Yes, your grace.”
Until the late hours of the night, Kiel and Elaru watched match after match inside the Arena. When they could barely keep their eyes open, they decided to call it a day and proceeded to camp in the woods as usual.
On Saturday, Kiel had mana tempered his body and ended up falling unconscious for the remainder of the night. On Sunday, he had consumed the Firebird Flame pill to temper his body, so he fell asleep without manually tempering his body.
Yesterday, on Monday, Kiel remembered to mana temper his body before sleep and would have done the same today, if it weren’t for the fact that tomorrow’s exams would require him to channel a large amount of mana.
He couldn’t risk lowering his performance in case his body couldn’t fully recover from his mana tempering. Therefore, he decided not to temper his body and instead proceeded to sleep away his fatigue.
◈ Wednesday, 29th of August 1449 A.W. ◈
Muni Exams: Day 3
Rau Eryey was calmly demonstrating the usage of a mana crystallizer, his silky gray hair floating about as if carried by the wind.
It was a device which looked like a large flower pot or a cauldron decorated with many intricate engravings. If one spread their mind over the crystallizer, they would feel layers upon layers of complicated spells rotating inside the thick walls of the cauldron.
To use the crystallizer, the mage would make their mana enter the cauldron. When enough mana enters the cauldron to support its activation, the enchantment inside the cauldron will start condensing a mana crystal.
Technically speaking, mana was an ethereal substance, energy itself. Therefore, a “mana crystal” wasn’t actually a crystal made out of mana. Rather, it was a special kind of crystal which could entrap drops of mana within it.
The crystallizer transmuted some of the mana into crystals that would trap the remainder of the mana within them.
The process of crystallization looked as if the water was being condensed from air directly into ice. Small ice-like shiny crystals would start forming, growing and expanding to fill the entire cauldron, making it look like a treasure trove of diamonds, glittering beautifully under the light.
The crystals looked precious and hard like gems, but in truth, they were neither precious nor hard. Like ice, they would melt easily, releasing trapped mana with every shed layer.
They were a commodity that was in high demand for powering enchantments and magical artifacts, however, they weren’t precious for there were countless people out there who made their living working on mana farms.
Like normal farmers worked in the fields to grow crops, mana farmers grew mana crystals by using up the mana within their mana pools until not a single drop remained.
Rau Eryey picked up the beautiful yellow crystal he had just formed and showed it to the examinees. The vivid color of the crystal attracted Kiel’s gaze and made him focus on it.
Today, Kiel found it hard to focus on the demonstration, his mind kept wandering elsewhere.
When Elaru and him checked their exam rooms today, they realized that coincidentally, Kiel’s exam was in the first timeslot of the day. When they saw the timetable, they looked at each other briefly and then, without the need to exchange words, made haste to reach the classroom in time.
They flew straight to his classroom without even removing their invisibility and Reflection barrier.
Thankfully, when they arrived, Rau had just opened the classroom door and was ushering them in. He slid in stealthily, unnoticed among the crowd.
And then, Rau Eryey started his explanation, that was completely the same as the test Kiel had participated in last year. Without a single change.
Somewhere along the line, Kiel lost his focus. His gaze shifted from watching Rau in the foreground to the windows in the background.
Unlike the previous sunny days, today, not a single ray of sunshine was allowed to pass through the thick curtain of gray clouds.
Kiel didn’t need to read the Sibyl’s Weather Forecast to be able to tell what’s ahead of them.
A storm was coming.