I took a deep breath as I sat outside on a nearby bench. Realizing that I ended class a bit too early, I noticed the campus was fairly peaceful with most students still in their classrooms. It’d been awhile since I’d felt this weak, but getting up and walking around definitely helped.
I sat idly, watching Sylvie chase after a butterfly through the lawn in front of me when I heard footsteps approaching from the right.
“Is this seat taken?” I turned my head to see Princess Kathyln leaning forward so her face was level with mine.
“No, go ahead.” I said as I slowly scooched a bit to my left to make room for her. She carefully placed her handkerchief over the bench and took a seat on top of it, straightening out her rumpled skirt. We sat there, silently, as both of us just watched Sylvie finally capture the agile butterfly that was now struggling in her paws.
“I heard about what happened from my brother… I’m sorry.” Her voice grew quiet at the end of her sentence.
I kept my eyes focused on Sylvie but responded with a soft chuckle. “Why are you saying sorry as well? Even if it was your brother’s fault, which it isn’t, he already apologized.”
“It’s just… I feel like my family owes you many apologies. For what happened with Sebastian and my father as well. That time at the Auction House… he’s not usually like that but he was shocked as well at the turn of events and he needed to keep his image and…” For the first time, I witnessed Kathyln getting flustered as her usual composed face became flushed, her expression panicked as she tried to make me understand.
“I think this is the first time I’ve seen an actual difference in your expression, Princess. It’s a nice change.” I snickered as she blushed even brighter, turning her body away from me.
“…Please, don’t mock me, Arthur. I didn’t expect you to be this type of person,” she said with her head still turned.
“Oh? What kind of person did you expect me to be?” I tilted my head in curiosity.
“W-Well, when I first met you at the auction event, I noticed you held yourself with much maturity…” she murmured, not turning back around.
“You noticed how people hold themselves when you were barely eight years old?” Reading the posture of a person was something keen adults barely learned how to do later on with years of meeting many different kinds of people.
“Yes… being the only princess of a kingdom, you end up acquiring that skill fairly quickly. Also, with both my father and brother being quite the characters, I felt like my mother and I were the only normal ones at times.” By this time, Princess Kathyln turned back to face me.
“Oh? I didn’t really find anything unusual about your brother. He seemed quite charismatic.” I remembered meeting Curtis for the first time at the Auction House. Compared to then, he’d matured quite a bit.
“Yes, he’s gotten a lot better, seeing as he’s able to apologize to you. That would’ve been very hard for him a while back because of his pride.” She let out a sigh as the both of us spectated Sylvie’s little battle with another bug. “When I first saw you, I noticed right away that you were very different from everyone else. How should I say this? I was very intrigued by you…” Her head lowered a bit as she continued speaking.
“Haha… is that right? I thought the opposite since your face had no reaction or change the whole time.” I let out a soft laugh in reminiscence, remembering the event that happened four years prior.
“I apologize. I-I’m not the most proficient in using my facial muscles effectively.” I found it cute as she pushed her cheeks up and down with her fingers in an attempt to forcefully make different expressions.
“Tell me about it. I was beginning to think you were wearing a mask by how stiff your face was.” I felt her gaze on my face when I smiled, making me feel a little awkward.
“…I will practice.” Princess Kathyln suddenly nodded to herself as I noticed her expression looked slightly more determined than usual.
“Pfft! I’m not sure if this is something you can practice. Just don’t force your emotions down and let your face move the way it wants to according to how you feel. When you feel sad, your face will naturally want to frown. When you’re happy, your face will naturally want to smile. Like this!” I overexaggerated the expressions on my face as I switch from an ugly frown to a bright smile, causing her to suddenly turn away from me.
Oops. Did I overdo it?
KATHYLN GLAYDER’S POV:
I couldn’t show any weakness. As the only girl in the royal family besides my mother, I had a duty to uphold. When males came to visit me, hoping to gain my favor, I wouldn’t show any weakness they could use against me. That was my fight.
I couldn’t read minds, but it wasn’t hard to see that all of the males that came to me, both my age and ones a lot older, had ulterior motives. Royal lineage, superior ability, and physical appearance… the things that all people believed would make their lives easier were shackles that robbed me of the freedom I wished to have.
Yet, here I was, with a boy my age that was so much more talented and sought after, yet still so… bright. He shined with a brilliance that made me want to be like him. What made him so different from me? How was he still able to express his emotions freely without being afraid of how others would view him?
I couldn’t control myself from letting out a laugh as Arthur contorted his face like that. He looked so silly.
I immediately covered my mouth after giggling, trying to hide my smile.
“See! That wasn’t so hard!” His exaggerated smile turned gentle, comforting me.
“I should teach stuff like this instead of Mana Manipulation, right?” He let out a pained laugh as he leaned down to pet his bond that was sitting between his legs.
“That reminds me. The wind bullet spell that you used to demonstrate seemed almost like a conjurer’s spell compared to the second one you used. How exactly did you do it? I am also curious as to why you made the conjurers try and absorb the spell back into their bodies. I have never heard of conjurers doing that.” I went on like an excited child about the questions that filled my mind, making me embarrassed.
“Whoa! Is that why you came up to me? Is this what you were after?” He leaned away from me, shocked.
“N-No! Of course not! That was never my intention!” Oh no! I wasn’t like the men that came after me with some motive. I just saw him sitting there and wanted to… why did I ask to sit next to him?
I realized my hand was slightly touching his arm so I pulled it back quickly.
“Heh, I was obviously joking, Princess. I’m not sure if I should tell you though. It wouldn’t be very fair of me to give you the advantage like that, right?” He gave me a little wink that made my chest feel heavy all of a sudden. What was that?
“I-I guess you are right. It would be unfair to give me answers to the homework you assigned,” I responded quietly.
“Mmm… well, I guess I can give a little pointer for a fellow disciplinary committee member. Watch now.” I look up to see him concentrate as he lifted both his hands, palms up.
His left hand began to glow as soft winds swirled, surrounding his hand. As for his right hand, only a small portion in the center of his palm glowed. The wind that gathered towards this hand didn’t surround his entire hand, but instead, swirled into a sphere just above his palm. With a brief flick of his wrists, he shot out the small gusts of wind in both hands forward.
The wind that surrounded his left hand dissipated after a few meters but the spherical wind that he conjured with his right hand shot out several times farther before dissipating with a soft ‘pa’!
“There is your hint for the augmenter’s homework. As for what I assigned the conjurers, think backwards.” He got up as I contemplated what he’d just done.
“I should get going now. Let me know if you need more lessons on facial expressions.” He gave me an exaggerated scowl, then a perverted smile, making me almost laugh again.
“Aww… you didn’t laugh this time. Too bad.” He slowly walked off with his bond scampering next to him. I couldn’t help but feel a bit empty as I sat alone on the bench that now seemed too big for just me to sit on.
ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:
“Psst. I heard you got hurt on the first day of class. Are you okay?” Emily’s thick glasses shifted down as she leaned forward next to me, whispering in the middle of class. We were learning about the basic components that made up different types of artifacts.
All of a sudden, a piece of chalk flew straight at Emily, disappearing somewhere into her curly hair.
Gideon gave a light cough, his hand still stretched out after throwing the chalk at her. “Miss Watsken, please enlighten the class on the various components in a basic light-producing artifact.”
“The basic light-producing artifact is made up of the basic foundation crystal, Florenite, found abundantly near the outskirts of Sapin and also in the Kingdom of Darv. After Florenite is refined, it will constantly let out a dim light so in order to control the output of the ore…”
“Ok ok, that’s enough. Sheesh, I just asked for the material.” Gideon grumbled something under his breath as he cut Emily mid-explanation.
Giving a light shrug, she took out some paper to write on while she made futile attempts to scavenge the piece of chalk buried somewhere deep in her hair.
We exchanged notes for a bit, writing to each other about what happened. I tried skimming over the details but that didn’t really seem to work with her.
Eventually, because of the lack of details from my side, she wasn’t really able to piece anything together, leaving her frustrated and curious.
“Something seems off…” She eyed me as we left class after packing up our things. For homework, we were already assigned some sort of mini project where we had to assemble a light-producing artifact, or LPA for short.
“You’re overthinking things, Emily. I’m more worried about the project that Gideon already assigned us. I’m so lost after missing the first week.” This was actually true. My critical thinking abilities and vague knowledge of technology from my past allowed me to make connections and understand more than most first years, but everyone was grumbling about how this class was one of their hardest. Leave it to that eccentric Gideon to teach a basic class as if it were several levels higher.
“Meh, I already have a couple LPAs I made lying around in my dorm anyway. Might as well put them to use.” She adjusted her oversized backpack and we headed over to grab lunch.
“Wow… you could probably ace this class in your sleep.” I shook my head as I picked up a tray and grabbed some food.
“Kyu!” ‘Get more meat, Papa!’ Sylvie hopped on top of my head in protest when I picked up some vegetables.
“Ok ok.” I went back and picked up a few more pieces of meat when Emily looked at me with a weird expression on her face.
“Can you understand what your bond is saying?” She lifted her glasses up in place as she looked up at Sylvie.
“Can’t all bonds?” I asked.
“No, not at all, actually. They can understand their emotions to a certain extent but not… verbal cues.” Her eyes squinted as she took a closer look at Sylvie.
Pushing her head back with my finger on her forehead, I responded, “That’s what I meant. I only felt my bond complaining and I just inferred that it was because I picked up vegetables. You’re overthinking things again, Emily.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. She’s cute though.” She just shrugged and picked up more food for herself.
“Ah! There you are, Art! Director Goodsky wants…Oh, hello.” Elijah stopped in his tracks as he realized I was with a friend.
“Hey, Elijah. This is Emily. Emily, Elijah.” I said with my mouth half full with a piece of stewed beef.
“Nice to meet you! Emily smiled and stuck out the hand that wasn’t carrying her food tray.
“A pleasure to meet you,” Elijah responded as he shook her hand, a look of curiosity on his face. “Anyways, Art. You need to…uh… head over to your training room. Director Goodsky, remember?” He gave me a look, signaling that it was urgent.
“Oh… wait, now?” I looked at my food.
“Yes. Now.” He gently pushed me towards the door while I tried to scarf down as much food as I could. Sylvie swept a big portion of the meat with her tongue as we placed the tray next to the trash bin.
“You two get acquainted! I’ll be leaving first!” I waved at my friends as they waved back.
I remembered Director Goodsky telling me where my private training room would be while I was in the hospital room. Supposedly, the mana density was supposed to be a lot higher there, making it easier to train.
“I wonder what Director Goodsky wants. I should give her a mouthful about class today,” I said to no one in particular as Sylvie and I made our way towards the room.
All of the rooms were underneath the library, where a staff member had to lead you. Usually, upperclassmen were allowed to borrow a room for a couple of hours to train but I was lucky to have a private one all to myself.
There were two entrances in the library building: one to the actual library, the other to a sort of waiting room for all of the training facilities. Opening the entrance to the waiting room, I walked slowly past some upperclassmen before arriving at the front desk. “Hi, my name is Arthur Leywin.” I didn’t exactly know what Director Goodsky wanted so I hoped that the lady at the front desk would know what to do once I told her my name.
“Ah, yes! Today is your first time visiting the room, correct?” The lady had a very refined suit, reminding me of a concierge at some fancy hotel.
“Yes.” I nodded in response as she bent down and opened a drawer.
“Please place both your palms on this stone. Make sure all of the tips of your fingers are flat.” In both hands, she held out a flat tablet with various inscriptions etched onto it.
Doing as told, I felt a brief numbing sensation spread over my hands as she activated the tablet.
“Perfect! I’ll show you to your room. Please follow me.” Leading me to a room in the back where a scarred man about two meters tall and holding a spear guarded the door, the front desk lady ushered me forward.
The room that the scarred man guarded was actually some sort of elevator put together by various gears, which I assumed were powered by either mana cores or some other mana-producing ore.
“Wow. This is my first time riding in something like this.” I said in awe, reminiscing the last time I rode in an elevator.
“Fufu, yes. Not many of these exist yet. The genius artificer Gideon, who is currently a professor here, built this device. I’m sure you’ve heard of him?” She said, admiring the elevator herself.
“More than heard of him. He’s actually one of my professors. With the way he teaches his class, I wish he wasn’t such a genius.” I gave her a wink, making her giggle.
“Here we are! Make sure to remember how to get to your room. Since I’ve registered you to your room, you are allowed to come in anytime you wish,” she said while guiding me through the halls.
“That scary scarred man won’t stop me?” I asked, pointing up with my sheathed sword.
“Hoho, no. He won’t stop you. Ah! We’ve arrived.” We reached the end of the hall where there was a large set of double doors without any handles.
“This door seems different from all of the other ones.” I turned my head back to compare.
“Yes. Director Goodsky seems to place quite a bit of precedence in your training.” She gave me a charming smile.
“Yet she doesn’t even bother to tell my class who their new professor is,” I muttered under my breath.
“Excuse me?” The lady tilted her head in confusion.
“It’s nothing. So how do I open this?” I responded while Sylvie jumped off my head and excitedly hopped in place in front of the double doors.
“If you place either of your palms against the door, it will open automatically. If you need any further assistance, there is a communication device inside where you can contact me. If you are hungry, I can also send someone over to bring you some food.” She bowed, waiting for me to open the door.
“Thank you. What was your name?” I turned my head, my hand raised, ready to open the door.
“Please call me Chloe. I wish you a fruitful training session.” She said, her head still down.
“Got it. Thanks again, Chloe.” I turned back and placed my right hand on the double doors. With a loud engine-like noise, the area where I placed my palm glowed as streams of light branched out. Eventually, the light dimmed and the door slid open to reveal a room very different from what I imagined.
I turned my head back but Chloe was already gone. Sylvie ran off before I could even take a step forward and as I looked inside the room, the sudden brightness compared to the dim hall made me squint. My vision soon adjusted and, as I lowered my hand, my eyes spotted a familiar figure, fidgeting in place as Sylvie scurried up her leg.
I didn’t know if it was from the sparkling brightness inside the room or the fact that this room looked more like a huge natural wonder rather than a training facility but my childhood friend looked stunning. Tess, who was cuddling her cheek against Sylvie on her shoulder, stood before me, wearing a very loose, white training robe.
“H-hi,” Tess said with her head lowered and eyes looking up at me.
I stepped forward as the door closed behind me. The floor underneath me was grass, and there was a rather big pond with a waterfall as well. Huge boulders and trees surrounded us, making me feel as if this was a dream. Snapping out of my momentary daze, I scratched my head with the hand that wasn’t holding Dawn’s Ballad.
“Hey, Tess.” I gave her an awkward smile.
“S-Should we get started?” Tess put Sylvie down on the ground before she shyly started removing her robe.
“W-Wait, what? Get started with what?” I almost tripped backwards as I saw her bare shoulders.
“The assimilation! Grandpa told me that it work better if you help me through bare skin!” Her face was bright red as I realized she had her breasts covered in some gauze.
Ah right… the assimilation…
Freaking Gramps, what are you making your granddaughter do?!
“Gramps told you that? Y-You don’t need to take off your clothes for the assimilation, stupid! He was messing with you!” I covered my eyes with my hand.
Calm down, Arthur. She’s just a 13-year-old. Looking at her like this is a crime!
“S-Shut up! How was I supposed to—UGH…” Tess fell to her knees before she was able to lift her robe again.
I ran as fast as my injured body would let me as I put Dawn’s Ballad back into my dimension ring. Kneeling down next to her, I placed my palm on her warm, pale back. Her robe was down, revealing everything from the waist up with the exception of her breasts and a portion of her back, which were covered by the gauze. As I felt her body tremble in pain, I couldn’t help but notice how frail she looked. I guess it was because I knew how strong of a mage she was; I’d forgotten that she was still just a young girl—physically, at least.
Taking off the seal on my wrist, I willed mana into my childhood friend. Using all four elements, I controlled the mana to spread throughout her body, counteracting the mana coming from the Elderwood Guardian’s beast will. What Gramps did while I was assimilating was just easing my pain, but by using a balanced mixture of mana from all four elements, I was able to essentially help her body fight against the beast will.
I never tested this but it was based on the same principles I used to help awaken Lilia and my sister.
Her ragged breathing soon calmed down, her trembling gone as she began panting from the relief. As I gently lifted her robe over her frail body, I walked over to the pond and splashed my face with its cold water.
I needed to calm myself down.
After a few moments, I felt my heartbeat slowing down but reacted again when I heard Tess making her way to me, Sylvie trotting behind her.
Sitting down on her legs next to me, she stared at me, her flushed, tired face still sparkling, as if she wanted to say something. After a moment of hesitation, she spoke to me in a firm voice.
“Art, can we talk?”