ARTHUR LEYWIN’S POV:
Tess leaving for school left me with a rather uneasy feeling, but, needless to say, we still enjoyed the night. The Helstea Manor was in a festive mood, with barrels of liquor brought up from the cellar by Vincent himself. Lilia’s father was getting the most enjoyment out of this, along with my father, who were both in an inebriated state before I even got home. It turned out that the Twin Horns had made a detour on their series of expeditions in the Beast Glades to visit us during the Aurora Constellate. It meant a lot to my parents just being able to see their old comrades again and share a drink or two as a toast to old times and embarrassing memories.
After my father and Vincent, Adam Krensh was the next to become intoxicated, his flushed cheeks almost matching his fiery red hair. It was rather fascinating witnessing everyone’s alcohol-induced habits since my mother and Tabitha wouldn’t allow me to drink alongside them. Adam was your typical loud and rowdy drunk, seeming to lose enough coordination for an infant to be able to wrestle him to the ground and win.
Angela Rose began to lose all sense of personal space as she conversed with me with her cheeks stuck to mine. It didn’t help that every spoken word was accompanied by two or three hiccups, making it almost impossible to decipher what she was trying to say. Tabitha ended up having to peel her off of me and ‘kindly’ escort the coquettish mage up the stairs by the back of her collar.
I had a hard time containing my laughter while Durden Walker soon became drunk as well. What surprised me the most was when he opened his eyes. The usual narrow shapes that looked more like slits became a stern mono-lidded dictator’s surprised expression. It didn’t help that his eyebrows that were normally slanted down were now furrowed into an upward tilt, making his overall expression a mixture of intense focus and uncontainable surprise. He would take on this gruff commanding tone when speaking, and for the past hour or so before passing out, he was spouting out training drills to one of the empty barrels of beer while participating in the exercises himself.
I couldn’t tell whether my former guardian, Jasmine Flamesworth, was drunk or not until she came up, eyes glossy and unfocused, and started repeating to me how much she thought of me and how worried she was as to whether or not I was adjusting to school well. Eventually, everyone retired to their respective rooms. Mother towed my father, who was cradling a bottle of what smelled like whiskey as if it were a newborn, back into their room. Tabitha did the same for her husband as well. My sister went to sleep with Sylvie quite a while ago in her room, leaving only Helen Shard, the leader of the Twin Horns, and me in the war zone that was once a dining room.
“Quite the party, wasn’t it? I’m sure this wasn’t exactly how you pictured your reunion with us to go,” Helen let out a contained giggle.
I laughed in response. “With everything that’s been going on these days, it was nice seeing everyone let loose.”
“Your parents told us briefly about everything that has happened to you since we were gone. You seem to be doing a fairly good job of taking on your father’s role in worrying your mother.” The faint smirk that curled on Helen’s lips suggested she was reminiscing the past.
“It seems to be the one skill that I seem to be getting better at without even trying.”
“If only it were like that for me with mana manipulation,” Helen sighed, making us both laugh.
We moved to the living room after the maids started showing up and cleaning the dining room. There, we sat with only a coffee table separating us as we continued talking and catching each other up on what had happened in our respective lives.
It was the first time I’d talked to Helen for this long, but it was comfortable, and she talked to me as if she were talking to an adult, not someone who had barely hit his or her teens. She had an eloquent way of speaking that wasn’t usual for an adventurer; she seemed more suited to lead strategic meetings, not be on the front lines, fighting.
“If you don’t mind me asking, Arthur, what level is your mana core? I can’t seem to even sense your level anymore.” Helen lifted her feet from the coffee table and leaned forward as she asked this.
“Solid Yellow,” I answered simply. I didn’t want to sugarcoat or try to downplay my level to someone as observant as Helen.
“I see. Congratulations, sincerely.” Helen had a mixed expression on her face, one where she was trying to hide her disappointment, but failed. She wasn’t disappointed in me, but herself, because even though she more than double my age, I had surpassed her by quite a bit.
“It seems like you are made for bigger and greater things, Arthur. With the discovery of a new continent and all, I suspect that this small academy will only be able to hold you down for so long. We should get some rest.” She gave me a smile that didn’t reach her eyes and left after giving me a firm pat on the shoulders.
Collapsing on my bed without the energy or will to even wash, I laid there, thinking about everything that had happened in my life. Was it just a coincidence that I was sent, or actually born into this world as it was going through so much change?
Was I really some cliché protagonist from a bedtime fairy tale that they always read to us at the orphanage? I couldn’t help but scoff at the thought of being some bored god’s source of entertainment as he toyed with my life in the name of my being ‘The Chosen One.’
Was I in the hands of some god as a chess piece to make the world run as he saw fit? I squeezed my eyes shut, hoping that would help me get rid of these thoughts. The thought of my fate being under someone else’s control didn’t sit right with me. Turning to my side, I chose to dust these fears away… life was already so unexpected, why make it more complicated?
ELIJAH KNIGHT’S POV:
“Get down!” I roared as I conjured an earthen wall between the mana beasts and the other students behind me.
“ATTENTION RENOWNED STUDENTS OF XYRUS ACADEMY!” a rather high-pitched grating voice echoed throughout the campus. “AS YOU MAY ALL BE AWARE, YOUR INSTITUTION IS CURRENTLY UNDER ATTACK BY MY LITTLE PETS. NO NEED TO FEAR FOR I AM BOTH JUST AND MERCIFUL!” The voice seemed to taunt us as he said this because there was a dwarven student in the jaws of a discolored black-fanged wolf, a B class mana beast.
Even as I conjured up a rock spear underneath the belly of the black-fanged wolf, it still had the time to take the student’s life before collapsing. Gnashing my teeth, I looked away from the dimming gaze of the dwarf that pleaded with his eyes before passing away. If I didn’t have experience as an adventurer, I would’ve thrown up as the student’s insides spilled from the fatal wound caused by the mana beast.
Instead, I calmed myself, using a brief meditation technique that I had learned from class that steadied the flow from my mana core before scouting for any other students to save.
“HUMAN STUDENTS, AS LONG AS YOU RAISE BOTH YOUR HANDS AND SWEAR YOUR ALLEGIANCE TO ME, THE MANA BEASTS WILL NOT ATTACK YOU! ELVES AND DWARVES, DO NOT STRUGGLE AND ALLOW MY PETS TO DESTROY YOUR MANA CORE AND YOU WILL BE FREE TO LEAVE!” The voice let out a deranged laugh that sent a shiver down my spine. It was enjoying the carnage that was going on in this school that had been so peaceful just hours before.
Although the radical group had been escalating their terroristic activity, this was on a completely different level. It happened so suddenly that there was no way to prepare for an event like this. As far as I could tell at this point was that this stage of their plan had been meticulously executed. There were no places to escape to and no way to call for help.
The once clear barrier formation that kept any intruders, including mana beasts, from entering the campus had already turned into a translucent red cage, making the sky look like it was dipped in blood, keeping anyone or anything from leaving.
I didn’t know who the voice belonged to, but his motives were clear. He was willing to take human captives, but wanted all nonhuman mages either dead or incapacitated. I could see pillars of smoke from different buildings of the academy where fights were happening. From time to time, I locked eyes with some of the Disciplinary Committee members as they were fighting off several mana beasts, acknowledging each other since we had no time to brief each other on the situation elsewhere.
There were obviously traitors in the academy, because some of the professors were now being held off by other professors while cloaked figures, as well as the mana beasts, were taking care of the students.
It was strange; I’d seen some of the mana beasts while I was an adventurer, but the only thing different about them was the coloration, or lack of color to be more exact. Except for their matching red eyes, all of the mana beasts that flooded Xyrus Academy looked like they had had their colors drained, leaving them in different hues of gray.
I couldn’t tell how many hours had passed since the invasion started, but there were no signs of help arriving for some reason, like we were closed off from the rest of Xyrus.
I trudged on through the campus quad where bodies laid limp and pools of blood formed around them. This academy was supposed to be a safe haven for future mages of this continent. It pissed me off more than anything that there hadn’t been proper measures implemented for this type of scenario. Since the unification of the three Kingdoms, did The Council not think that there would be enemies?
Just as I was about to follow after a cloaked figure into one of the alchemy labs, a throaty growl caught my attention enough to avoid a thorned growler’s jaw. Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid its pounce and was hammered into the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of me.
“Grrrrr,” as the giant, furry lizard-shaped mana beast’s saliva drenched my uniform, its red eyes were staring at me, as if waiting for me to do something.
“Screw off!” I grunted as I simultaneously conjured a pillar from the ground, launching the two-meter long mana beast in the air before it flipped agilely to regain its ground.
Before I had the chance to do anything more, a sword flew down from the sky, skewering the thorned growler’s head to the ground. The mana beast squirmed helplessly for a couple of seconds before its body also sank to the ground lifelessly.
“Thanks,” I grunted, too tired for pleasant formalities. It was Curtis Glayder who came down from the top of a nearby statue to retrieve his weapon, his bond, a world lion, following briskly behind him.
“No problem. You should get somewhere safe until we get reinforcements. It’s too dangerous out here in the open,” he said, nodding back.
“I’ll be fine. There are too many enemies for you guys to handle while I hide. I can still help.” I bandaged my bleeding arm that had been cut open just now with a torn sleeve and turned my back to follow after the cloaked figure.
Suddenly, a sound that could only have been amplified with mana boomed like thunder. I couldn’t even hear myself scream as both Curtis and I reeled in pain. The ear-numbing ring from the watchtower’s bell didn’t reverberate in my chest. I felt it in my feet as the whole earth shook from it.