Aethernea

Episode 134 – Special Gift

Previously:

It’s Friday, the last day of Muni entrance exams. It is time for the last exam of the day – Special exam. Kiel and Elaru make their way towards Sapphire Quarters where there special exams will take place. Elaru’s special exam starts and she is confronted by three old geezers.

* * *

“Young one, you think you have what it takes to become a spell breaker?” Moustache gave Elaru a penetrating look as if he was trying to see right through her.

Naturally, Elaru could come up with plenty of witty responses, however, she had no choice but to stay silent, lest she burst out into uncontrollable laughter.

“Many dream of becoming esteemed spell breakers. Alas…” Eyebrows let out a heavy sigh as if lamenting the cruelty of fate.

Finally, after successfully stifling her laughter, all that Elaru could do was just to stare at the trio speechlessly. Must you guys be so dramatic…?


Episode 134 – Special Gift


Unaware of the redhead’s internal thoughts, Beard shook his head dejectedly, his long beard undulating left and right like a ribbon. “Unfortunately, our department of spell breaking is destined to remain the university department with the least number of members…”

Ah, no wonder you are putting on airs of esteemed experts that are above the mundane world…

Three old geezers were clearly gloating about being among the rare individuals capable enough to become spell breakers. The fact that spell breakers were a very sought-after bunch only served to enhance their pride.

After all, if someone wanted to remove unwanted enchantments the only way to do it was to break the enchantment. Which meant that if enchanters wanted to fix defective magical artifacts, change their enchantments or even upgrade them, they needed a spell breaker to remove the previous enchantment.

Of course, there were, even more, people who sought them for other, often times, less legal activities. Such as opening magically locked chests, safes, and doors or to enter magic protected areas. Breaking unwanted arcane contracts was also a popular request in the Shadow Lodge.

Unfortunately, spell breaking required high skill requirements thus the demand for spell breaking services was high and supply far too low.

The first requirement, an extremely sensitive and precise mana sense, already eliminated the vast majority of candidates. It was impossible to become a spell breaker if one couldn’t see the details and intricacies of the spell they were trying to break.

The second requirement, which eliminated the remaining candidates, was the ability to compress mana into a density that surpassed the density of solidified mana.

When one weaved a spell pattern, the activation of the spell would cause the mana forming the spell pattern to solidify into a denser form. Since it was impossible to trigger mana solidification without the activation of a spell, trying to surpass the density of solidified mana without solidifying it was something that most people would never be able to do.

It was like taking a bottle of water vapor and trying to compress it enough, through sheer force of will, so that it turns into liquid water. Theoretically possible, in practice downright implausible.

And that wasn’t even the last requirement.

The last requirement was the ability to pinpoint critical points of a spell.

While it was possible to break spells through sheer force by demolishing the entirety of the spell pattern, often times, the amount of mana needed to create a large high density mana blast was far beyond what even the best of mages could possess and control. Thus, mages had no choice but to resort to targeting specific areas of the spell pattern instead of targeting the whole spell.

Unfortunately, critical points of the spell couldn’t be seen or felt through one’s senses. It required one to develop a special type of intuition acquired through one’s complete understanding of Theory of Magic, enchantments, and one’s vast spell breaking experience.

That’s why the majority of spell breakers were old master enchanters who had studied the field for decades. Adding the title of a spell breaker to a master enchanter was like placing a crown on top of their heads, a glorious achievement to be proud of.

Therefore, it wasn’t all that surprising that the old geezers in front of Elaru were acting so self-important.

“Other than our disciples, there is just us, three old men who are not long for this world.” Moustache lamented, his misty eyes looking far into the distance.

You look quite energetic and healthy to me… Elaru still stood at the same spot wordlessly. Judging by the vitality in your aura you should have at least 30 more years left in you…

Mages usually had a longer lifespan than normal people because frequent usage of mana served to temper their body, making it stronger and healthier.

“Indeed, we are getting old. I don’t even remember the last time someone applied for the spell breaking special exam.” Beard added melancholically.

Eyebrows nodded his head. “Everything is forgotten with time. It slipped my mind that Muni still offered a spell breaking special exam.”

The three’s eyes misted up with melancholy and they let out lamenting sighs at the same time.

Elaru’s mouth twitched. How many times did you guys reverse this performance to get it so synchronized? Be honest, did you wait decades for someone to apply for this exam so you can finally put your practice into good use?

Finally, the three returned to the present and looked towards Elaru who stood rigidly in the middle of the room, trying not to reveal any of her internal thoughts.

“Child, don’t be so tense. It is alright if you don’t know much about spell breaking.” Beard gently remarked understandingly.

“Young one, don’t be hard on yourself. You are far too young to be a true spell breaker.” Moustache added comfortingly.

“Be at ease, young lass. It takes decades of hard work to learn spell breaking. Of course we won’t make things difficult for you.” Eyebrows stated good-naturedly.

You guys… Elaru’s eyebrow twitched.  I know you don’t have any more exams to attend to after this but…She couldn’t help but glance towards the clock on the wall. How long do you intend to continue blowing your own trumpet? Do you intend to start my exam anytime soon?

* * *

Meanwhile, on the fourth floor,

Kiel knocked, put up his soft smile and waited several seconds before a man opened the door and invited him inside. The only remarkable thing about the man was his uniform of an assistant professor. Everything else, from his hair and eye color, face, and even his aura was so common and ordinary that Kiel’s gaze unconsciously slid past the man towards the other people in the room.

Behind the large teacher desk sat three professors, none of which was looked younger than the age of fifty. They were covered in wrinkles, their hair colors washed out, yet old age could not mellow out their aura and demeanor of prestige and authority.

The old lady in the middle of the three, which had the deepest wrinkles and the whitest hair, spoke up in a low crisp voice: “Good morning, young man. You must be…”

Kiel curtsied respectfully, his polite smile never leaving his face. “I am Kiel Rroda, the examinee number 5642.” His husky voice rumbled pleasantly making the listeners feel like they had drunk warm chocolate.

While the old professors gauged Kiel contemplatively, he strolled to the center of the room, followed by the unremarkable man, who made his way towards a cart filled with magical artifacts standing next to the teacher’s table.

After several seconds of scrutiny, the trio nodded their heads approvingly. Contrary to Kiel’s expectations, old grandma’s following question stunned him into silence: “Young man, do you consider yourself as gifted?”

“Err…” Kiel blinked his long eyelashes repeatedly, not sure how to respond. Saying yes would be haughty, but saying no would either feel insecure or sound like a pretentious attempt at modesty.

Noticing Kiel’s awkward silence, the three didn’t press him for an answer. Instead, the grandma asked a different question: “Are you aware of the difference between the practical exam and the special exam?”

Apparently, the grandma didn’t expect Kiel to answer that question either, for she continued soon after: “The purpose of the practical exam is to test the examinees ability to perform a specific profession well in real life situations. It mostly tests skill in the said profession, which mainly consists of adaptability, knowledge, and experience.”

Her eyes flashed with a mysterious glint. “However, the special exam is different… special, so to speak.”

The tension in the room grew helped by the heavy curtain of silence.

“The purpose of the special exam is to promote extraordinary abilities. Its purpose is to give an extra chance to rare gifted people who otherwise wouldn’t be accepted as students due to their lacking knowledge and experience.”

Kiel’s heart dropped to the pit of his stomach. He didn’t belong in that group of people, did he? He had a feeling that the “extraordinary abilities” the woman spoke of weren’t the mundane kind such as high intelligence or creativity.

“We are an institution of learning, we are able to fix a lack of knowledge, teach you everything you need to know. We can even help you increase your skill as a mage.

However…”

The old grandma opened her milky gray eyes wide, giving Kiel a penetrating look. After a tense moment of silence, she continued drawling.

“There are certain things that we cannot help you nurture.

Things that cannot be learned.

A gift, so to speak.

This exam is designed to set apart those that are gifted with an exceptional talent and those that are not.”

The longer the hunchbacked grandma spoke, the stiffer Kiel’s muscles became. Her unfocused milky gray eyes made Kiel’s blood run cold.

Unaware of the chill that was slowly spreading towards Kiel’s limbs with each one of her words, the old lady proceeded.

“Knowing spell replication or being able to do it well doesn’t make you gifted.”

Was she implying that he wasn’t gifted? That all those hours he spent reading books on spell replicating were wasted? That his skill in weaving mana was all but useless?

That everything that he was and could do was but useless, unable to help him in this “special” exam in the slightest?

“In fact, there is no special exam for most professions such as enchanting, inscription, engineering, healing, and so on. So then, why is there a special exam for some professions, such as spell replicating and spell breaking?”

Kiel’s eyes widened imperceptibly. He had always thought that the reason why some professions were tested in the special exam was because they weren’t tested in the practical exam. He had thought that Muni wanted to give rare professions a chance through the special exam so that people wouldn’t complain about there not being a practical exam that suited them.

But… could that be a misconception on his part? Was there another reason why very few professions were tested through the special exam?

“The reason behind it is that we couldn’t care less about your profession in this exam. Rather, what we care about, what we are testing are special gifts. And very few of those special gifts can be best revealed through performing a profession related action, such an act of replicating a spell.”

As if to crush the last shreds of hope remaining inside Kiel, the grandma clarified her words further: “What we are testing in this special exam isn’t your ability to perform spell replication. Rather, we are testing whether you possess the rare gift that is revealed through the process of replicating spells.”

Kiel’s knees almost gave out. It took every bit of his grandmother’s teachings to stop himself from stumbling backward.

Gift? He should know better than anyone whether he had a rare gift or not.

All he had achieved was due to his hard work, due to his blood, tears, and sweat.

Gift?! What gift?!

“In short, you are here not to be tested on your spell replicating, but rather, to spell replicate to reveal whether you possess a special gift.”

Silence descended onto the room, almost invading Kiel’s very being with its suffocating presence.

In the emptiness of Kiel’s mind, a single word echoed painfully, rippling through the silence:

Fu*k.

He had thought that he would be able to get some special points through his spell replicating, yet it turned out to be just his wishful thinking. A wasted time and effort.

He had unknowingly signed up for something else entirely.

He should have known it wouldn’t be so easy. There was a reason why very few people got special points. There was a reason why even among the accepted 100 students, who were the smartest and the most talented young men and women in the entire lands of Halnea, there were usually less than ten that got special points.

Cold sweat drenched Kiel’s back as he struggled to keep his expression neutral and his aura reserved.

Yet, as if to shatter all his attempts of remaining calm, as if to demolish this entire pretense of poise, a tiny voice inside him spoke up: “How embarrassing! To sign up for a special exam only to not get a single point on it! Aren’t you worried you’d be a laughing stock to everyone?”

He recognized the mocking laughter of his brother. “What? You thought you were gifted? That you possess something special?”

“Pfft, hahaha. As if! The only gift you possess is your resilience. You are like a cockroach, no matter how much one steps on it, it just keeps crawling back up!”

Kiel’s pale, trembling fingers curled into fists.

It wouldn’t matter that he had achieved a near perfect score in all other exams.

What they would see was just his failure.

That’s what they did to make themselves feel superior.

The glossed over his achievements and tightly caught onto his failures.

He had hoped that he would be the first person in the Rroda family to get the perfect score in Muni exams.

He had hoped that he could use these exams to silence all the doubters and haters.

He wanted to prove to all that he was better than them.

That their mocking and derision can never conceal his brilliance.

Yet, in the end, he had shot himself in the foot.

In the end, he had been defeated.

Defeated not by them…

…but by his own greed.

“Let us start” Only when the clear voice of the grandma shattered the silence, did Kiel remember he was currently in the middle of the exam.

While he had been standing as still and pale as a statue, the unremarkable man had taken nine artifacts out of the cart and spread them on top of the teacher’s desk.

The artifacts were all the same, taking the form of an intricate bronze cog the size of an adult fist, with the only difference between them being an enchantment placed on a single one among them.

Grandma stroked the enchanted artifact with her wrinkled, frail looking fingers. “Your task is to replicate this enchantment on the remaining eight artifacts while balancing speed and precision to the best of your abilities. You need not be very precise, nor do you need to be very fast. What you need to be is efficient.”

Replicate an enchantment?

Kiel stared at the old woman dumbfounded.

Just that?

It was as if time suddenly started running again. As if the dark fog clouding Kiel’s mind was exhaled through his deep breaths.

This was not the time to wallow in misery and remorse! He’d have enough time to drown in regret after the exam.

Kiel’s tightly pressed lips smiled a gentle smile once again, a wry, helpless smile.

If they wanted him to replicate that spell, he could do it. He might not understand what that had to do with the special gift they spoke of, but it’s not like he could back out of it now. The only thing he could do at this point is to treat it as if they were testing his spell replicating ability and do his best.

Who knows? Maybe they’d give him some consolation points if he performed spell replication well enough, just so he doesn’t return empty handed?

Kiel restrained a self-deprecating chuckle and concentrated on the enchanted cog. It was filled with intricate spell patterns that he didn’t recognize, the enchantment was most likely mystified. The only thing that he recognized about the spell were its spell roots which exited through the small circular hole in the middle of the cog and spread out tall like a miniature tree.

He vaguely remembered Elaru showing him how the enchantment on this cog looked like with her Aethernea of Sight earlier. He had chosen to disregard it and concentrate on remembering more intricate enchantments in the pile of artifacts, for this one, in particular, was clear enough for his own mana sense to pick up.


Coming up in the next episode:

By the time Kiel was done with the last cog, his bangs were sticking to his damp forehead.

He didn’t notice that the examiners had finished trying out all his cogs, nor did he notice the strange looks and quiet whispers they were sharing between themselves. He didn’t notice the frown pasted on the face of the middle-aged man, nor the unreadable flash in the old lady’s eyes.

“If you don’t know where the critical points are, we shall tell you.”

The eyes of the three old men lit up and they seemed to forget the purpose of their gathering as Eyebrows spoke up: “Child, since you have studied Spell Breaking, could you perhaps tell us the four different approaches to spell breaking?”


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