Episode 142 – Mere decade
Friday, the last day of Muni entrance exams, Special exam. As it turns out, the Spell Replicating exam Kiel chose was not designed to test spell replicating ability, but rather, to test for a special talent that can only be revealed through the process of spell replicating. Kiel is tasked to spell replicate several artifacts, including Clay Mines. Unfortunately, an accident happens while testing his Clay Mines and an explosion occurs. Examiners are thankfully fine but they start arguing with each other. They give Kiel a final artifact, whose enchantment he doesn’t need to replicate but to just draw it out. However, Kiel finds that the enchantment is too small and he can’t sense it clearly with his mana sense. In this stressful situation, Kiel manages to see a flash of light inside his head for a brief moment, showing him how the enchantment looks like. After he successfully draws out the spell design of the enchantment, examiners get excited and ask Kiel to be their disciple. Kiel is confused and they explain how professors in Muni are required to mentor students and start telling him the story of Alann Farhice and how he discovered a special ability IPOMQ which alows the user to feel the difference in spell quality of spells cast.
* * *
“If your enchantment wasn’t of a higher quality than the original, how could it have possibly managed to activate? The quality of your last Clay Mine went beyond the theoretical limit.”
Kiel stared at the grandma blankly.
For full 10 seconds.
Before he managed to produce a response:
Episode 142 – Mere decade
Seeing Kiel’s half-petrified half-gobsmacked expression, grandma couldn’t hold her mirth in any longer and she burst out laughing. “Why did you think we spent all this time talking about IPOMQ?”
The other examiners also joined in the laughter. “Why did you think we were so excited? Even fighting over recruiting you?”
“Of course, it’s because you are one of those people with IPOMQ!”
Kiel felt as if lightning struck him from the clear skies. His mind in disarray, all he could do was stare dumbly at the laughing professors in front of him.
After they were done laughing, Kiel was still standing in dumbfounded silence, but hey, at least he tried to break it – he opened his mouth to say “Impossible! How could I not know I had such an ability?”, but then, he realized that the examiners had already explained the reasons why he would be unaware. Therefore, he closed his mouth without saying a word.
Still, he could hardly accept this turn of events. How could there be such a coincidence? He applied mistakenly for this special exam and it just so happened that he actually had such a talent?
Him? A non-mage? He actually had a special sensitivity towards magic quality? Could this get any more absurd?
He didn’t dare get his hopes up, so he shook his head, smiled wryly, and finally uttered words: “You said yourself that this power is hard to test for. And the measuring apparatus is aged, it might be malfunctioning…”
“One might be, but not all of them!” Granny shook the stack of papers in her hands. “You’ve got impossibly high numbers in all of the tests. It isn’t that there is something wrong with the data but that the speed of your learning ability is off the charts!”
Seeing Kiel who looked like his spirit had left his body, the middle-aged man hurried to explain: “The purpose of the first test was so that we could see your normal spell weaving style and how precise your weaving is usually, when you are not putting in special effort. It would also allow us to see your learning speed when you are concentrating on improvement.
The second enchantment was both intricate and mystified. It was given to you to test how high your weaving precision can reach. However, the main point of the test laid in the fact that the enchantment was mystified and had many places where it could be improved. If you were a wielder of IPOMQ, this is where you’d have the most opportunity to display it.
You had the time to perfect your weaving and learn the most from your previous attempt. This should have resulted in you making several alterations to the spell design in the pursuit of quality.”
After the man ran out of breath, granny continued: “The Clay Mine served only as a confirmation of what we already detected in the previous two tests. You didn’t have the time to inspect the quality of your casting and adjust your weaving accordingly. However…”
She gave Kiel a knowing look. “…you could still tell, couldn’t you? The quality of your spells I mean.”
Kiel stood petrified, not even attempting to respond. Luckily, granny’s question seemed to be rhetorical for she spoke up soon after. “Even when you didn’t have enough time to think about it, you subconsciously improved with rapid speed and changed your weaving style to better match the spell.”
Like a fish out of water, Kiel opened his mouth several times before his frozen mind managed to recover enough to form words: “What about the azure bead?”
Unfortunately, the response he got made him deeply regret that he had bothered to ask. His mind that was about to recover from the suffered damage received another blow:
“Oh, that last one wasn’t part of the special exam. We just got very excited when we realized you possessed the IPOMQ, so we were curious about the accuracy of your mana sense. If even your mana sense was incredible than you’d be a godsend to our Sapphire Division!”
Kiel felt horrible enough to spew out blood and faint right then and there.
What did he overdraft his powers for?? Why did he stake his life on this exam?! Why did he end up in this miserable state where every cell of his body was screaming in agony?!
He felt so stupid! He had totally misunderstood everything that happened!
He dug a deep pit and jumped in himself!
And it was in the middle of this deep, deep pit that he had dug himself, that Kiel suddenly got an epiphany – he’d better stop worrying about things out of his control and jumping to conclusions, otherwise, next time he might end up shooting himself in the foot and losing the entire leg.
Still, didn’t such a realization have too big of a price tag?!
What should he do if these excited elders ended up spreading that he had a perverse mana sense?? He wouldn’t be able to sleep in peace out of worry that his lack of an extremely accurate mana sense would be revealed!
Even if he wanted to accept one of their apprenticeship offers in the future, he wouldn’t dare to, for they would surely notice he didn’t have such an awesome mana sense!
Kiel felt droplets of cold sweat dripping down his back.
And what kind of shitty talent was this? IPOMQ, no, NIDSMOARWRK?
Elaru got the godly cheat that is Aethernea of Sight, while he got… NIDSMOARWRK? Where was the justice in this world??
This talent was something he couldn’t even casually mention without feeling his face burn. What would he say? “Hey, guess what, I am actually talented. I’ve got IPOMQ.”
The first response he’d get in return would be: “What is that? A sexually transmitted disease?”
When had his life ever been so full of ups and downs?!
Alann Farhice, couldn’t you use your great intelligence to give it a better name?!
And the worst thing was, even if the person in question could hear the soul-wrenching cry of poor Kiel, he would probably snicker and deliver a final blow: “I admit, it ‘nids moar wrk’.”
Kiel had yet to recover his wits when the professors started shoving cards with their contact details into his hands saying things like. “Boy, think about it and let me know if you are interested in becoming my personal disciple.”
Even the grandma stepped out to declare that she was the leader of the enchanting department as well as the head of the Sapphire Division – the big boss of everyone working in the field of theory of magic, with only people above her being the headmaster and the vice-head of the university. (No wonder everyone listened to her like a flock of scared tiwi.) And then she went straight to the point and asked him to become her disciple.
Kiel ended up politely refusing all their offers, telling them that he had yet to decide which field of study he wanted to pursue. Only after promising he would definitely, seriously consider joining the Sapphire Division, was he allowed to leave.
Luckily, by this point, the training of the Rroda family kicked in and he managed to put on his flawless mask, concealing his turbulent emotions. Otherwise, they might have noticed that he had no intention of looking for them in the future.
At least not until he figured out what happened back then when he could see mana, and how he could make it happen again.
Did this have something to do with Elaru and her Aethernea of Sight? Was he able to borrow it through the Aetherneal bond?
And this IPOMQ, was this a talent that belonged to him or was it also something given to him by the Aetherneal bond?
If it was given by the Aetherneal bond, then how come those random commoners had it?
And if it was something he had all along…
…was it possible that there were other things about himself that he never noticed?
Thinking back on it, he had always thought that he had used hard work to make up for the lack of mana, but could it be that the reason why he managed to reach such a level in a mere decade was something else? Perhaps IPOMQ, an internal compass guiding him all along?
For the first time, those past years seemed like a short amount of time to Kiel. Could an internal compass really shorten the training time that much?
If a non-mage like him could reach such a high level with a mere decade of hard work and a bit of guidance, then how come very few normal people became prominent mages? Why wasn’t everyone working hard for a better future, a better life? Why did everyone still put talent on such a high pedestal?
* * *
Elaru sat in her seat with a wooden expression, watching the trio of old men almost getting physical with each other. Weren’t they too simple-minded?
If each one picked a single artifact to spell break, the problem would be solved. Yet, the solution didn’t seem to occur to them at all, as they argued like kindergarten kids over whose toy was better.
Indeed, talented people often had areas in which they were even more lacking than an average person…
Elaru opened her mouth, intending to put a stop to their fight, however, a sudden disturbance within her interrupted her.
Powerful, chaotic emotions roiled inside of her, threatening to overwhelm her reason. What happened? Her heart skipped a beat, her consciousness wandering towards her soulmate.
From the start of this exam, she had felt several disturbing spikes of emotion, with the worst one arriving right at the start of the exam. She had thought Kiel’s mood had already reached rock bottom back then, but apparently, he could go even lower.
For an icecube, your insides are pretty squishy, aren’t they? She furrowed her eyebrows, her teal eyes revealing helplessness and worry. Concealing all that emotion all the time must be really tiring.
That initial dip in mood could be attributed to nervousness and grumpy examiners, but what was this chaos? With Kiel’s abilities, what kind of problems could he have run into?
Don’t tell me he got poisoned again? – was the first thing she thought of, but then she remembered that she had been keeping an eye on him and no one suspicious had gotten near him, let alone touched him.
His form was still inside her field of view, sitting inside the classroom, seemingly inspecting an artifact.
Her mind reached over, attempting to connect with his. She couldn’t talk to him; however, she could use her own emotions to help soothe his, like she had been doing from the start.
Her purpose had always been to be the light. She had an abundance of positivity, more than enough for both of them.
At least that’s what she thought until she felt another wave of emotions raise within her and for a moment, she completely lost her sense of direction, forgetting that she too was in the middle of the exam.
Desperation, helplessness, fear.
Like a swarm of bloodmites they nibbled on her light, infecting it with pain and worry.
Yet that feeling wasn’t even the worst of it.
No. The one thing that hurt the most was that she could feel him reaching out towards her, yet she couldn’t touch him, couldn’t grasp his extended hand.
She couldn’t flash him a smile. She couldn’t tell him that everything would be alright. She couldn’t wake him up from his nightmare.
All she wanted to do was to embrace his consciousness, enveloping it in warmth.
Yet she couldn’t.
The anti-cheating magical contract that they had been forced to sign stood like a thick wall between them, preventing them from communicating in the middle of an exam.
She felt him falling deeper into the pit, slipping like grains of sand between her fingers, unable to be grasped no matter how much she tried.
Yet she wasn’t willing! She wasn’t willing to stand by helplessly! She wasn’t willing to watch him struggle alone in the darkness of night.
“Anti-cheating contract.” She felt herself saying with steely conviction. “This is the last exam and there is no need for it any longer. No matter how you look at it, it is the hardest spell to break out of all of your suggestions. So how about it? If you give me your word that I won’t have any problems enrolling due to breaking the anti-cheating contract, I’ll break it right now.”
Kiel: “Author, if you are going to discriminate against me, at least make it less obvious! IPOMQ?! Really?! *flips the table* I want to do something exciting with my life and you give me the power of… IPOMQ…Are you deliberately making it difficult for me to escape the fate of being stuck in an office?!”
*cough cough* If you guys are wondering the same thing, the answer is no. I did not pull out this weird talent out of my *** just to make Kiel special in some way. There is indeed something special about Kiel and I’ve been leaving clues to it all along. This revelation isn’t the solution to the puzzle but just one of the pieces.
To avoid saying any accidental spoilers, I’ll say just one more thing – IPOMQ might not be what they think it is.
Coming up in the next episode:
Beard slapped his chest spiritedly. “Set your heart at ease! If you can break that, not only will I promise that but I’ll even promise to hail you as my master!”
And as the entire picture stood in place, those fluctuating defects in reality showed themselves clearly like black ink on white paper.
After several coughs, she managed to swallow down the sweet, metallic taste that rose in her mouth.
“Why would a lovely lady such as yourself go for a couple of old guys when you can get a couple of healthy young virgins.”
“I swear, it’s not what it looks like!”