“Whichever ones you like. Oh, but you need to avoid any courses that involve using magic because, you know…”“Right.”
“Why can’t big sis Amy take magic courses?” asked Zoe. She was in one of her ‘nice’ moods tonight.
“Because everyone else would get jealous of her, of course,” I answered, patting her head.
“Seriously though, should we try to stick together or…” said Lily, her voice trailing off.
“You just wanna leach off of me, don’t you?” I smirked.
“No! Never, I just…”
“Well I don’t really mind. I mean, it’s not like we’re going to school here for real. But, it might be a good idea to have some fun and meet new people. We only need to ace the final exams to get into the Shrine and you could just follow me after I do. It might be a better idea to use this time to actually learn something,” I said.
“That sounds boring…but alright,” she said.
I nodded. “Kai isn’t back yet?”
“No, he said he went out for a bit. Wanted to see the sights,” said Amy.
I thought to myself, would it help ease my mind if I voiced some of my concerns. Perhaps getting it off my chest could do some good and maybe a different perspective could help me sort things out better. Of course, I wouldn’t tell them everything nor would I reveal the extent of my suspicions.
“Right, I’d like to take this opportunity to ask you something,” I said, taking a deep breath. “Something important.”
“About Kai?” said Lily bluntly.
“Yes,” I said. “His Ability is amazing. It’s helped us through a lot of tight spots but don’t you sometimes think that it’s a little too amazing?”
“Yes,” said Amy. “Sometimes it feels like he can do anything.”
“Exactly. We know he has some limits. He couldn’t make Van Drake leave without a price and he couldn’t cut through the rock instantly, but, even then, doesn’t it feel like that’s absurd anyway?” I said.
“Big bro Kai is awesome! I like him,” chimed Zoe with an innocent smile. Then her expression darkened. “But I don’t like you.”
Just how unstable was she?
“You know what, forget it. Just keep an eye out, will you?” I said, getting up.
“Do you not trust him?” asked Amy
“Then why are you so concerned about his Ability?”
“I just like knowing who – or what – I’m dealing with. It gets annoying not knowing who your friends are,” I said, as I closed the door to my room.
Lily’s voice barely made it across the door, “I agree, it sucks.”
We went to the Academy early in the morning and handed in our course selections. My first class was ‘Magical Phenomena 452’ so I made my way to the classroom. It was one of the more interesting courses that were offered here and was one I really wanted to take because I hadn’t had the opportunity to read up on magical phenomena in the Demon Lord’s library.
There were long benches laid out like a stepped theater, which reminded me of the auditorium at my high school. A middle aged woman stood on the wooden stage below, ruffling the papers in her hand. I took a seat in the back row and waited as the other students filed in.
Most people sat in the front rows, eager to absorb whatever the professor had to say. A few of them even glanced at me with disdain before turning away. Even the professor frowned at me for a bit.
Guess backbenchers weren’t a thing here.
“I was wondering how long it would take you to get here,” I said.
“Shut it. I joined this because it looked interesting, okay?” said Lily as she sat down next to me.
“Sure.” I smirked.
“Good morning everyone, I’m Professor Rowetta and I welcome you all to Magical Phenomena 452. Since the term is almost over and your exams are right around the corner, today we’ll be going over some of the most important magical phenomena covered in this class. Most of us have discussed these phenomena at length but.” The professor glanced up at us. “Anyone joining us for the first time would do well to listen closely.”
“Oh, she meant us,” I said, chuckling.
“Hey Runir,” she said.
I looked over.
“You said you were annoyed because you didn’t know who Kai was.”
“Yeah, aren’t you?” I asked.
“I am but at least you know that I’m the Hero, you can even see my status.”
“Not anymore. We have these now, remember,” I said, tapping the ring on my finger.
Another inexplicable result of his Ability. Although I loved these rings, not only was it strange for rings – or any object for that matter – to have these kinds of effects but those effects themselves were absurdly powerful. I mean, these things didn’t just hide your status, if that was all they did, they wouldn’t make me worry so much. No, they disguised your status. Right now, anyone who tried to Appraise Lily’s status would see a perfectly ordinary Dark magic user with a mundane title and Ability.
Did they work by manipulating your status or the Appraisal skill or did they influence the user’s mind and make them think that that’s what they’re seeing? It was that kind of possibility that made me wary of Kai and his Ability. Because it could lead to so many possibilities-
“Zoning out again?” she said, snapping a finger in front of my face.
“Oh yeah, sorry. Just thinking about stuff,” I replied. “Now hush, I need to listen to this lecture. Some of us came here to study you know.”
“Hey, I came to study too,” she said, turning to the stage below.
“…the Anomaly is the most famous and most feared magical phenomena on Erath, despite being so rare that most consider it a myth. However, well documented sightings of Anomalies have led many experts to agree that they do, in fact, exist.”
“Anomaly?” asked Lily.
“I don’t know either. I was distracted by someone,” I replied.
“…studying Anomalies is incredibly difficult, not to mention dangerous, because of their tendency to trap anything that falls into them. The few tests that have been conducted suggest that these Anomalies are immune to magic and physical contact and cannot be moved. They appear and disappear randomly but are rarely found in human settlements or well trodden roads. Now, the history of the study of Anomalies dates back to…”
These Anomalies… I don’t remember seeing anything like them in the game. Were they created after the Haze?
I sat back in my seat and put my hands behind my head.
“Hey Runir,” said Lily.
“Yeah,” I replied.
“Are all schools this boring?” she said.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, this is my first time in a real school.”
“Wait, you’ve never been to school before.”
“No, the old lady at the orphanage made us go but we just ditched as soon as we could.”
“That’s…well yeah, schools are like this. Not exactly like this though. This is more like a college although I can’t say for sure. I’ve never been to college after all.”
“You haven’t been to college?”
“Yeah, I mean, I haven’t even graduated high school yet.”
She leaned back in her seat too. “Huh, I always thought you were older.”
“No, just sixteen. I mean, do I look twenty to you?”
She looked at me for a while, her eyes traveling up and down before replying. “Yeah, you look old.”
“Even if I looked twenty, I wouldn’t look old,” I said, frowning.
“Twenty is old to me. Almost don’t need to steal booze anymore.” She shrugged.
I frowned. “You stole alcoholic beverages?”
“You see, this is why you’ll never be popular. ‘Alcoholic beverages’…really? Damn it, this is just sad,” she said. “Don’t tell me you’ve never had booze before?”
“Of course I have.”
“Then why is it so weird for me to steal them?”
“It isn’t, I guess, considering who you are.” I sighed.
“And who am I?” she said, turning to face me.
What’s gotten into her? She seems awfully on edge today. Did something happen?
“A better question would be: what are you?” I said.
“All right, what am I?”
An angel being led around by the devil. A pawn to be moved at my whim. A piece…
“Stop zoning out and answer the question!”
“Oh right, you wanna know what you are?”
“Yes, what do you think I am?”
She narrowed her eyes and shook her head. Then she got up and left the hall. Surprisingly, instead of stopping her from leaving, everyone turned to face me. Even the professor was given me a reproachful look.
Did I do something wrong?
I met up with Kai and Zoe for lunch and managed to catch sight of Amy for a split second before she ducked into the girl’s bathroom to avoid a couple of boys who’d been following her down the hallway. She’d apparently become incredibly popular after attending music class. Something about “the voice of a Goddess.”
However, I couldn’t find Lily after that first class. My second class for the day was “Elementary Management Theory 394” and I was certain that she’d copied my course list and would be there too.
I settled in the back row of the hall and leaned back in my chair. I closed my eyes and began thinking up an apology. Calling her an idiot might have been a bit too harsh after all.
I heard someone sit next to me.
“Hey, I’m sorry for thinking you’re an idiot. But you know, being an idiot isn’t so bad. We’re both sitting at the back aren’t we? I’m just as much of an idiot as you,” I said.
Needless to say, I wasn’t very good at apologies.
“Calling someone an idiot for sitting next to you? Pretty sure that’s a new level of idiocy right there.”
That wasn’t Lily’s voice. I opened my eyes to see a black haired girl sitting next to me.
“Oh sorry, I thought you were-”
She smirked. “Aw, and I thought I’d found a fellow idiot.”
“Oh?” I started, sitting upright.
Weird, why did I react like that. It wasn’t even that surprising.
“Sitting at the back makes you an idiot, remember?” she said, smiling. “And I’ve been sitting at the back of all my classes for years now.”
“What a coincidence,” I said. “So have I.”
“Really? But I’ve never seen you before. Heard you just enrolled.”
The professor cleared her throat.
“Yeah, I went to a smaller school before,” I said.
“Oh, one of those local academies? Which one?” she asked.
Somehow, I got the feeling that she knew the name of every local academy in the kingdom.
“Well it wasn’t really an academy, just some retired professor teaching the kids in our village,” I said.
“A retired professor? That’s interesting. Most of them stay at the Academy after retirement. What was their name?” she said.
The professor was glaring at us now. She might have come up to strangle us if she wasn’t afraid of messing up her boring lecture.
“Sorry, I don’t know his name. We just always called him old man,” I said with a halfhearted chuckle.
She raised an eyebrow.
“Speaking of names,” I said quickly, hoping to change the topic. “Mine’s Rurin. What’s yours?”
“Saariel,” she said. “But no one calls me that. I go by Saar, mostly.”
“Saar huh? Well, nice to meet you Saar. Now if you excuse me, I better focus on this lecture or the professor might fail me for revenge,” I said, smiling at the scowling professor below.
The smile caught her by surprise since we’d mostly been ignoring her for most of the lecture.
“What’s the point of sitting all the way back here if you want to listen to some batty old lady prattle about management ethics?” she said. “Besides, don’t pretend like you don’t already know everything she’s saying.”
What? How does she know-
“How do I know what you’re thinking?” she said, cutting off my thoughts. “It’s because I can read you like an open book.”
What the hell? Is it an Ability?
I Appraised her status.
Name: Saariel Jadus…level 23…Title: Rebellious Prodigy…Ability: Visionary
I focused on her Ability.
Ability: Visionary…facilitates user in thinking and planning for the future with wisdom and imagination.
“Impressed by my Ability?” she said, smirking.
“That’s not how I know what you’re thinking though.”
She stared at me. “It’s written all over your face. You’re not very good at hiding it. All of your emotions, all your feelings. I can read it all like a book.” She smiled. “It’s a nice book though.”
I was shocked; not by her perceptiveness but by my own inability to mask my emotions like before. Although I had been more outgoing and expressive with Lily and the others, I had convinced myself that it was all an act. That by taking off my mask of apathy, I could wear a mask of emotions and hide my true self with that.
In a way, I’d thought that my normal face was just as fake as my poker face. Even if I smiled and laughed, my real thought would still be hidden behind a veil of superficial emotions.
But this girl had just seen through my veil. I couldn’t help but think, could she have seen through my poker face? Could she have read the Runir who had just been summoned from Earth as easily as she had read me today?
“I’m glad you liked it,” I thought, recovering myself.
I felt exposed. Like someone had seen me naked, which, in a way, was an apt description of what was happening right now. She was seeing my naked emotions, reading my thoughts. It terrified me. My head was the one place I felt at peace. It was my place. Mine.
The real reason the statues and the song had made me feel uncomfortable was because they knew. They knew what was going on in my head. They knew what I was planning. They had invaded my thoughts and that invasion of my mind, my sanctuary, was what really put me on edge.
And it was happening again. I couldn’t let her learn more about me. Hide it. Hide everything.
“I did like it, but I don’t like the face you’re making right now,” she said, her smile dying down.
I was wearing my poker face. My foolproof poker face. Nobody could see through this. No matter what, my thoughts were safe now. I finally calmed down.
“Your face…is pretty pathetic right now.”
The class was dismissed and she walked away.
I sat fixed in my seat for a long while. That comment had stung a lot worse than I thought it would.
I left the hall in a daze. I stumbled in the hallway and bumped into a lot of people. Most of them ignored me, a few gave me angry looks and one of them even shoved me into a wall.
But I didn’t care. I was too busy thinking about my ‘pathetic’ poker face.
I slammed into something while thinking.
“Hey, watch it dumb ass!”
“Huh?” I said, blinking my eyes. “Oh, it’s you.”
Lily was sitting on the floor, rubbing her head. Since I was at a much higher level than her, the collision had hurt her a lot more than it hurt me.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” she asked, getting up. “Actually, you know what, I don’t wanna know. You probably deserve it- hey, what’s with that face?”
The face again. Is she going to call it pathetic too?
“Why do you look so sad?”
“I thought we’d fixed that up already. You always had this miserable look on your face back when we first met. I thought you’d gotten rid of it.” She frowned. “That and that god awful laugh.”
“I-yeah, the laugh. I decided it was a bit much,” I said.
“Good decision,” she said. “Anyways, we better go to the next class.”
“We have the same class again?” I asked.
“Yeah, I copied most of your courses. Except for that management one. Sounded boring as fuck,” she said.
“Well that’s a relief,” I said, under my breath.
“Did you say something?” she said, walking down the hallway.
“Nothing, go ahead and leach off of me again,” I said, following her. “And Lily.”
“Yeah?” she said, tilting her head towards me.
“Maybe you’re not an idiot after all,” I smirked.
She nodded her head and smiled. “Good, maybe you’re not such a jerk after all.” She turned away.
“Now we just have to work on that creepy smile.”