The group traveled back to Deven after their business was done. When they arrived, it’s already nightfall. The village was silent except the creaking crickets.
“Are you sure about this, my son?” Ezar asked. He stood in front of the village’s entrance along with Bokar, preparing the carriage and horses. It’s been two days since the visit to neighboring town for aptitude examination.
“Yes. I must go to the capital to learn magic,” replied Kane. The old woman back when examined his aptitude told him all the magic academies in the kingdom. Apparently, the nearest one was in the capital, which ten days to arrive from Deven.
When he mastered magic, Kane had planned to pursue Xervatia and take the sword back. He’s unsure what’s driving him. He could’ve settle down in the village, smiting in the workshop, enjoying the fortune. But then, Kane was reminded that he’s also responsible for that and thus he must stop her as soon as possible.
Ezar gulped. His face clouded with concern. “To go and live there alone is just…”
Bokar tapped Ezar’s shoulder and said, “Don’t be worried too much. Your son can take care himself despite still that small.” Kane’s eyebrow twitched when he heard word ‘small’.
Ezar heaved a long sigh. He crouched down, looking at his son’s eyes, and said, “Fine. If there’s any problem, just deliver me a message and you can come back here anytime.” He then hugged his son.
“Alright. Thanks, dad.” Kane hugged back. He then approached Bokar and whispered, “After I send you a message, you must let me know any information concerning Xervatia.”
“Gotcha,” Bokar whispered back.
Later, Gako, Xiirag, and other children of around below his age also came to say goodbye. He was showered with gifts and hugs.
The carriage left the village and slowly disappeared from the horizon.
“Why did you hide his mother identity from Kane?” Bokar suddenly shot a question.
Ezar’s expression turned solemn. “Hm, I suppose you deserve to know after I hid it for these 13 years. It’s because I don’t want him to search for her while he’s still weak.”
“What? Is your lover imprisoned in some foreign land or something like that?”
“How did you know?” Ezar asked back.
“Your knowledge of her location and the danger in order to find her. Also, based on your words, she’s still alive,” Bokar explained.
Ezar finally looked at Bokar with amazement and said, “As expected from you. Yeah, sort of and it’s all because of me.”
“And what did you do exactly?”
“I…” Ezar clicked his tongue, then finally whispered the answer. After a few minutes, he finished explaining and then Bokar shouted,
“Are you crazy!?”
“No, I was just… lured by lust and I love her.” Ezar’s tone turned melancholic. He gazed toward the horizon.
“You’re in deep trouble, my friend. No, this village and even the whole kingdom are also in danger. I’m surprised they haven’t come yet.”
“I know. Some of them had found me two years ago and I managed to fend them off. However, I had a feeling they will come in great numbers. Will you also join me?” He offered his hand.
Bokar grabbed, clenching it, “Of course, I won’t abandon my former brother-in-arms.”
“Well, thank you. Also, kept this a secret from everyone you know, especially Kane...”
After a long journey, Kane had arrived. He stood in front of a large entrance between the stone wall. There were three entrances to the city: the wide passage with a steel gate for ground vehicles, such as carriages, horses, etc; the small access for citizens of Rabrond on the left side; and the passage for outsiders on the right. Each of the gates had a pair of armored men guarding them. They’re the soldier who’ve been tasked to do an inspection to all the city visitors.
To gain an entrée, Kane had to join a line of people who also wanted to visit the city. It took 10 minutes for his turn.
“State your business,” the soldier said without batting an eye. He focused on writing on the paper that he was holding.
“I want to visit the market,” Kane replied. If he told the guard his true intention, he would have to reveal his talent. A mixed race of a human and an oni who had mage talent would definitely cause a commotion.
The soldier twitched his brows. He realized that Kane was just a kid after hearing his voice. He then asked, still not looking at him, “Where are your parents?”
“In my hometown, Deven.”
“Deven? Why an oni would visit...” The guard finally looked at Kane. He continued, “Did you come here alone?”
Kane furrowed and folded his arms. “Is that important? I thought anyone can enter as long as they’ve paid the fee. I’ve been visiting this city every year and I was never asked this much before,” he complained. It’s obviously a lie but it was necessary to get through the guard without spilling his secrets.
“A-alright, the fee is 7 gold,”the guard stuttered.
Kane gave the required amount of money to the guard. Not asking any more questions, he let him enter the city. Kane passed through a short tunnel before reaching the city. He stepped his feet on the cobblestone road. Buildings with store signs were present. He could see a hill from far away with the castle on the top of it.
The streets were crowded with a sea of people bustling on the sideways. Carriages and horses passed through along the streets. The lantern posts were erected alongside the walking path. All the buildings were made from bricks and mortar with ceramic roofs unlike Deven’s. Its city design pleased Kane’s eyes.
Kane saw a fountain after he strolled a bit. The water was flowing from a disk-shaped water holder. A big statue of a man wearing impressive full-plate armor was standing on top of it. Some people were sitting on the edge to relish the fountain or praying after they tossed a coin. He too sat near the fountain and enjoyed the sprinkles of the water. Cold and fresh droplets touched Kane’s face, clearing his mind.
A large wooden board near the fountain caught Kane’s attention. He looked at the board which said ‘Notice Board’. It was full of papers detailing certain events. The events either were already past the dates or uninteresting for Kane so he ignored them. Except for a tournament that will commence in a month later. Finished reading, he began to search for magic academies.
“So, this is the one she highly recommended…”
Kane stared at the elegant building, surrounded by tall steel fences and hedges. There’s a big sign on the 5th floors, the highest level which said ‘Niflenia Academy’. Ivory paint dyed the whole structure. A marble fountain erected on the middle of entrance yard, much grander than the one in the town square although it had no statue. As Kane walked on the brick pathway, he saw different shapes of sculptures made of trimmed bushes both on the left and right.
He entered the presumably main building through the towering double doors. A spacious hall entered Kane’s vision. A white jade chandelier was hanging from the high ceiling. The marble floors covered the entire surface. The tall windows were adequate to brighten up the room.
Many parents accompanied their child in the room. They mostly dressed in an expensive outfit and wearing flashy jewelry. Some also wore a mage robe. They were sitting on the long fur couches, waiting to be called by the receptionist in the middle of the room.
Kane took a small piece of paper which had a number from an aged man with a receding hairline. Judging from his uniform, he’s one of the staff for the academy. He had a slightly confused expression when he saw Kane.
He sat on one of the empty couches. Although there were many people sitting, only half of the couches were occupied. Everyone was eyeing or even secretly mocked him because of his peculiar presence. What is a half-oni bumpkin doing in this academy? As always, Kane paid no heed to them.
Thirty minutes later, Kane’s number was called by the receptionist. She had rather short black hair just right above her small shoulders. Her uniform was similar to the man before.
The woman flinched yet she still kept her business smile and greeted, “Welcome to Niflenia Academy. How may I help you?”
“I want to become a student in this school,” Kane replied, looking upward at the tall woman.
She forced a smile. “I’m afraid you must at least have Level 3 Mage talent to register.”
“No problem. Here’s the certificate.” He took out a brown envelope from the bag, opened it, and gave to the receptionist.
“This…,” she said while inspecting it. Her hands trembled. She peered the paper several times, stroke the ornaments with her finger, yet she found no problem. “I-Is this real!?” she actually screamed, gaining attention from other people.
“Is there something wrong?” asked Kane, tilting his head.
The receptionist covered her mouth. Creasing her eyebrows, she then said, “I’m afraid I must ask my superior of this matter.”
Kane furrowed. “Don’t go. Just tell me how to enter this academy.” He doesn’t want to waste his time too much. He had thought of scholarship but then again, he couldn’t use magic so the chance of rejection is high. Moreover, his talent could be exposed in that way.
She adjusted her posture and cleared her throat, “I-I understand. I apologize for the earlier inconvenience. There are three kinds of registration. First is the premium way, which will guarantee you to become our student. You only have to pay 100k gold upfront.”
“Pass, what’s the next one.” Kane rejected it immediately for obvious reason. Even though he had quite a sum of gold, it wasn’t enough to pay all of that.
“Second is the traditional way, you’re going to partake a series of standard examinations from the official guild mage. It will cost 25k gold.”
“Hmm, what about the last one,” Kane twitched upon hearing the cost. Becoming an official mage is surely expensive.
The receptionist smiled and said, “Third is the most affordable way. It merely costs 500 gold to register. Just sign this paper and enter our special tests!”
Kane was silent, pondering what the receptionist said. He assumed that the last way is suspicious. Then again, the cost was negligible so it probably wouldn’t hurt to try. He would have considered the second way if he’s able to cast a spell.
“I’ll take the third option,” said Kane.
“Very well. Please, sign this along with your name.” She brought out a paper and a pen on the table.
As soon as Kane read the text, he already knew that the paper was essentially a contract. Especially one of the lines that caught his eyes which reads:
“We will not be held accountable for the mishaps that you may encounter during the tests.”
The paper contained no description of the special tests. Perhaps he will fight in a mock battle with the participants? If that’s true, Kane couldn’t wait to enter the tests. He signed the paper and gave 500 gold to the receptionist.
“Thank you very much. Please come again tomorrow at 7 a.m to be briefed and do not be late. Here is your identity card to enter the tests. Make sure you don’t lose it!” she warned. The card had Kane’s name and a three-digit number: 333.
“Tomorrow, eh? So this is the last day for registration.” Kane sighed in relief.
Kane left the building. He decided to check other magic academies around the city. They’re worse than Niflenia in terms of quality, although, it wouldn’t hurt to find some alternative in case he had failed or cheaper entrance fee. Thanks to that old woman who tested Kane, he obtained the information regarding the academies name and their location.
“She doesn't make a fuss about this matter as I thought at the beginning,” Kane muttered as he walked. “In my previous life, I’ve encountered lots of oni being outcasted and even enslaved yet I see no such thing in this country. I wonder why?”
The blue sky had turned dark orange; the street lanterns were already lit. Kane had visited all seven available academies in the city. They either all only have similar standard entrance or rejected Kane immediately before even he had a chance to speak.
“So Niflenia is the only choice I have. Hm, I have no idea what the special tests are going to be but… I probably should try to learn a spell before entering the tests. It’s a magic academy after all so physical contact may be prohibited. Though, I’ll bring my weapon anyway just in case,” Kane told to himself. He decided to find a magic specialty shop.
There were a few of them in the commercial district. Many of them sell spell books based on the sign. He entered the smallest one, hoping for a fair price tag.
“Welcome to Evelyn’s Apothecary!” A little girl greeted as Kane entered. She had twin little ponytails and smaller than her visitor.
“A child?” Kane expressed his surprise out loud. He estimated that she’s around his age.
“Hmph, you’re still a child too!” the girl chafed.
“Are you Evelyn?” asked Kane.
“No, that’s my ma’s name. I watch the shop while she’s not home. Are you looking for her?” she replied.
“Just wondering.” He shrugged.
“Anywayyy, you’re strange. Different than the other kids who usually came here.” She put her fore fingertips on her lower lip.
“Oh really, can you tell me?” asked Kane. Although he could guess the answer, he chose to play along with her.
The girl leaned forward. “Well, you look… very mature. Your expression, I mean. You’re also kinda cute, hee hee.” She grinned shyly.
“Ehm, thanks, I guess,” said Kane as he rubbed his nose. He did expect a comment about his appearance but certainly not that one.
“Oh my, I’m sorry. I got carried away and I forgot to serve you! What do you need again?”
“Can I see all the spell books you have?”
The little girl crouched and brought a thick book. “Here’s our catalog for the basic spells, ranging from unranked to rank 1. We don’t have anything beyond that.”
Kane opened the book and read it. A lot of kinds of the spell were listed with a brief description. He wasn’t even sure which element he should pick, let alone the spell type.
“Which offensive spell that is easiest to learn?” he asked while still flipping the pages.
She creased her lips, thinking. “Hmmm, I think… [Lesser Firebomb] is easy. I personally learned it.”
“Alright, I’ll pick that one,” said Kane. He liked the name of the spell.
“I see! That’ll be 7000 gold.” She flashed her white teeth, crinkling the corner of her eyes.
“That’s a bit expensive,” he lamented. He wondered why the spells are highly priced even more than martial art manuals.
“Our pricing is already below the usual and you’re still haggling!?” The little girl pouted.
“I didn’t know that…” Kane scratched his neck.
“Buuut, I guess I can give you a little discount. Especially for you, this time only. How about 6500 gold?”
“Deal.” Kane nodded. He gave her the gold in exchange for the spell book. It only had about 20 pages and wrapped by a thin ribbon. He put the book in his backpack.
“Thanks for the purchase! Anything else?” She slightly leaned forward and put her hands on her back.
“No, for the moment.”
The little girl then twirled her hair and asked, “Say, what’s your name, customer? I’m Jacqueline or Jackie for shorter.”
“You can call me Kane. Well then, goodbye, Jackie,” he said.
Jackie waved and said, “What a strange way to pronounce your name. Please come again, Kane!”
Leaving the shop, he’s on the way to find a place to sleep. Whether it’s a bunkhouse, an inn or camping outside, it didn’t matter for him.
Kane’s first meeting with Jackie still lingered in his mind. “That girl… Her persuasion is quite impressive for her age. If I was an ordinary kid, I would’ve been charmed by her and maybe buying something more. I should try that approach too when I ran my own shop someday,” he said, analyzing her technique.
About an hour later, Kane found an inn and stayed for a night.