The Beginning After The End - Chapter 278
Chapter 278: The Day of Bestowment
A soft knock on the front door snapped my eyes open. Spending the entire night refining my aether core had increased not only the amount of aether I could store but the speed at which the aether travelled through my newly-forged passages as well. The improvement was miniscule compared to my time in the Relictombs, but any amount of progress felt better than sitting by idly.
“Ascender Grey,” a soft voice called out through the door.
After getting up and having Regis withdraw back into my body, I opened the wooden entrance to see a girl that looked like Loreni, except a few years younger and with longer hair, waiting timidly.
For a moment she simply stared at me as I waited for her to speak, her mouth slightly ajar.
“Yes?” I finally asked.
“Ah!” She shook her head. “My apologies, Ascender Grey. My name is Mayla and I’ve been instructed by my sist—Loreni to assist esteemed ascender during your stay in Maerin.”
So they are sisters, I mused before replying. “You came at a good time, Mayla. I was actually wondering when the bestowment would be happening today.”
“It’s not until later this afternoon so Ascender Grey has some time to rest and get ready if you wish to attend,” she answered, keeping her gaze downcast.
“It’s actually getting a little stuffy in here so I’d like to take a stroll. Would you mind accompanying me?”
“Of course!” Mayla exclaimed.
“Ah, before that, though. I have a cart filled with mana beast corpses. Can you get a few men to bring it down to whichever shop I could sell them to?”
“Right away!” Mayla gave me a quick bow before scurrying back to town.
After she was gone, I used one of the empty horse-pulled wagons in the back of the house and began taking the beast corpses out of my extradimensional rune.
‘Is all this necessary?’ Regis asked.
“The story we’re going with is that I lost my dimension ring, remember?”
By the time Mayla came back with three burly townsmen, I had finished piling the corpses on the surprisingly sturdy wagon.
“Th-This…” A bearded man sporting a tank top to show off his muscles paled at the sight of the mana beasts while his two companions stepped back in shock.
I frowned. “Is there a problem?”
“N-N-None at all, esteemed ascender,” the bearded man said, carefully poking the leg of the bear-like mana beast. “It’s just that…these beasts are considered dangerous to even a team of mid-tier mages.”
With no reference to how powerful a mid-tier mage actually was, I just shrugged. “Please take these to town and give the money to either Mayla or Loreni.”
“Yes!” The three bowed once more before the bearded man began lugging the cart while his two companions pushed from the back.
Mayla and I took our time walking down the small hill leading back down to the downtown plaza of Maerin when I noticed her looking at the rune on my right forearm.
“Is something the matter?” I asked, suddenly very conscious that having a rune on your arm might be abnormal.
“My apologies for staring, Ascender Grey,” she said, peeling her eyes away. “I’ve heard many nobles and even highbloods have rune glyphs tattooed on their bodies but it’s my first time seeing one in person.”
“O-Oh,” I muttered. “Is it not popular in these parts?”
“Permanent ink capable of withstanding the properties of mana flowing through the skin is very rare and expensive to come by, and laws are very strict around these inks because it can be used to forge fake marks—which is why tattooing near the back is strictly forbidden—so rather than it being popular…” Mayla let out a chuckle as she rubbed her arm nervously. “My apologies, Ascender Grey. I’m sure you already know this.”
“It seems like you and the rest of the townspeople resort to apologizing very often,” I commented with a smile. “It’s fine. You seem very knowledgeable about this. Are you a mage yourself?”
“Oh not at all! Although…today is also the day of my bestowment,” she admitted, flushing with embarrassment.
“Congratulations in advance,” I remarked as we neared the gate to town. “Any particular element or class you’d like to be in?”
“Even though I know I’m a bit on the older side and my chances are low, I would very much like to be an instiller. I know that casters and strikers are the most sought after in academies and powerful bloods, but I’m no good at fighting,” Mayla admitted.
I pondered for a moment at her words. I had heard of the three classes of battle mages as well as the supporting ‘sentry’ class. In Aya’s brief, there was a detailed account of the powerful sentry who had managed to use her magic to create a path in the magical Elshire Forest for the Alacryan army to invade Elenoir.
Her name was…something Milview if I recall correctly. I also knew that she was just one of the many mages capable of using elemental magic to scout and scry long distances, however, I had never heard of instillers.
“What do you want to do as an instiller?” I asked, hoping to gain more information about this class.
“I want to create necessary artifacts to help the impoverished people all over Alacrya,” Mayla effused, eyes suddenly vibrant. “For example, I know that there are artifacts capable of purifying water but they’re currently too expensive to make on a large scale. However, I’ve done some research and realized that not all the components for the artifact are necessary and a lot of them can be replaced with cheaper materials so—”
Mayla let out a gasp and bowed at me. “I didn’t mean to lecture you, esteemed ascender.”
“I was the one who asked the question, Mayla,” I remarked. “It’d be silly for me to get angry because you answered me. Especially when you’re so excited.”
Mayla reminded me of Emily back in Dicathen. Her excitement and passion for artificing was second to none. The thought of my curly-haired friend made my chest squeeze.
“A-Anyway, did Ascender Grey have anywhere in mind to go first?”
“Since the mana beast corpses will be taken care of, do you mind if we stop by the schools?”
“Certainly! It would be an honor if esteemed ascender visited! I know the students at our striker school would love to get some pointers—of course that’s only if esteemed ascender wishes to,” Mayla said.
The irony of training the future soldiers that would ultimately attack Dicathen caused a laugh to burst out of my mouth. I covered my mouth with my hand, trying to stifle my laughter.
Mayla regarded me with utter confusion. “D-Did I say something odd?”
“No, it’s…nothing,” I said, composing myself. “Anyway, let’s take a look through the academies.”
The visit to the caster school was brief. They were having practice outside today so I could see over the fence surrounding the training grounds each of the caster students participating in target practice shooting bolts of pure mana. From the power of their spell, to the amount they could fire as well as the accuracy, each of the kids showed varying levels of competency.
‘How cute,’ Regis remarked.
“It doesn’t seem like these students are using their marks,” I noted.
“The students here are still adjusting to their marks so they’re not yet allowed to utilize their elemental magic yet. Once they’ve been deemed a base tier mage, they’ll be allowed to practice the elemental spell their marks carry,” Mayla explained as we watched from the other side of the metal fence.
She turned her head left and right as if looking for something before letting out a gasp. “Ah! I forgot that the primary students are practicing in the arena today in preparation for the upcoming exhibition. My apologies, esteemed ascender. Both the instructors and students are much more excited this year because of the recruiter coming from Stormcove Academy.”
“Is Stormcove Academy that much of a prestigious place?” I asked, genuinely curious.
Mayla thought for a moment before answering. “Well, it is an official academy so students accepted will have housing and basic needs provided for them within the campus to be fully immersed in training. Stormcove is also one of the higher ranked academies in not only Aramoor City but the entire Grevorind Region. That being said, this is still all relative.”
The two of us began making our way to the shield school as Mayla continued to explain.
“Compared to the elite academies in the rest of the Etril Dominion and even the other four dominions, which have even more prestigious academies, I guess Stormcove isn’t much. It’s why esteemed ascender has most likely never heard of Stormcove Academy.” Mayla rubbed her neck as she blushed slightly. “I can only imagine how pitiful our schools look compared to prestigious highblood academies in the central domain.”
I remained silent while taking in all of this information. It seemed like the entire economy in Alacrya glorified self-improvement in strength and was even centered around it. Was this all funded by Agrona? I couldn’t imagine a viable way for a proper economy to form around just training and getting stronger aside from hunting mana beasts and going down the Relictombs.
“D-Did I talk too much again, esteemed ascender? My sister, I mean, Loreni, often berates me for this.”
“No! I like it,” I answered quickly. Mayla was a goldmine for information and the best part was that I didn’t have to ask questions that might normally be common sense. I stopped mid-step, alarming the little girl. “Mayla, do you know what dungeons are?”
“Dungeons? Of course—my mother would tell me the story all the time as a child,” she answered. “It really is amazing how the great Vritras led by the mighty Agrona vanquished all of those dangerous dungeons in order to keep us safe.”
It was both hard and easy to imagine Agrona and the rest of his clan wiping out all of the dungeons in order to build an economy around exploring the Relictombs.
“What do you know about the other continent then?” I asked, studying her expression.
“Dicathen?” Mayla tilted her head. “I’ve heard stories from passing merchants about how savage and undeveloped they are. It’s scary to think of an entire continent where mages run amok and dungeons still exist. Thankfully, Sovereign Agrona has decided to liberate them.”
“Liberate?” I echoed, pushing down the fiery rage rising up from my core. “I see.”
The shield academy was a bit more entertaining, but we didn’t stay long either. Mayla guessed that the primary class of the shields were also in the arena since the shields and casters often trained together. It made sense seeing as the shield’s practice was to either take damage for their teammates if they were a melee shield or create defenses from afar if they were a ranged shield.
After watching the secondary class focus on doing movement drills while maintaining a stable shroud of protective mana over their bodies.
Finally we arrived at the striker school, where both the primary and secondary students were present and currently about to spar.
“Remember, release and focus your mana from your core to the rune glyphs that make up your mark! Pay attention to the warmth that spreads from your mark and let that feeling guide you. Don’t try to control it!” advised a scowling woman garbed in a layered robe of muted colors.
Despite her salt-and-pepper hair and the wrinkles lining her face exposing her age, she carried herself with poise as she strode around the two students wearing padded leather practice-gear while the rest of the class sat against the walls.
From what I could tell in the gaps of the protective headgear that they wore, the two students looked around the same age as Mayla. Each one of them fought barehand and even without being able to sense mana, a faint shroud of white clung to their bodies.
“Begin!” the woman barked.
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The two students that were facing each other in a neutral stance, a girl and a boy, triggered their spells with surprising swiftness.
The girl’s spell materialized first—a short blade of fire surrounding her open palms. She dashed toward the boy who was barely able to conjure his bracers of fire in time to block her first strike.
Their two flames intertwined from the impact as the boy was forced to retreat a few steps. Cheers from some of the children on the sidelines rang in support for the girl as some of the boy’s friends cracked jokes.
With gritted teeth, the boy rushed forth and the two began to spar. Despite their young age, each showed a shocking amount of agility and strength while their techniques seemed almost ingrained into their movements.
“The instructor is good,” I muttered, vaguely remembering Chumo and Sembi’s praise toward this woman as Mayla and I watched from the hallway.
Mayla and I continued to watch from the hallway while the spar soon came to an end. The instructor intervened just as the girl was about to launch a critical strike on the boy’s open side. The aged instructor called out the results and was just about to start on the next pair of children when she saw me.
Mayla bowed at the instructor as she regarded me for a second with her sharp eyes.
“Instructor Resbin, this is Ascender Grey,” she said without lifting her head.
Her eyes widened for a moment but otherwise kept calm as she dipped her head in a formal gesture. “My apologies for not welcoming you sooner, Ascender Grey. You hid your mana so well that I didn’t know such a powerful individual had been so close.”
I raised a hand in a placating gesture. “It’s fine. I had no intention of interrupting your class.”
By this time, the children that had been spread out against the walls were all standing and taking peeks at me. Gasps and mutters soon filled the room until Instructor Resbin silenced them, but that didn’t stop their sparkling stares from boring into me.
“Instructor Resbin was actually once an instructor from Stormcove Academy,” Mayla said proudly before turning to the aged instructor. “Ascender Grey just told me how good you were!”
“Thank you, Ascender Grey,” she replied but her eyes continued to assess me.
“I simply noted what I saw,” I said with a polite nod. “Please continue.”
I turned to leave, not particularly having a reason to stay here any longer, when Instructor Resbin called out.
“Forgive my insolence, Ascender Grey, but as you know, the annual exhibition is in just two days. My students and I would be most honored if an esteemed ascender showed us some pointers.”
Looking back over my shoulders I stared at the woman.
“You say pointers, but your eyes say you want blood. I have no interest in engaging in a meaningless fight just to have you gauge your own strength.” I gave her a smile. “Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
I walked out of the striker school with Mayla following beside me with an uncomfortable expression.
‘You’re no fun.’ Regis remarked. ‘I was hoping for a show,’
I know you’re bored. Just hold on for a few more days.
By the time we reached the town proper, the center of the plaza had been redecorated for the bestowment ceremony as a line of twenty or so kids had already formed. Near the end of the line was a kid I actually recognized.
‘Hey, isn’t that the boy that tried to stab you last night?’ Regis asked.
It was Belmun. I could make out more of his features in the daylight, but it only seemed to highlight how malnourished he was underneath a clean button-up shirt that was obviously too big for him.
Thoughts of whether he and his family managed to eat last night and if they were able to sell the leather cropped up in my mind.
“Didn’t you say that the ceremony starts later?” I asked, pushing away these thoughts and berating myself for worrying about the kid.
“Yes, but oftentimes lines always form beforehand,” she said, her eyes watching nervously as the line grew longer.
“Then shouldn’t you be going too?”
Mayla turned to me. “Oh no! It’s okay, esteemed ascender. It’s my responsibility to assist you so I’ll just get in line once the ceremony actually begins.”
I let out a sigh. “Just go. I’ll be fine.”
There was a trace of reluctance in her expression but her impatience won over. After thanking me, she bolted to the end of the line.
‘She’s a good kid,’ Regis voiced. ‘Too bad she and all the rest of the people in this continent have been brainwashed by Agrona.’
Not sure if brainwashed is the right word but, yeah.
The ceremony progressed once a man dressed in complete black walked up toward the elevated platform with two hooded figures in gray behind him. The most notable part of his wardrobe was an obsidian staff that he carried. A small gem was embedded at the top that glimmered in the colors of not only the elemental attributes but also had a faint trace of aether.
Regis noticed it too and I could feel his hunger for it.
“Esteemed ascender,” a voice called out faintly from behind.
I turned to see Loreni dressed in her work attire, a layer of sweat above her brows. “Please forgive me. I completely forgot that Mayla had her bestowment again today.”
My brows furrowed “Again? Has Mayla been bestowed before?”
“Ah. She’s been trying to get her first mark for the past three years now since children are required to be tested since the age of six,” she explained, her expression tinged in concern. “If a mark doesn’t form during today’s bestowment, I’m afraid she’ll most likely be deemed an unadorned like me.”
“How bad is that…” I began before hurriedly adding, “around here?”
“Being a non-mage is always looked down upon but Mayla is well acquainted with everyone in Maerin, so she should be fine,” she said with a slight smile. “I was devastated too when I was deemed an unadorned but thankfully, everyone was still very nice to me—oh, it’s about to begin!”
I watched along with the rest of the town as the first child scurried up the stairs and knelt before the officiant holding the obsidian staff. After muttering a lengthy incantation in a language I didn’t recognize, the officiant walked around the kneeling boy and placed the tip of his staff just above his tailbone.
Blood dripped from the boy’s back as the gem began glowing until finally the officiant withdrew his weapon and instructed the boy to turn around and lift up his shirt.
“Fiorin of Town Maerin has been adorned with the mark of a caster! May he bring pride to his blood and vanquish all who stand in the way of our mighty sovereigns!”
Cheers rang and I could see the boy beaming in pride even while tears of pain lined his cheeks. After he stepped down and ran into the embrace of his family, the next child came up.
The bestowment day went on, with every spectrum of emotions being displayed by the child as well as his family, from utter joy and pride to despair and even anger.
While the event was interesting and even insightful toward the cultures of Alacrya, I grew bored…until Belmun stepped up onto the podium. Anticipation rose as I watched him walk up the stairs to the expressionless officiant.
I could hear some mutters of disapproval and even some of disgust as Belmun knelt silently in front of the officiant. However, everyone’s expressions changed as the officiant’s staff grew brighter than normal. Even the poker-faced officiant’s eyes glimmered in interest until the gem dimmed and Belmun fell to the ground.
With the crowd deathly silent, the officiant hurriedly lifted Belmun’s shirt and let out a sharp breath before helping the boy up to his feet.
“Belmun of Town Maerin has been adorned with the crest of a striker!” he exclaimed as Belmun looked at the man in utter shock.
“A crest?” Loreni sputtered.
The entire plaza seemed to have let out a gasp in unison before mutters began growing in volume. However, two adults struck out to me as they began crying while hugging each other. Belmun practically leaped off the stage and bound toward what looked like his parents and fell into their embrace.
“Belmun of Town Maerin will be further assessed before being placed in an appropriate academy!” the officiant declared as he regained his composure.
I watched as the officiant’s hooded assistants escorted Belmun and his family away.
“Is Belmun someone esteemed ascender knows?” Loreni asked, snapping me out of my daze.
“Huh?” I turned to Loreni. “Why do you ask that?”
“Esteemed ascender was smiling for a moment so I just thought…” Loreni shook her head. “Forgive me for assuming.”
The bestowment resumed like normal—with either the kids getting a mark or not getting one—until Mayla stepped up onto the platform.
Loreni clasped her hands as she looked at her sister kneeling onstage.
I didn’t know what would happen since Mayla was one of the oldest kids there, but what I didn’t expect was for the officiant’s staff to grow even brighter than it did for Belmun.
“Th-This…” the officiant muttered, completely bewildered this time. “Mayla of Town Maerin has been adorned with the… emblem of a sentry!”
I heard Regis let out a whistle as the plaza broke out into cheers. The crowd and even the officiant was ecstatic as the black-robed man even went as far as to pat her on the back. However, both Mayla and Loreni wore a solemn expression at the turn of the event.
“Are you not happy at your sister earning an emblem?” I asked, curious.
“Oh n-no, of course I’m happy, esteemed ascender! I’m very proud of her,” she said as her gaze fell. “Please excuse me, esteemed ascender. I will go congratulate my sister.”
I watched as she walked toward the stage, using her sleeve to wipe her face.
“A crest and even an emblem,” a voice muttered behind me. “It looks like our town will get a lot of extra resources this year. It’s a shame for Loreni though. I heard that talented sentries are trained rigorously and sent down the most to the Relictombs.”
“Shhh, don’t say that out loud, you idiot. Mayla should be proud that she will be able to better serve our sovereigns in finding the relics!” another voice said.
So that’s what it was, I thought while staring at Mayla and Loreni. The two embraced in tears that I might’ve mistook for joy had I not known.
Ignoring the ache in my chest, I made my way out of the town plaza and back to the house.