Chapter 34.4

“Now, back to the subject of the gods…” Teacher Zenith’s voice echoed in the small clearing as she wrote in the soft, muddy ground. Lily groaned in protest. ‘Honestly, the gods are dead, teacher! No one even remembers their names! Why can’t I learn something practical instead, like spell casting!’ Lily sighed as her teacher started talking more excitedly, eager to pass on what she knew.

Looking up from the ground, Lily looked at her teacher. A thin layer of dirt covered her slightly tanned face but it did not reduce the sparkle in her eyes. No, rather it made it more pronounced. Her green floral dress was slightly shorter than usual; probably so that it would not get as dirty if she knelt, Lily realized belatedly. That should have clued her in on what they were going to do today but she had not paid it mind back at the settlement. A gust of wind blew through the clearing, picking up dirt and spreading it across them. Lily grimaced as she concentrated and called her mana out, a slight gust of wind swirled lazily around her, picking up the dirt that had landed on her and blew it back to the ground. Tyler coughed by her side as he inhaled some of the dirt.

Her teacher merely stopped and frowned. “Lily, pay attention. This is important, especially for you. You too, Tyler. No slacking off on this. This could easily kill you if you are not focused enough.” Lily watched as she waved her hand slightly and a large gust of wind danced around the clearing, forcing the dirt back to the ground. Her teacher made it look so easy!

‘No fair! Why isn’t my mana that powerful? I have a greater affinity to wind.’ Lily pouted slightly. As the wind circled the clearing, Lily’s tied up ponytail drifted into sight. Her hunter green color of her hair ponytail should have indicated how powerful she was, but her teacher merely had the tips of her hair the same color and she was just as powerful, if not more. ‘She’s not dyeing her hair. I know what products she orders from Tyler’s mom. And the alchemists’ dyes don’t work nearly as well, not for the price they are charging. Maybe teacher would be willing to share her secrets. It’s too hard trying to pair up green hair and an outfit.’

A swat on the head quickly brought Lily back to the present. Her teacher was frowning at her lack of attention. Lily blushed and excused her lack of attention. Teacher Zenith continued after eyeing Lily. “I will be testing both of you on this. Now that we’ve spent the last few weeks focusing on the background of the gods, it is time to get into the practical applications of this knowledge. Almost every deity will have a corresponding symbol, which is why it is important to remember the relationships between the gods. Look at this symbol, the squiggle bisecting a diamond. That is the symbol of Anitp, God of the Earth. Protector of the Foundry and the Home.” Lily blinked uncertainly. ‘Eh? That looks like…’ “Anitp, as you should remember, oversees the safety of people and their work. That is why almost every defensive magic circle will start with Anitp as the foundation for the circle. Now, Ertea is the Goddess of -”

“Teacher! Are you teaching symbology!?” Lily asked excitedly. Specialized magic circles and the symbols used in their creation were a highly secretive field of magic. If not for Peter Alduit freely disseminating the knowledge of Imperial status and affinity magic circles some hundreds of years ago, it would almost be impossible to verify a person’s true status. She knew that her father had been entrusted with quite a fortune to build one for Alduit Academy; Alcudia’s contribution to the now renowned school.

Her teacher rolled her eyes. “Of course I am. History of Deities is a basic lesson all mages are required to learn before we start delving into magic circles. While it is quite uncommon for a Mage to die while trying to set up a magic circle, it is important to know the correct order of symbols for certain formations; since the same symbols can cause different outcomes depending on the order. Honestly, the standards of teaching in this nation are too low if you’ve never been told that before. Even Isabella knew that…” her teacher grumbled under her breath.

But Lily knew the importance of what her teacher was about to teach. “Are you going to mentor me, Teacher?” Lily knew how different having a mentor was versus having a teacher. A teacher’s role is to teach but a mentor’s role is guidance. Individualized attention, a broad perspective, and future support are what every Apprentice wants. Especially for Mages, who hoarded their secrets. Just the fact that Tea-Mentor Zenith was even willing to share her knowledge on symbology showed how much she trusted Lily as a future Mage. ‘I have to make sure not to betray the trust she has in me!’ Lily thought seriously.

“Of course I am mentoring you, silly girl! Do you think I’d be putting this much effort this early for any other reason? I shouldn’t have listened to Paige about the standards of teaching here. By the time we’re done here, you’ll be at least in the middle to upper school level.” Mentor Zenith said with confidence.

“Umm, are you mentoring me too?” Tyler asked hesitantly. Lily wondered about that as well.

Zenith frowned at the question. “I didn’t make two separate lesson plans, so you are just learning whatever Lily is slated to learn since that is technically my specialty. If you want a mentor for a physical battle class though, you should ask Paige or Tyler about that. They’d be better at mentoring you in close combat techniques.”

“Merchant Tyler knows how to fight in close combat?” Tyler asked with a shocked expression. Lily was highly amused at the sound of that. Thinking back to the portly man, he was almost as out of shape as her father, and twice as large too! What could he do in battle? Rollover people?

“Paige and Tyler are similar in many ways. But where Paige is strong in offensive techniques, Tyler is almost as strong in defensive techniques. At least, from what I’ve seen. You haven’t seen him recently. He’s gotten back into shape.” Lily and Tyler chuckled at the thought of him being in shape.

“Ahem. Anyways, after thinking about the combat practice Paige had set up for you, I realized there were several ways that you could have stopped the enemy. Knowing Paige though, she probably only covered a frontal assault as a party. I’m planning on changing your conception of strategies with Nick’s help. Strategies will usually be limited based on the makeup of the party, which is why Paige’s strategy isn’t necessarily wrong. But Lily, as an Apprentice Mage in training, there are other ways more suited for us than blindly charging into battles. A well-laid trap has much more utility than standing outside in the middle of an open field. Hence, why I am teaching you about magic circles.”

“To be perfectly truthful Lily, Mages burn up more resources than any other profession combined. Mana cores; monster body parts; mana rich items; any items that are useful to a mage are rare and costly in some regards. Which is why you and your party will have to hunt monsters for resources and parts if you want to upgrade your equipment. I’ve already set up some magic circles around the forest, so follow me and you can see first hand how useful a well-placed trap can be.”

The mere thought of adventures sent shivers down Lily’s spine. Magic circles, hunting, what more could a girl ask for!?”

“Bleegh.” Lily threw up into the bush in front of her, Tyler not far behind. Her mentor’s new idea of practical experience was almost as bad as Miss Paige’s. Their little trip had started wonderfully as Miss Zenith taught them more about the symbols and their relationship to the dead gods. How she knew so much about them was a mystery, but Lily had been taught by her parents on how important it was to not go past certain boundaries. Especially with the people you trust.

Lily collided with Tyler as he stopped suddenly, and was about to say something when she noticed Tyler and her teacher ducking behind a bush. She quickly followed suit and knelt low, moving slowly to limit the amount of noise she was making. “What is it, mentor?”

“Look. It’s a Wind Sparrow! Not what I was expecting to see here, but it will have to do.” Her mentor quickly pointed at a tree branch full of vibrant colored leaves, but she failed to understand what her teacher saw.

Zenith’s eyes were full of light, however. “A Wind Sparrow’s ability is the manipulation of wind. But the reason it is hard to find one, especially one this large, is because it’s feathers can mimic its surroundings. Those leaves are its feathers, Lily. Use your mana and sense the surroundings. Carefully.”

Lily nodded and quickly drew in a breath. Closing her eyes like she had been taught, Lily released her hold on her mana and quickly shoved it away from her. As her mana expanded outward and started to change back into natural mana, it turned into a slight gust of wind that she could faintly feel the presence of. The gust of wind blew through the trees, the leaves swaying back and forth, all except for the branch that her mentor had pointed out. The leaves shifted slightly in the wind but not enough to escape close notice. A nagging sense of unease penetrated her thoughts, as though something was bothering her.

“Once you gain the Mage skill, [Mana Sense], it will be easier to spot abnormalities in the ambient mana. Most monsters with cores absorb mana much faster than the ambient mana can replenish. But you have to be careful when using [Mana Sense] since it doesn’t necessarily mean they will be weak monsters. If you get [Mana Sensitivity] will you be able to tell how strong a monster is compared to you, and even then I would be wary of it. Luckily, I have a magic circle nearby. Otherwise, I would probably skip it since we are proficient at the same element. Remember you two, while rare resources are always nice to have, it is better to be alive than rich.”

Zenith pointed back toward the way they came. “Go back twenty yards. I’ll get its attention and lead it over to the magic circle. Get behind the boulder and I’ll see you in a bit.”

Lily pouted, wanting to see her mentor in action, but begrudgingly listened. “I know mentor is strong, but how strong is she in combat? I know Sir Stephone always says that mages aren’t as powerful as warriors, but I wonder how true that is.”

“Well, we know that Miss Paige can beat Boary, and Miss Zenith can defeat Boary, so they should be just as strong. I think teacher Zenith is slightly stronger though, since she can defeat him with a wave of her hand from thirty paces away.” Tyler said aloud for Lily’s benefit. Lily smiled at that thought.

 “The last magic circle we saw was the status checker right? At our fifth birthday?” Tyler asked hesitantly.

Lily nodded. The sight of the mage activating the magic circle had been her first encounter with magic, and it had fueled countless dreams of wonder for her. Dreams full of magic and adventure. Although in reality, she had quickly learned that magic circles were equivalent to death for many mages, especially those who thought they could do the impossible. But know it looked like her very own Mentor had what those others didn’t. Knowledge. ‘If Mentor started off with saying what that arcane knowledge was used for, maybe I would have paid more attention. Better attention. Oh, I hope she doesn’t mind going over it again!’ 

A loud screech emanated behind them as a gale of wind blew through the forest floor, almost powerful enough to knock her over as she clung to Tyler. “Behind the rock!” Lily screamed, as Tyler moved cautiously around, making sure he had stable footing before he moved. Luckily they were pretty close to the rock in question. Another gale of wind blew through the forest, this one much stronger than the one before. She watched in awe as the ambient mana seemingly turned into the wind, resonating with some unknown force. ‘No wonder Mentor said she would have skipped it. It must be what Paige had said before. In a battle between two opponents with the same weapon, the one with better skill will always win. Mage versus Mage must be the same way then. The stronger, more skilled one will always win in direct combat.

“[[Wind Blade]]!” Mentor Zenith strode into their view, her back facing toward them. She slashed the air in front of her, causing a large green line to appear before her. The mana was a clear, vivid green and caused the wind around them to die down, as though it absorbed the ambient mana that was floating around them. Flicking it lightly, Lily’s eyes widened as it tore a tree in half. No, not one tree but three before a bush moved out of the way. ‘When will she be teaching me that? And that was without a wand helping her focus her mana?!’

‘Wait. The bush, it moved out of the way!’ Lily’s eyes darted across the forest, looking for the odd creature. ‘There! It is using the shaking of the leaves to help blend in with the forest!’ Lily noticed that her mentor had seen it too and was backing up closer to them. “Get down!” The command came suddenly and both of them obeyed and dropped to the ground. She heard a swish of wind pass over them and saw a few strands of hair floating freely away. She turned and saw Paige laying prone with them. “Both of you need to be more careful. It was trying to use you as a distraction so it could get away.”

“Oh no! Will she have enough time to activate the magic circle?” The bird gave a loud screech and darted back off into the woods, but both Zenith and Paige stood still. ‘What are they -‘ Zenith stomped her foot down heavily and released her mana into the ground, a wide arc of mana could be seen darting into the forest beyond. “[[Prison Wind]], [[Piercing Wind]]!” A shrill cry in the forest broke out but stopped quickly. “We got it. Thanks Paige, I didn’t want to activate it too early.”

“No problem, I noticed it was a Wind Sparrow. They usually love doing something like that as a diversion to get away. You gonna process it yourself, or are you going to get them to do it?”

“Oh no, Paige. They’ll be doing it. After all, they’ll need the experience so that they won’t waste materials in the future…” Zenith laughed evilly.

And thus they were scarred for a few days, at least until they found out how much money they saved by processing the monster’s parts by themselves.

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