Chapter 38.1

“….are you sure that your Mentor is this…Farmer Paige?” The guardsman in front of her asked Tyler once again for confirmation. 

“Yes. My mentor is Miss Paige.” Tyler responded confidently.

The guardsman was about to ask again when Lily finally interrupted. “Why does it matter so much who the main mentor is, Mister Albecki? Tyler already chose his class, so there is nothing those other kids can do about it.” Scowling at the kids in question, she realized most of them had the decency to at least look ashamed at their behavior. Only a few were still indignant about the situation, Mister Stephone included.

“Because Miss Lily, Class manipulation is a serious crime. Sir Stephone already indicated that he was the boy’s main Mentor, and that he was teaching him privately for the last two years or so. That he is willing to take a…Farmer, no matter how skilled you claim she is, is unheard of.”

“Well, a Teacher is my Mentor, and she is doing a great job. How come no one is complaining about that?” 

The guardsman sighed. “Her affinities are remarkable. Just the fact that you both have the same affinities is enough to overlook any potential problems. But a Farmer teaching battle skills?”

“Farmer Conscript then. More reasonable now?” Lily said aghast. “Honestly, this is embarrasing. Father, Mother, this was supposed to be a happy event, now…” 

Her mother stepped up and silenced the crowd with her gaze. “Mister Albecki. The boy has already stated who his mentor is. And he willfully chose the Vanguard Class. This should erase all doubts. Sir Kenton, a word if you don’t mind.” A larger man walked forward, his clothes practically bursting at the seams. She looked over at Tyler in confusion, who whispered to her quietly, “He’s the head of the Close Combat classes at Nespe Academy. I think he’s a Brawler or something. Miss Paige said you could always tell a Brawler based on the way he dresses.” 

Grabbing the shield from Tyler, Emilia turned it around and passed it over to Sir Kenton, who merely looked at the plate Mister Tyler and Miss Paige had bought for Tyler. Lily was confused about why that plate would eliminate all the doubts, but the head teacher merely took one look and nodded his head. “You are right, Lady Emilia. The boy willfully chose the Class. I can vouch for that.” He turned and cast a piercing gaze at Tyler, who shifted slightly under the gaze. “…Good conviction, boy. You’ll do well next year.”

The parents were already clamoring in anger but was silenced immediately by Sir Kenton. “Wha- that is impossible! We all clearly saw that Teacher manipulating his class!” Sir Kenton took a hard glance at the parents and scoffed. “Don’t tell me that none of you also forced your children to become a defensive class. Otherwise, we will have a big problem on our hand next year. I don’t need a skill or spell to take a guess that some of these children did not want to be a defensive class either. Do I need to request the Royal Family to dispatch a Mage to test the children? Expulsion will be the least of your worries then.” Making eye contact with the other parents, Sir Kenton wanted to see if any of the other kids would have enough conviction to deny his allegation, but he was disappointed in the end result. “Tyler, Lily. I and the other teachers are heading back today. We’ll take you over and show you around the school. Say your goodbyes.”

“It is rare to see mentored kids nowadays, but I do suppose Cidala is quite far from any organized schools. You’ll have the chance to go home about twice a year, mainly depending on the crop cycle; but most parties enjoy doing missions to earn some money and bond during that time instead. While we do train battle classes here, a large majority of the students are in support classes like Farmers, Ranchers, Merchants, etc. Necessary, but usually overlooked, classes. As such, while a large majority of your classes will be topics pertaining to battle classes, you will also be taking classes in other areas.”

Lily and Tyler listened with rapt attention to Sir Kenton aide, Miss Laila, talk about what they should expect at their new school. The other teachers were sitting in the shaded carts that created a small convoy down the road that headed to the field plains of Nespe. Tyler looked back at his hometown, now growing smaller and smaller as they headed to the path that would He would miss his family, but also his mentors in the Echoing Woods far beyond the horizon. A lot of changes were going to happen soon, but taking a glance to his side, he was glad to have his childhood friend still with him. 

“I can’t wait to show my Mentor all that I’ve learned!” Lily said excitedly. Her hands were shaking with excitement. Or fear maybe, Tyler thought to himself as Lily flashed him a nervous smile. “Miss Paige said she’d test us the next time we get back, we’ll show her how much we’ve grown!”

“I still can’t believe you took a Farmer as a Mentor, Mister Tyler. Wouldn’t it have been better to say that Bodyguard was your mentor? He was at least a Warrior, or maybe getting really close to being a true Swordmaster.” Miss Laila asked questioningly, her brown hair braided into a ponytail almost in the same style as his Mentor. Her brown eyes clearly showed some haughtiness, or maybe it was something closer to contempt?

Either way, the question irked Tyler. “My Mentor said actions always speak louder than words. Just because she is a Farmer doesn’t mean she is totally helpless or that she doesn’t know how to fight.”

“Very true words, Tyler.” Sir Kenton spoke aloud, taking a glance at his aide. “Her class may be Farmer, but who are we to say if she is closer to a Warrior than not. Even a Conscript can be just as deadly as a fully trained Warrior, in the right circumstances.”

“I know that sir, but-“

“SkreeEEEEeEeEee”

Tyler heard a familiar sound as he watched as the teachers around him tense up and grabbed their weapons. “Wild Boar! Be wary of it’s charge!” Kenton yelled out, jumping off the cart while surveying the forest to their sides. Tyler could tell the differences between the teachers just by watching their reactions. Sir Kenton and his aide, Laila, took up positions on either side of the cart almost immediately after the first call. A few mages popped up almost instantly too, Tyler realized, as a few pulled out tiny wands from their sleeves or their belts and stood on the carts. A few of the other children were huddling together quietly, for fear of distracting the teachers. Kenton’s head swiveled toward the forest on their left, a subsection of trees that had expanded outward from the forests beyond and intentionally left to act as a windbreaker for the fields beyond. The teacher’s all moved to the same side as Kenton, separating the carts from the forest beyond.

Lily was about to shout out when an intimidating size boar walked out of the clearing, wisps of steam coming from his nostrils every time he breathed. Though its horns were broken, its face was a mask of blood as it chewed on a very dead wolf carcass. Lily and Tyler were shocked at his appearance. Was this the same boar that they trained with every day? No wonder Hunter Sara was so leery about meeting Boary without Paige around.

Tyler saw the boar’s eyes widen in recognition and watched as it quickly swallowed the rest of the wolf carcass. Falling to the ground; everyone stared in stupefaction as the boar rolled sideways and plowed the ground with his face, effectively cleaning off most of the blood.

“… did someone drug that Elder Boar?” Laila spoke aloud, shoving her rapier point into the dirt.

“…it’s possible. Pick up your weapon, Laila. Elder Boars can get to its full charging speed within a few seconds. Look at it’s tusks. It must have been forcible kicked out of its sounder already.”

“BOARY! GO HOME!” Lily effectively broke the tension in the clearing. Everyone else besides Tyler looked aghast at Lily. 

“…Miss Lily, an Elder Boar is a monster. It’s not something you can reason with.” Laila said wth perplexed look. “Monsters instinctually attack sentient races because of our mana cores help them grow. That’s the reason why we have a Guild Hall to deal with problems like this.”

Lily bowed. “He’s a good pig. BOARY! GO HOME! MISS PAIGE IS GOING TO BE ANGRY IF YOU DON’t HEAD BACK SOON! GO HOME!” The boar stopped his movements, clearly in thought. With a large huff, it got up and slowly walked away, looking back forlornly. “… MISS PAGE HAS THE WHEAT IN THE BARN! GO HOME!” Tyler sighed to himself, knowing that their Mentor’s reputation would have another mark added to it.

Evading the questions the teacher’s had asked, the rest of the trip was spent in relative silence. After arriving at Nespe, they skipped the residential and commercial districts and headed straight for the heart of the city. In truth, the school occupied a majority of the city. But it wouldn’t be wrong to say instead that the city grew up around the school instead. Nespe Academy was different than most city schools because of this. Where other schools were just a few buildings hobbled together, the Academy was a fortress, or rather an independent castle. Originally built to protect the lush farmlands of southeastern Alcudia, it was transformed to its current role after the Royal Family built what is now the Defensive Line.

“Tyler, look at that!” Lily whispered furiously, her eyes wide as she looked around the prestigious school. Tyler turned and saw a statue of a man, his arms opened as though welcoming a friend. “It’s a life size statue of Peter Alduit! I wonder which mage created that. Do you think that’s a true representation of him?” 

“I don’t know, Lily.”

“Whoa, look at that girl! Her hair is white! I wonder what element she’s proficient in, Tyler! There’s so many people here!”

“Lily, you’ve been here more times than I have. Nespe is like ten times larger than Cidala, so of course there are so many people. And don’t stare, it’s rude!” Tyler whispered quickly. He looked over where she was pointing and saw a young girl walking with her mother to the library. Even he could tell that was the library, as no other building had firebreaks or kill zones in the city proper. “More importantly Lily, did you see the guards at the gates? I bet any single one of them could defeat Cidala’s guards! I think one set of their armor is more expensive than the entire budget of Cidala’s.”

“You’d be right about that. The Royal Family puts a lot of effort in protecting promising seeds of the future. The country is nothing without the support of the next generation. That includes you two now as well.” Sir Kenton spoke with a prideful voice. He could hear the other teacher’s chittering in the background as well, but paid them no mind. Actions always spoke louder than words, and if his skill didn’t impress them, nothing would. Watching the head of the combat classes walking toward a particular building. Tyler already had an inkling of an idea of what was going to happen, his senses telling him to get ready for a fight. ‘Mentor Page walks the same way he does…’ “Umm, sir, are you using a skill to walk?”

Sir Kenton stopped and looked at the boy thoughtfully. “Why do you ask?”

“My, uh, well, both of my mentors walked the same way you did before a fight, so I thought it was odd.”

He smiled at the boy, amazed at his discernment. “I’m surprised the Farmer knows this. It’s not a Skill, rather it is a mental technique that helps strengthen one’s focus. Now, there are skills that you can learn that do the same thing, but most would agree it is a waste of time to learn those types of skills. Personally, I learned this technique so that I could focus my attention on learning battle skills instead.” 

Tyler noticed the other teachers were moving the kids to a different building, along with a large crowd of students. Following Sir Kenton, they entered the building to the side and he realized his suspicions were correct. What could have been an old storage room had been changed into a sparring room, complete with dummies and practice weapons hanging on the sides of the room. His eyes darted to the other students who were in the room, four groups of six practicing drills. “Do I need to ask my Mentor to teach me that technique?”

“Not particularly. You’ll learn it in your third year. Now, onto more pressing matters. Lily, Tyler, come here if you please. We need to check your teamwork.” Sir Kenton, his aide, and a blue-haired mage stepped forward into a ring, shooing the other students aside. Besides a few grumbles, the older students made way and parted to either side of the ring, intent on watching what they hoped to be a good show. “Now, it is true that an Apprentice Mage can request a specific Apprentice Vanguard, but we still need to evaluate how good your teamwork truly is. Myself, Warrior Laila, and Mage Mary will be testing you right now to see where you will be placed. The other students will be tested separately and randomly assigned to a party. However, since you are applying as a party already you will have more leeway in your party members; so long as you can clear this little examination.”

Kenton watched as both kids nodded to each other and separated, coordinating perfectly if you consider their age. He frowned as Lily stood off at an angle to Tyler, who was unhooking his rather large shield from the rest of his bag. Or perhaps a custom tower shield for his size? A sole defender with a tower shield was a rather unusual defensive tactic. With just two members, it would make sense for the defender to stick close to the mage, so as to be better able to defend the mage from long-range attacks. But Tyler was clearly getting ready to pounce forward in an attack, his stance indicating he would not be just a passive defender. Laila and Mary noticed too, judging by their frowns as Laila distributed the blunted practice weapons.

“…Kenton, who on earth would teach an apprentice vanguard to not defend a mage. Look at the space between them. It has to be almost twenty feet.” Mary said quietly as she watched Lily pull out her wand. 

“Is he getting ready to charge forward? There’s three of us. How is he going to defend if both attackers decide to go straight for the mage?” Laila asked with a perplexed tone. 

“He knows a few Skills already. And his attention to detail is spot on. Not many would recognize that mental technique, not at his age. From his application and talking with who I thought was his mentor, he knows [Seismic Slash] at the very least. I didn’t bother to ask about defensive skills at the time, since by all accounts he was supposed to be training to be a Warrior. Standard rules you two. Laila, force Tyler to be on the defensive. Mary, go for Lily.” Seeing the two kids settling into their stances, he decided it was time to test them. “Alright, here are the ground rules. If either Laila or I get within sword reach of Lily within three minutes, or if Mary is able to hit Lily two times with a spell; then the party placement will be random. ” He saw the boy’s frown and amended his statement. “I’ll be walking at an even pace toward Lily and Mary will only cast four spells. Only Laila will be actively attacking you. I’ll start attacking once you are within arm’s reach of me. Are you ready?” He asked, noticing how Tyler was tensing up. Seeing the boy’s nod, he shouted out. “Begin!”

Tyler dashed forward and raced straight for Laila, his shield held loosely to his arm with the help of a few leather straps. ‘Going for a shield bash? Or forcing Laila to attack? He’s moving awfully fast with that shield. What type of wood is that light and sturdy? Birch? No, maybe it’s Redwood.’ Mulling over the weight of the shield, he watched as the bottom of the shield scrapped the ground a few times, throwing dust into the air behind Tyler as he moved forward. ‘Ah, so that’s why the bottom of the shield curves slightly to a shallow point. That must mean Lily is going to use it in her attack. I’ll let Mary be the judge on Lily though. Let’s see how he will stop Laila.’

Laila walked forward slowly, angling slightly to try and force Tyler to shift his attention away from Mary and himself. ‘I hope he realizes that I was lying about the conditions.’ The true purpose of the test is too see how he does under pressure. Will he focus on his own battle, and will he have enough awareness to notice when his party member is in trouble. Kenton started walking forward slowly as he evaluated the boy’s movements. ‘Good movements, although strapping the shield to his arm was probably not the best idea.’

“Haa!” Laila yelled as she thrust her blunted rapier out, aiming the top of the tower shield. A good choice usually, since the natural reaction to an attack at the face is to block it. Most instructors aimed for the face as a simple test of character, since you would lose track of the opponent if the shield was brought up to block it. So it was a surprise when Tyler not only didn’t brace for the attack but moved into it; angling the bottom of his shield upward in an attempt to stab Laila with the pointed end. ‘Good reflexes, but why force the attack?

Laila snorted as she saw the attack and switched her stance to a parry, planting her feet solidly to withstand the mass of the shield. She was intent on using her blade as a fulcrum to force his shield to the side.

“…[[Air Hammer]]!” A young voice called out suddenly. Snapping his head to the girl, he watched as a translucent mass of wind mana charged straight for Tyler’s back. ‘He’s using his shield to block Laila’s view of the attack! So how will he dodge it?’ The mana charged closer to the boy, but he didn’t move out of the way. “[Shield Bash]!” Tyler yelled out as he held his shield perpendicular to the ground just as the gust of mana hit him from behind. Laila’s rapier was pushed back and she had to lean into the attack to keep her balance. For an Apprentice to be able to push back a Warrior, Kenton’s eyebrows raised at the sight. “A combination attack huh? That’s…rather impressive for their age.” Just that sight was almost enough to stop the test; the amount of practice required to pull something like that off was telling enough to their training and trust. 

‘Time to see how he’ll deal with the unexpected.’ Kenton abandoned his walk and started jogging toward Lily, making enough noise to attract Tyler’s attention. Tyler’s eyes widened in alarm. “Lily!”

“Oh no you don’t!” Laila yelled as Tyler tried to disengage. Sensing the pressure on her sword decrease, she stepped forward and quickly grabbed the top of his shield and pulled; forcing the boy to stay put. This was the moment Kenton wanted to observe. Everything depended on the boy’s ability to control a battlefield, even when he is at a disadvantage.

Tyler stopped trying to pull away and instead forced his shield into Laila, who quickly used her training weapon to block against the raised metal spike on the shield. “[[Gust]], [[Knockback]]!” Two voices overlapped at the same time, Tyler’s shield quickly flashed and collected at the center of his shield. A small, concentrated bubble of mana forcefully exploded at the front of his shield, separating the two of them. Tyler jumped up as a gust of air pushed him noticeably backward, almost within a few feet of Kenton himself.

“Enough,” Kenton yelled out, stopping as Tyler swung around to face him. “I don’t need to see anymore. You’ve already qualified for at least the gifted classes with that display. Mary, how did Lily do?” He looked over to Mary, who was swirling a ball of water around her. She shrugged as she answered, “She did fine. A tier one spell and a tier zero spell in that amount of time is a good enough display for me as well. Although her wand played a big part in getting the spell ready so fast, just having the mana capacity to cast the spell is telling enough to her practice.”

“Ahem. You’ll be assigned party members from the gifted course, depending on the results of the regular selection. Head over to the dorms and get your official uniforms. Congratulations you two. Get ready for the entrance ceremony, the Queen herself will be giving a speech about the importance of learning and being good party members.”  Tyler and Lily smiled at each other happily as they both walked out of the training hall in good spirits. Kenton sighed at the sight. ‘Oh, how good to be young. Just being happy at something going right…’ 

“We should investigate their mentors. There is something clearly off about them. No Apprentice is that good,” Laila said quietly as she massaged her wrists. None of the teacher’s had thought Tyler would use a skill, especially after already using [Shieldbash].

“Both Lily and Tyler mana core’s are very large for their age. I can tell that Lily’s wand is helping with the absorption of mana and it’s release, but Tyler shouldn’t be able to use two skills consecutively. Give him a few more years and I can see that, but not this soon.”

Kenton sighed. “…we’ll keep it to ourselves for now. With the Imperial Family here, any good seeds are liable to be taken away from the country. I will let Queen Rebecca know that we have some good candidates for the future, though. Besides, it seems to me their mentors are trying to keep a low profile. If they don’t make any waves, we won’t either.”

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