Chapter 49

“Roll, Markus!” He could hear Aunt Zenith yelling, but for some reason he didn’t know what had happened. Wait, why did she say roll. And what is that whistling sound?

Blinking his eyes, he realized that he was looking up at the sky and that the sun had moved a bit from before. But, wasn’t he supposed to be practicing with Uncle Tyler? “Wha, what happened? Ts, ow ow.” He winced in pain as he tried to sit up.

“You got hit, that’s what happened. You were supposed to sidestep away or roll to your feet. Or, at least roll away from combat.” His uncle spoke from afar. Turning his head groggily to one side, he noticed that Aunt Zenith was sitting next to him. Her face was tinged with concern, and he noticed that she was shining. That was new for her.

“You have a concussion. Just relax while I heal your other wounds. You dislocated your leg and shoulder when you fell back.” 

“It wasn’t my fault, Zenith. He was doing just fine parrying a sword. How was I supposed to know he would blank out right before I hit him with a shield?” 

“Just stay in there until I finish healing Markus. Honestly, I’m amazed either of you ever got battle classes if that’s how the two of you were originally trained. One trained with a rope and one trained with beatings,” Zenith huffed angrily.

Markus counted to ten before moving his head the other way, and realized what was making the whistling sound. His uncle was trapped in a cage of wind, a semi-solid mass of wind rotating around him sharply. Judging by how the rocks were scarring the ground as they moved clockwise in front of his uncle’s feet, Markus decided it was probably for the best that his uncle wasn’t trying to escape. His uncle was looking at him with concern though, his voice clearly apologetic and confused.

“So, why did you stop suddenly, Markus? You were in good form right up to the point I used a shield, and then you fainted. I am glad you were able to watch up to that point, but if you faint every time you are about to get hit by a shield…”

“Sorry uncle. I don’t know what happened either. I’ll do better next time.” It was a simple parry exercise, according to his uncle. You stood there and tried your best to deflect the blows to the side. Or barring that, sidestep or duck if the blow was coming at a bad angle. He tried his best to think back. What happened at that last moment?

He thought hard about what he could remember. ‘I got into the rhythm of parrying after a quick lesson from Uncle Tyler. Overhead slash. Parry the top half of uncle’s blade and deflect before it reaches the halfway point of my blade. Backhanded slash. Parry with the middle of my blade and deflect above. Shield Bash. Sides-

“DON’T DODGE. PARRY!”

An old man stood in front of him, sneering while he held a solid steel cane and shield. “Worthless. Don’t ever try to sidestep a simple [[Shield Bash]]. Just cut it with your sword. Everything in the world can be cut with a sharp enough blade. Hmph. When I was your age, I was cutting Devil’s by the dozens. Shield or not.”

“But Father sai-“

“Don’t mention that bastard son. He utterly disgraced our family name, actually losing to a Human in swordsmanship. Peh. I’ll train you twice as hard, just to make sure that mistake never happens again. Now. GET. UP.”

Standing up, I-

“Markus, sit down! You are in no shape to continue practicing,” Aunt Zenith said while gently pushing him back to solid ground,

“I can still go on, Auntie. It was just a light tap. I think? And why are you glowing?”

“I have a lesser affinity to healing, so I know a few healing spells. Granted, I’m not as good as a Cleric, but I can heal lesser wounds like this fairly well. None of you really got injured enough to warrant me using spells before.”

“Uncle Tyler, could we go again later? I promise to do better.”

“It’s not all your fault.” Tyler sighed and stood up as the wall of wind died down in front of him. “We’ll practice parry and dodging with exaggerated motions next time. I’ll pick up a wooden shield in town next time. Perhaps using a solid shield wasn’t the smartest decision.”

“You think!? Tyler, you shou-” Markus closed his eyes as Aunt Zenith began berating Uncle Tyler. ‘I haven’t had any bad dreams lately. At least, none like that in a long time…do I know those people? I don’t recognize anything in the dream, but the person who was practicing seemed to be much older than I am now. But if there was one person who would know…’

“Aunt Zenith, can I get up and see Aunt Paige? I think I’d rather stick to a rope on a stick for a little while. At least, until Uncle gets a wooden shield.”

“She already left to go check her clearings. You still have a concussion, so how about you stay here and read a few books instead? I did get a lot from the library, and your Uncle picked some up from his travels as well.”

“I don’t like reading. I’d rather go on an adventure. Pleaaase?”

“No. Tyler?”

“…Markus. Do you know how most Adventurers gain their skills?”

“Hm? Don’t they watch someone practice until they learn how? That’s how I learned all of my skills. Tyler too.” Markus was confused. Why would Uncle Tyler bring that up?

“Most Apprentices wouldn’t be able to find someone who could guide a person through examples alone. Instead, they read. They learn how to use Skills and Spells by using their predecessors’ insight.”

“… they read to learn Skills? That can’t be true!” Markus exclaimed.

“Lily was learning how to use Spells long before she came to me for tutoring. The library has copies of Apprentice level spells and skills. The problem is are you able to understand what someone else is trying to teach. That is why most people would rather learn from a tutor if you have the money.”

“So couldn’t Aunt Paige teach me how to use Skills? Why would I want to read when Auntie is willing to teach me? Auntie said she can teach me any battle skill so long as I have enough mana to use it.”

Auntie Zenith sighed. “…of course she would brag about something like that. How about this? Certain Spells and Skills are really hard to learn. And if everyone who learned that Spell or Skill died…”

“…then it was a really bad Skill?” Markus said hesitantly.

“Well, the chances of that are low, but in some cases yes. But what I am trying to get at is that sometimes what one person understands isn’t what another person understands. Take the wind, for instance. My understanding of the laws of wind is vastly different than Lily’s. So my Spells, like [[Prison Wind]], might be different than Lily’s when she learns it. Maybe she focuses more on the cutting aspect of the Spell instead of the controlling aspect. Same spell, but still different. We read to better understand someone else’s point of view, in the hopes that our own control of the spell will increase.”

He nodded, although her Aunt’s spell naming was terrible. Who would call a sphere of wind a prison? “Uncle? What about a Skill then. Like [Shield Bash]. How does reading help with learning a Skill?”

Tyler spoke carefully, thinking out his thoughts. “Skills are universal and don’t vary from person to person. So a [Shield Bash] is just that, bashing a person with a shield. But there are certain things to pay attention to. A good teaching tome would highlight everything a person would have to do in order to learn the Skill. If you recall, it took almost half a year before Tyler got the Skill, [Shield Bash], and that was with practice and someone tutoring him exclusively. It wasn’t until he learned how to adapt and use it in combat before he got the Skill. Other Skills are the same.”

“This is why we do not want to rush the basics, and why I am letting Paige train certain things first. Her understanding of battles are different than mine. But reading won’t interfere with your training since everything you read is theoretical until you can master it in combat. Since Zenith chose Lily as an example, I’ll choose Tyler as one. Say he becomes a fully pledged Vanguard. One of the Skills he might learn is [Offensive Engagement]. The whole point of the Skill is to force the opponent to take you as a major threat, something he cannot ignore in battle. So, maybe to learn the Skill, the key is learning how to present yourself as a threat, maybe learning how to stay just outside of your opponent’s blind spots. Reading about it will help him learn how to apply it in combat, and then with practice it can become a Skill.”

“Skill acquisition is tough for most people. Only a few people can read multiple books and not get information confused. That is why it is not good to spread out your focus on a lot of Skills that may not have any relevance to you, and also why most people will read only one book at a time until they have acquired the Skill.”

Tyler poked Markus as he passed by, “So before you start asking us to repeat Skills until you learn them, first figure out which Skills would be most relevant for you to have. We all know a variety of battle skills, but we typically only use a few of them in combat, depending on how much mana we have and the situation at hand.”

Markus nodded after a moment. “Mmm. I, I guess I’ll read a book then. Are there any books on Sword Masters?”

“Auntie, this book says Sword Master Tempest Tallis famous Skill was called [Sky Rendering Slash] and h-.”

“That’s not a real Skill. His slashes were so fast that he could seemingly rend the sky apart. But in all actuality, he augmented his slash with a [[Wind Blade]] so that it could cut the clouds above him in half. It’s only good for showing off,” Paige said boredly as she sat at the dinner table. Markus was surrounded by a pile of books, most of them that Zenith had brought from the library of the more local heroes. Markus was really getting into the stories of Sword Masters, although she was a little bummed about his enthusiasm. She was a full-blown Warrior, and she didn’t even have a book about her! Not that the Empire would allow such a book to begin with. 

“Paige, don’t kill Markus’s enthusiasm. That one was a good read, although I do agree with your judgment about his skill.” Zenith elbowed her hard. Looking over, Paige did realize she was killing Markus’s drive to read. “Well, how about you read this one, Markus. Looking through the stack of books, she quickly found the one she wanted to show. It was an old, weatherworn book. ‘The Ghost of Alun Tep’ , one of Paige’s favorite books. Mainly because it was actually about her! It was heavily fictionalized and the author even created a fake (male) identity and backstory for all the characters. But the end result and all the descriptions of the Skills she had used were entirely accurate. 

“Is this a real story? Auntie Zenith said it’s bad to use fake stories as a reference on which Skills I should think about learning.” Markus asked with a frown, looking at how old the book was.

“Hey now! I’ll have you know it is extremely accurate.” Paige said feeling personally attacked. “Skill-wise anyways,” she mumbled after seeing Zenith’s skeptical face. “Markus, whenever they say Warrior in the book, insert Sword Master instead. The skills the main character uses are all valid skills for Sword Masters. I don’t think this copy has a codex at the end, so you’ll have to read the entire story to find out which Skills he knows.”

Zenith frowned at the choice of the book. “Ghost of Alun Tep? You are talking about the person who haunts the ancient forest regions of the northeast and kills Elves and Humans on sight? Why in the world would you let him read that story? It’s terrible what happened in those woods.”

“Hey now, they shouldn’t have been dealing in illegal slave trading. It’s not m-his fault they all decided to fight to the death instead of surrendering peacefully. And how was he supposed to know there was an Elven Princess hiding there? And that he would be blamed of getting said princess pregnant and plunging the northeast corner of the empire in a brief war, which subsided after he killed twenty Elven Protectors in a battle to regain his lost honor?” Markus’s eyes widened as he clutched the book and ran off to read what should be a fantastic tale of adventure. 

The adults just sat in silence. “…that was awfully specific Paige,” Nick mumbled quietly.

“…I didn’t get the princess pregnant; that was just artistic embellishment on the author’s part. The nobles kidnapped and tortured her, and I rescued her and brought her back. But instead of thanking me, the Elves decided instead that it would be a good reason to start a war. A Noble Elven Princess getting sullied by some human noble. And they even had the gall to blame me! But since they wanted to start a war, and I was being used a scapegoat, I said I would kill a Protector every day they didn’t leave Alun Tep. They rethought their idea after I killed twenty people.” Paige whispered quietly so that Markus wouldn’t hear her. She smiled after a second as a thought popped in her mind, “Heh. I guess I’m not a person non grata anymore in Elven territory.”

Paige stopped as she saw Zenith’s eyes twitching. “So, what brought this reading frenzy on anyways? I thought Markus hated reading.”

“He does, but Tyler told him you can learn Skills and Spells from reading tomes. I told him to read those stories to see how some Skills are typically used in combat,” Zenith supplied carefully. “Paige. The Twenty Day War was over nine hundred years ago. And you played a part in that? Then, do you think anything has changed in the northeast?”

Paige shrugged. “… I haven’t thought about it. If something has happened, it happened. It really depends on what happened to that princess. But honestly, even if the Elves could penetrate past Alun Tep, all the Imperial Family would have done is dispatch a few Scions to take back the territory by force. Or maybe diplomatically, but I highly doubt that.”

“After I teach Xavier, I’ll go to the library and look for a few history books. Honestly, though, Paige, is there anything else I should be on the lookout for?” Zenith said as she slumped in her seat. 

Paige hesitated. “Well, there were a few events…I’ll draw up a map of what I can remember.”

“You mean a list?”

“Peh. My memory isn’t that good. I know general layouts of where I got into more trouble than others, but I’d need something to spark my memory of an event. A map will do just fine. Besides, it’s not like what happened at Alun Tep vastly changed my life forever, so I forgot about it until I remembered that book. The only real consequence was that I just couldn’t travel further into Elven territory than I previously could before since they got a good read of my mana.”

“How far could you get?” Nick said with interest. “I’ve heard stories of their ancient forests, and as much as I’d hate to admit, Leit’s ancient forests wouldn’t even come close age-wise.” 

“It’s okay. There are more monsters to watch for and some things even I hesitated to cross, but overall it was a forest. They live in treehouses, for goodness sake. Although their main palace was a rather large tree. If I had to pick the weirdest spot I’d visited, it’d have to be Demis Territory. You’d be surprised at how varied their population is. All sorts of half-human, half-beast people. The most dangerous spot would probably be Dragos Territory. Stupid lizards are very, very territorial. And the only place I never really made headway into was the Demon Territory. Their Demon Lords are no joke to fight against.”

Zenith took a worried look at Markus, who was happily reading by the fireplace. Paige could feel Zenith’s mana starting to build up as she took a simple runestone and placed it on the table, activating the hidden ward they had etched into the table. “Paige, do you know a lot about Demon Lords? I would be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned about how fast Markus picks up Skills.”

Paige stilled, realizing that her viewpoint of Markus was skewed. She quickly looked over to Tyler and Nick, who nodded their heads slightly as well. “You have to remember that a Demon Lord is the equivalent to a Human Hero. From what I can tell, Markus is picking things up just as fast as a Hero would. Probably slower, actually. We aren’t exactly teaching him everything we know and we are still limited by the fog to some degree. As far as I know, he’s picking up random Skills through experimentation and observation.”

“So his growth is normal?” Tyler asked seriously.

Paige nodded. “It is if you are comparing him to a Hero. But you also have to remember, his Class is Blessed Apprentice. It would be weird if he didn’t get some benefit from his Class.”

Zenith interrupted briskly. “About that. Should we tell him about his Class, now that he is older? We’ve been hiding it since he was born, and he’s been upset that his class is still Commoner.”

“How would we explain the Class upgrade? The minute he sees someone else gain a Class, he will start to wonder why he didn’t have to go through the same ordeal.”

Zenith took a deep breath. “Paige, can we fake it?”

“Eh?”

“I’ve been thinking about this for a while now. Class upgrades are essentially three parts: mana recognition, mana upgrade, and mana stabilization; and not everyone’s class upgrade is the same. Tyler’s class upgrade was a glowing cloud, for instance, which practically describes mana stabilization. I would bet money that the other two parts happened months ago, but it plainly showed when we made him choose a single path. But, the same thing happened when we gained our subclasses…”

“No. Let’s just tell him directly,” Nick interrupted, which surprised everyone. He looked gravely at the others, “Lying long term will not help anything. Let’s just tell him he actually has a Class, but it has to be kept a secret. He probably knows it himself that something is off. I mean, he clearly knows we do not have simple support classes, so why would he be a simple commoner? Just don’t lie about how we found him and everything will be fine. Paige, can you do it? Or would you rather Zenith does it? The two of you have spent the most time with him overall, so he trusts the two of you the most.” 

“I’ll do it. Since I was the one who hid his Class in the first place, I should be the one who breaks the news.” Paige took a deep breath, steeling her nerves. “I’ll tell him tomorrow.” 

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