“Aunt, Aunt! I got a Class! A Class!”
A light touch awoke Paige from her slumber, though she idly wished she was still asleep. Peeking an eye open to look out the open window, she moaned as she saw the constellation of Antip slightly above the treeline.
“Hrmm. Markus, it’s not even three in the morning yet! Let a girl rest a bit, okay.”
“Aunt, it’s important! I got a Class!”
Paige sighed. Of course Markus had to wake up and find out he had a Class. Why couldn’t he wait until morning training in just two more hours to tell her?
“Markus. As much as I love you, even I have my limits. Wait until morning,” Paige murmured in displeasure. “Please Markus. I promise I’ll be happy in two hours. Tops.”
“Come on! I wanna practice my new Skills!”
Now Paige was starting to wake up a little more.
‘… new Skills? Nick and I haven’t used a Skill around him in days. What Skill could he have gotten? From training? It has to be something like [Lesser Endurance]. Maybe [Enhanced Strength].’
“Okay, fine. Give me a few minutes to get ready for the day.”
Shooing Markus away with a wave of her hand, Paige stayed in bed and waited until the door closed.
A steel spade inserted itself between the bottom of the door and jamb, stopping the door from opening once more. Paige sighed as she lowered her hand.
“Markus. I want you stretching by the time I get outside. And don’t wake Nick up.”
Shoving the blankets off of her, she sat up and stretched, shivering lightly as the cool morning air hit her bare skin. Idly, she pulled her cotton sleeves down while pulling the blankets to cover her bared legs. Running her hands through her hair, she grimaced as she pulled out bits of straw.
‘Note to self, switch from straw bedding back to sheep wool. Why did I believe Nick when he said straw bedding is comfortable? Make sure to ask Zenith when my bed will be ready for pickup. Kate should be done restuffing it by now.’
Sitting on her bed, she looked around her little room. Not the best accommodation she’d ever stayed in long term, but it reminded her of home, which instantly brought it up to the top ten bedrooms, easy. Spacy, yet cramped. Worn down boards replaced with new ones and the creaking sound as the windows shutters swayed in the wind almost, almost, felt like her old bedroom, or what little she could remember of it.
Still, the autumn air was starting to get uncomfortable in the dark. The wooden boards creaked lightly and she got up and walked to her wardrobe. In truth, she had most of her equipment in her ring hanging from her wire necklace, but there had hardly been a reason to wear any of them so far, especially since everything she owned was worth far more than a Farmer would ever be able to make.
‘Maybe we’ll invite Kate and Emilia over for the winter harvest festival. I don’t know if Cidala has done there’s yet.’
Blindly feeling the clothes, Paige felt them one by one, trying to gauge what the warmest one would be.
‘Cotton? No. Leather armor? Not this early in the morning. Ah,’ Paige smiled as she caressed the heavy woolen vest jacket. ‘Perfect. Let’s add in a long sleeve woolen shirt, a heavy pair of cotton pants, and some gloves and I should be good until at least midday.’
Pulling the sharpened spade from the floor, she opened the door and half expected Markus to be waiting right outside. Luckily, Markus had listened to her the first time and had not woken Nick up. The last thing she wanted to do this early in the morning was to get into an argument with Nick. He was quite cranky in the morning without at least seven hours of sleep.
‘Well, my morning routine is broken. I’ll go and check the food plots when the sun starts to rise. Now, what skills could Markus have gotten last night?’
She stopped at the open door as the cool morning breeze flowed through.
‘Markus couldn’t even close the door? This is just-‘
Stop. Her foot hovered just behind the threshold.
‘The door is enchanted to automatically close after one minute. It’s been at least five since Markus came to wake me up. Is…Is he trying to test me just like how I test him?’
Paige smiled. ‘How brave of him! Now this will be fun.’
Taking a step forward through the doorway, she quickly took stock of her surroundings, trusting her instincts to protect her from harm. Without the moon to provide lighting, only the twinkling of the stars above illuminated the clearing around the main house. The cool morning air was causing the perpetual mist to rise and fall rhythmically, as though the forest itself was alive and breathing. The torches on either side of the gate had been extinguished, but only recently as the embers were still alight and slowly fading away.
Her steel spade silently changed into a modified shovel; the handle elongating while the bladed edge straightened into a square, the edges gleaming in the starlight. Testing the balance of her new shovel, she nodded as she swung the shovel, the air displacing rapidly as she swung it with the flat of the blade.
‘So Markus said he got a Class. But he didn’t say which one it was. And he also wanted to test out his new Skills.
My mana’s not draining, so it’s not an active Battle Skill, that much is for certain. So, that leaves passive and support skills. No, not a typical support skill either. If it was something like lesser endurance, he wouldn’t have needed to do all this to set the mood.’
The glance around the settlement had given her a good enough idea of what the skill was.
‘Markus wanted to be a Swordmaster. And the first Skill almost every Swordmaster learns is… Okay. Time to test it out.’
Chuckling to herself, she dashed over the fence and ran straight into the barn, stopping right in the middle. Holding her shovel up, she fell into a defensive stance.
Every SwordMaster first Skill was always enchanting their blade with their affinity. That was what set SwordMasters apart from other Battle Skills. In fact, it was exactly how she got her Elemental Skills, divine mana notwithstanding.
“Okay Markus. Let’s see what you got.”
“Aunt Paige! That was no fair!”
“It was perfectly fair. It’s not my fault you were impatient.”
Paige rubbed Markus’s head as her legs pinned him to the ground. Okay, so using the shovel as a makeshift axe and shield was a little unfair. But it should teach Markus to be wary of any type of weapon, she supposed.
And she had been right. All she had to do was wait for Markus to attack first, and the battle would be done. Enchanting a blade with a Skill was pretty useful, though less useful when facing people who knew what you could do.
He had made a few mistakes that she was not going to fix any time soon. He had to learn what was going wrong himself. But extinguishing the lit torches had been his first mistake. [Dark Blade] was a useful skill to have, but the conditions to use it successfully in battle was rather hard to set up. That Skill was highly favored amongst Scouts and Assassins, as it was excellent for night battles and sneak attacks. It dulled the reflection of the blade while also enhancing the sharpness of the blade, making most shields useless. In fact, Paige reasoned that it was the combination of the demonic weapon and the use of [Dark Blade] that allowed him to penetrate through Tyler’s upgraded armor.
But with Markus’s affinity toward darkness, he could have just used his own Mana instead of the surrounding mana to enchant his blade, so there was little to no need for Markus to do it now, other than showing off. Something she’d have to fix sooner rather than later.
His second mistake was rather petty, but it still mattered to Paige. Seeing that Markus had no intention of moving first, Paige simply did what any adult would do in the same position.
“I’m going back to bed if you don’t do something soon, Markus…
Five. Four. Three. You better hurry up Markus.
She smiled and turned, making a motion to grab the makeshift short sword that appeared from behind her; the blackened edge seemingly dissipating as she moved her hand forward to grab the blade.
‘Thanks for watching out for me, but I would’ve been fine. Your mana density isn’t that high. Yet.’
She knew full well that his affinity would make the Skill hurt a little more, but not too much given his Apprentice Class. Now, if he had a better weapon she might be a little more worried about him actually hurting her, especially since she was essentially blocking the blade with only a pair of sheepskin gloves. In the end, either it would either sting a little or hurt like hell, depending on how fast she could release her mana.
But she trusted her gut that Markus would pull back before he hit her in earnest.
Letting the blade go, Paige’s fingers slid down the flat of the blade and grabbed his wrist in a solid lock. Twisting her body, she simply took a step forward and rotated his arm and elbow while kicking his feet out from under him and following him down to the packed dirt floor.
“You were the one counting down, Aunt! What was I supposed to do?”
“Let me leave for one. That would have been the easiest option. You could have found a better ambush point than the barn. There is a reason why most assassinations occur outside. Nice [Dark Blade] though, Markus.”
“Thank you, auntie. Can I get up now?”
“In a bit. Nick, how would you say he did?” Paige chuckled as she looked over to the barn doors.
Nick was crouching beside the open door, watching the pair sit on the ground. “He could’ve easily just used more of his mana to blend into the surroundings rather than use the ambient mana. That was really unnecessary, especially given how dark it is outside. The mana drain was negligible, but anyone above a specialized class could have found him just by that alone.”
Standing up, he took out his flint and sharply whacked it against the steel bar, sending a harsh light out to the barn as the sparks fell upon an already tarred torch. The light was a nice welcome since it was still rather dark in the barn.
“Tch. He was supposed to figure that out himself. Thanks for spoiling that little lesson.”
“So he finally got a Class. I thought he would’ve gotten his Class a few days ago at least.”
Paige could feel Nick’s eyes on her. And she knew exactly why too. But it wasn’t her fault, at least not what she could tell. Honestly, Markus should’ve gotten his Class a few days ago. She had done everything a normal person would’ve done in order to get a Class. Sure, she was monitoring his status to make sure it would not show everything. But even without her doing anything, his Class was still hidden from Markus, which honestly surprised her.
“So what Class did you end up getting?”
“I couldn’t decide between a Swordmaster or a Hero, but I eventually got Apprentice Swordmaster!”
Paige blinked. “Huh?”
“You said it yourself aunt. That the gods also play a part in gaining a Class. So I prayed these last few nights to every random god I could remember from Aunt Zenith’s class and I got a Class today!”
Now she could really feel Nick’s pointed gaze. Luckily Markus was facing her, Nick’s eyes twitching was not a good tell right now. And that was definitely not how Class acquisition is supposed to work!?
“Umm, Markus. What gods exactly did you pray to?”
‘If he prayed to all of them…’
“Umm, the major and minor gods. And the adventuring gods. And the -“
“Huh. Well okay. That’s great Markus!”
‘His Class is already Blessed. Did he get any divine level skills? Gods, how am I supposed to explain what that is?”
“Markus. Close your eyes for a minute, I’m going to look at your status, if that’s alright with you.”
“Hm? Couldn’t I do that myself?”
“You could, but I know how to do an [Advanced Status] check, which would help us guide you along.”
“Hm? Is it that much better than me looking at my own status?” Markus asked confusedly.
“It isn’t, but you wouldn’t have to use your own mana. Your core should be rather low, and Nick and I might new a few minutes to go through your status. You’d probably run out within a minute if you tried to sustain the spell alone.”
Markus sat down and waited, closing his eyes while relaxing.
NIck started signing the moment his eyes fully closed, his signals moving forcefully.
What thinking!? Pray gods Class? Problems?
Paige signed back using her old Ranger codes. Nick still hadn’t taught her the updated signs yet.
All good. Shouldn’t be a problem overall.
Inhaling, she focused her mana and quietly stated, “I, Paige, request the full status of the Apprentice in front of me. [Advance Status].”
The air in the room got noticably stuffier as the mana rushed into the room and combined with Paige’s own mana, her pale white cloud floated around Markus. At the last moment, she released a bit of her divine mana, a single golden thread combining with the pale white cloud for just a moment.
That was how she was hiding his Class, at least from Markus. He’d have to have a lot more mana before he’d be able to break the lock surrounding his real status. Extremely wasteful, but it would stop him from seeing his true Class, and that was a good enough reason for her to justify doing it.
The cloud of mana swiftly formed into a dense row of characters. Nick stepped forward to read the status with Paige.
Name: Markus Ederite
Affinity: Greater Darkness, Lesser Healing
Class: Blessed Apprentice / Subclass Apprentice SwordMaster
Skills: [Trail Finder], [Craft Modification – Farming, Bows, Armor, Weapon, Staff], [Green Thumb], [Natural Explorer], [Empty Handed Strike], [Basic Swordplay], [Seismic Slash], [Night Vision], [Dark Slash], [Shadow Walking], [Silent Arrow], [Power Strike]
Spells:[[Seismic]], [[Appraisal]], [[Dark Shroud]], [[Mana Orb]]
Party: Cidala Heroes: Temporary
Paige was suitably impressed with his status, though he had learned far more skills than she’d thought once she saw his status. No wonder he would want to test out his new Skills. Still, she’d have to drill it into him the importance of choosing the skill for the right occasion.
“Okay. You have to be careful when usi- “
“When using Skills. I know aunt, Aunt Zenith taught me how dangerous it is. I only used two Skills, and I watched how I was feeling the entire time as well.
Aunt Paige, co, could I see the item now?”
Her gaze must have given away her confusion. “You said that after I get a Class, you would show me the item. Remember?” Markus asked, suspicion lacing his question.
‘…crap! I did say that, didn’t I?’
“I remember Markus, it’s too early to think clearly right now.”
“Ring ring ring, show me my stuff.”
An opaque box opened in front of Paige as Markus blinked at the sight.
‘I really can’t fake this one. Tell the truth about how we found him. We all agreed on that much.’
Going through the list, she quickly found the one item she was looking for. Markus’s old cape. Well, old in the sense of him having no memory of it. She was rather impressed by the cloak too and would wear it if it wasn’t so gaudy looking.
Tapping on the box that held the item, she quickly grabbed the cloak as it appeared, the black cape shimmering from the flickering of the torchlight. The edges were lined with some type of monster fur, though Paige couldn’t quite make out what type of animal it came from. The inner side of the cape was adorned with patterns, somehow forming a picture of a man on a hill if you crossed your eyes and unfocused. But the outside of the cloak was impressive and gaudy at the same time. A symbol adorned most of the back, the thread clearly magical as it alternated between blending in with the cape and showing a brilliant golden marking.
Gaudy to say the least. Still, it wasn’t a symbol that made up the blood sacrifices, wasn’t any of the known gods, and it wasn’t from any of Trent’s armies that she’d seen over the years, so she hadn’t bothered to erase the markings. She herself had designed a few symbols herself that only she knew, so it wasn’t too terrible to let Markus see his former symbol either.
“You found me in this?” Markus breathed in awe. It must have been quite an impressive sight for a child of his age.
“Yeah. Anyway, when you get old enough to wear it I’ll let you have it. I promise. Hmm, rather, how about we put it up in your room? Yeah, that’ll work. Perhaps you’ll grow enough to wear it when you go out on Adventures.”
She could see tears forming in his eyes. “Th, thank you aunt.”
“…don’t mention it, Markus. Maybe one day you’ll find your family.”
‘Hopefully not, but one can hope,’ Paige thought to herself quietly. That would probably not be a happy reunion.
“Not to interrupt this, but Markus, you should get ready.”
“Hrm?” Paige and Markus looked askance at Nick.
Nick smiled, something that instantly caused warning bells to ring in Paige’s head.
“Zenith and Tyler are about to be here,”
“Oh shi-,” Paige yelped and ran out of the barn, jumpting straight through the window into her bedroom.
“Huh? Why is au-“
“Paige has always been a good judge of character. So, what do you think will happen when Zenith comes back?”
“Umm, throw a party?” Though, even Markus himself wasn’t too sure about that. She was awfully panicked, after all.
“No, Zenith is going to try and kill her. Come on, I’ll take you to the top of the barn. You’ll have a good show to watch pretty soon.”
“Gotta run, Zenith is gonna kill me”