The First Blow
However, could he handle this strength? For the first time in his life, Richard found himself wavering.
The horse lost stamina quickly, slowing down. It was still much faster than most armoured horses, but its stamina dropped faster and faster until, after bashing into one last obstacle, it was completely fatigued. It gave a pitiful cry, collapsing to the ground with a large amount of froth at its mouth. Its hooves twitched for a moment, and then stopped moving.
Richard cried out, not expecting this outcome, and gazed with urgency at grand mage Fayr. The old mage patted him, saying, “No need to panic. An ordinary rune would only raise its speed by 30%, but the one you made isn’t good enough. It’s up to a 50% increase, so the horse couldn’t bear the rune. This was just an experiment anyway, that’s why we just forced the rune on it. If everything was perfect, the rune wouldn’t have harmed it at all. Now, I’m sure you’ve seen how runemasters can change the world.”
Richard nodded. His heart was still thumping wildly, leaving him unable to speak.
“This is a power that can change the world. Use it wisely, you in particular.” Fayr stated meaningfully and took Richard away.
Richard was given permission to rest that day, something he needed desperately. Drawing the rune had left him in a state of excitement the entire night, and he’d already lost all his strength and mana. He hadn’t been able to contain his excitement at the sight of the rune he’d made himself, but once he calmed down he felt a wave of fatigue overcome him. It felt like heavy stones were pressing down on his eyelids, leaving him unable to open them all the way. The only thing he wanted at that point was to fall asleep in place.
Fayr called a mage on shift and asked him to bring Richard back to his residence alongside two strong beings of another race. Once the mage on duty left, he thought over it once more and called a student next to him. He passed a receipt for things to buy, sending Richard a box each of powerful mana potions and energy potions from his own pocket.
This student was already thirty, and had followed the grand mage for many years. Although he only looked slightly shocked on the surface, his mind was already surging with storms. The two boxes would only have ten potions each, but each potion would be far more effective than those from the outside. While Fayr had a high rank in Deepblue, and his income matched his status, these two boxes of potions were akin to his salary for an entire month. This was the income he used not just for his own expenses, but also to operate his lab and pay his staff!
The other young students next to him couldn’t hide their thoughts either. There was a lot of astonishment and envy, and only a small number were indifferent to the situation…
The testing of the rune took up the whole morning. Fayr took a look at the magic hourglass that told the time, and found that the afternoon magic philosophy lessons were about to begin. The teleportation formation in the northeast corner flickered at that moment, and Steven and Minnie walked out.
Seeing the grand mage in the distance, Steven immediately cried out, “Professor Fayr, I finally found you!” The cultured and refined youth revealed an impatience and joy that could not be restrained.
The youth ran up to Fayr, giving him a respectful blow while filled with anxiousness. It had to be said that his etiquette and bearing was outstanding amongst people of his age. Considering his great family background and splendid talent, the fact that he was even doing this was admirable. Compared to him Sharon’s other two apprentices as of now were obviously lacking. Minnie often unknowingly displayed arrogance, while Richard mostly cared for nobody and nothing. Be it in class or in break, the boy was focused on his notes and the teaching material, basically ignoring everything in his surroundings. Many who wanted to befriend him would find themselves at a loss.
“Professor Fayr, I created this last night after a sudden gush of inspiration. Please appraise it!” Steven’s tone showed his eagerness. His humble attitude couldn’t hide the pride he felt in his accomplishment, and one could not help but be curious about what he’d brought. The youth carefully opened a leather suitcase in his hands that was made with magic, revealing a hexagonal beast hide that he passed to Fayr.
This dark red beast hide had a strong smell of sulfur. There were dark patterns on it that looked like bloodstains, with the large black spots showing that it had been taken from an extremely dangerous beast— the blazing earth dragon. Exceptional sturdiness and great magic conductivity made earth dragon hides the standard materials to draw runes, useful at ranks 2 and below. The specific hide Steven took out was even more exceptional than normal, able to perhaps make a rank 3 rune in the hands of a skilled runemaster.
The hide had been tailored and processed exquisitely, evidently not Steven’s own work. At the middle of the hide was a complicated spell formation in the shape of a closed fist, exuding a savage aura.
The lines and composition of the formation made it evident that the one who’d drawn it was quite proficient, and it was good by normal standards, but the shape was still somewhat crude. Since this was a formation that fused three smaller ones together, it required a precision and grasp of the big picture that could not be measured by ordinary standards. Although the formation wasn’t complete, the occasional magic light flickering from several corners indicated that some parts of it were effective.
Grand mage Fayr scanned the spell formation on the dragonhide for a while, nodding with slight surprise, “Elementary Strength, and it’s about… 20% complete. Hmm, not bad for your age and ability.
“This rune obviously has Saint Klaus’ style. Looks like he’s quite attentive in coaching you. I’ll have Luce study it when he gets back, and see how you can improve.”
Having said this, Fayr passed the dragonhide to a student next to him and headed for the teleportation point. The old grand mage paused when he was next to Steven, taking a long look at the young dragon warlock before saying, “Also, that dragonhide was pretty good. This is a bit of a waste.”
Escorted by a few students, Fayr’s figure disappeared into the rays of the magic formation. The skies were dark, and the wind was chilly.
Yet to turn eighteen, and with the red dragon bloodline, drawing a complete rune would be the most important step in Steven’s lifetime as a runemaster. Once a rune crossed 10% completion it was just a matter of time before he finished it. Even if he’d be stuck with elementary runes, he would definitely become a runemaster in the future.
Steven was still young, and definitely did not lack time. He’d assumed that this piece he’d spent most of the month toiling on, spending more than a million of the Solam Family’s gold coins to gather and process, would completely blow Professor Fayr away. However, the response had only been lukewarm.
Had this work been handed to Saint Klaus, he would sing the greatest of praises and compliments for it. On the other hand, Fayr had remained indifferent and cold. It was like the grand mage had poured water from Floe Bay on Steven’s burning heart.
Who was Luce? Steven knew that Luce was Grandmaster Fayr’s student, someone who was 31 years old. He was a level 13 mage with no special bloodline, only average for his age. The work he’d laboured over for a month had been tossed to a piece of mediocre trash?
If Fayr himself acted like this, it was easy to imagine how a legendary mage like Her Excellency would act. Steven suddenly felt his heart turn cold, thinking of the dwindling income every month and feeling at a loss. Was it really so difficult to obtain the legendary mage’s delight? What had gone wrong? Not considering Richard, even that piece of trash Randolph used to get a great amount before.
Steven didn’t prize money, but he wanted the recognition and teachings of the legendary mage. What Sharon’s Delight showed was her attitude; if he couldn’t even obtain that, how would he have the qualifications to become a legendary runemaster?
It had been around half a year since he had come to the Deepblue. In this time, Steven had not been slacking off. He would make ample preparations for each meeting with the legendary mage, all with the intent to show her his most perfect side. Some of these meetings were placed in his schedule, while the chance encounters were created by using manpower and physical resources. The time he spent on learning magic and training was a lot greater than before, and the speed at which his mana grew was proof of his hard work. He’d done everything he should’ve, and also gone beyond what was required of him. For example he’d done his utmost to deal with Richard, his largest competitor who’d been earmarked as a future saint runemaster. Unfortunately Richard seemed to be walled in like a rock, leaving Steven with no way to get to him.
In all situations, Steven would maintain the best manners and elegance as was becoming of the child of a great noble family. Even though there were times he wanted to punch someone’s nose or tear one’s clothes off, he knew the social construct of the Deepblue extremely well. He understood how everything worked and knew the temper, habits and likes of all the important people. He’d even succeeded in getting a group of friends, isolating his enemies. However, there was something a little off about the last point, because Richard had always been alone.
However, after putting in the most effort he ever had in his life, Steven had also gained the greatest disappointment in his life. Grandmaster Fayr’s nonchalance had completely woken him up. The Deepblue was a tremendous and matchless monster, and he’d thought that he knew it well. However, he hadn’t even seen its full appearance yet.. In a place where so many grand mages gathered, a 17 year old dragon warlock was nothing, even though he called himself a genius. There was no lack of people like him here.
One of Fayr’s students was still in the lab, cleaning up the area. Seeing Steven’s pale and blank look, he suddenly felt some pity. Besides, he’d obtained quite a number of little gifts from Steven. While not particularly rare, they represented Steven’s thoughtfulness. For someone from a noble family like Steven, this was very rare.
He greeted Steven, looked to the left and right to check that nobody was around, and then whispered, “Professor is very busy today. Richard gave him a rune this morning, and he spent the entire morning testing its effects. His schedule is completely messed up.”
While the student’s voice was gentle, the words were like thunder to Steven’s ears, to the point that he found himself almost unable to stand steadily.
“Richard? Rune? What rune? How complete was it?” Steven asked with a last trace of hope. His voice was hoarse, and purposefully unkempt hair grew completely dishevelled. A few strands on went damp with sweat, sticking firmly to his forehead.
However, he knew full well that any testable rune was far more complete than just 20%.However, he knew full well that a rune that could be tested meant that no matter how terrible it was, it still surpassed his 20% by a huge amount.
The student gazed at Steven with sympathy, pointing at the carcass of the armoured horse in the distance that was being towed away by some strong men. “It’s Elementary Agility, and the completeness… that doesn’t actually matter. See that armoured horse? The rune has already been made into a rune slot. The experiment was a success, which means that this rune slot only needs a bit of tidying up and it’ll be done.”
While he’d already prepared to hear this, the answer still surpassed Steven’s expectations. The rune had already been made into a rune slot, and the experiment had been a success? This was the second barrier on the path of becoming a runemaster, and that was placing a rune on the body of a particular being. However, Richard had easily passed this barrier. Steven knew the significance of this very well. If one used the loosest of standards, Richard could now be considered a runemaster!
This information smashed Steven’s bottom line. While there was still a long way to go till Richard could truly be a runemaster who could create rune knights, what was worse was that he had much more time than he did! Richard was only 12, and even if one were to say he was a year older than that, he would still only be 13!
Everything suddenly turned dark in front of Steven’s eyes. All his hopes for the future, his glamour, his honour… it seemed to disappear in an instant. The huge investment his family had placed on him now only seemed cold and heavy. Steven had borne witness to Randolph’s plight, and even jeered at the boy before, but soon enough it could be him in that position.
Steven grabbed at the student’s hand, and because he’d used too much strength, his fingernails sunk deeply into the other’s flesh. With a hoarse voice he pressed on, “Are you sure it’s Richard? Richard Archeron? That little guy who isn’t even thirteen yet?”
The student silently tore Steven’s hand away. He could understand how Steven was feeling now and how he had lost his calm. Little Richard had given everyone a tremendous shock, to the point that even the grand mage Fayr could not keep his calm, much less Steven.
The habits of the legendary mage had long since become an open secret, which was why students in the same field would always compete and even trample on each other. Each improvement from Richard meant Delight from the big boss for all the mentors who had taught him. However, this was a huge blow to the rest of her students. With Richard’s current achievement being so dazzling, the student couldn’t even bear to imagine how great the blow to Steven was. To be honest, there was nothing to imagine. Just the lost look on the face of this dragon warlock who had never lost his calm before was proof enough.
Steven was in no hurry to see what he had received, and just took out a little crystal bottle which he handed to the student as thanks. This was a potent mana potion, and although it was a small bottle it would fetch at least 500 coins on the market.
This gift was extremely pleasing, and it was merely thanks for revealing this piece of news. With how intelligent Steven was, he would definitely be giving a lot more in the future in exchange for what he’d just handed over. The student kept the little crystal bottle well, the cool, smooth and exquisite feeling from the bottle leaving him unwilling to move his fingers away.
This was a day with great harvests for him: he’d witnessed the birth of a miracle, and obtained a ‘little gift’ that was extremely pricey. There would even be more on the way! His mood only grew better, there was nothing more he could expect. Before stepping foot into the teleportation formation, the student could not help but look up at Floe Bay’s skies, thinking that the weather that day was splendid.
Steven also looked up, but all that filled his sky was grey clouds. It was the omen of an incoming blizzard…
Only Steven and Minnie were left on the large viewing platform of the lab. Minnie was stood by the formation, and only when the strong men cleared the armoured horse from the arena did she take a few steps closer to the railings to look attentively. She hadn’t drawn close for Steven’s conversations with either Fayr or his students.
“This shitty weather!” Steven cursed, unable to hold himself back. The beginning of spring was extremely cold in Floe Bay, and the chilly wind blew on his sweat-soaked clothes to make him feel like he’d fallen into an icy hole. He opened his palm and looked at what the student had given him, his expression even worse than before.
This was a half-charred animal hide, obviously taken from a subspecies of some lizard. It was at least four grades worse than the blazing earth dragon he’d used, 1/1500th of the total price. The smart youth immediately understood the meaning of this: Richard’s formation had been drawn on something that barely met the standards.
Everyone knew that the better the material, the higher the success and efficiency of the magic formation. The half-charred fragment seemed incomparably heavy in Steven’s hands, difficult to even hold. There had always been a disparity between him and Richard in his mind, but because of this half-charred fragment, the distance had gotten even wider.
Yet another gust of chilly wind blew, and Steven’s expression paled. He suddenly felt that he hated this place, this stupid weather, the stupid things, the stupid people! The only thing that he was satisfied with was that grand mage Fayr had acted appropriately while speaking to him in front of his students, and had not gone too far.
But what was the point? He’d already lost in general. What was the point of winning at trivial things then?
Steven waived his arms and signalled for Minnie to walk towards the teleportation formation, wanting to leave this place as soon as possible. Minnie suddenly asked nonchalantly, “What did he give you just now?”
Steven’s body stiffened, and he gritted out, “A good piece of hide!”