Nash asked worriedly after Israel stayed quiet for a while.
Has the Church finally angered the Emperor by overstepping his sovereignty with their opinions?
That was quite likely. Count Radcliffe was a noble of the Empire after all, why should he serve at the Church’s beck and call? Even if they did want his help, they should have sent out a delegation with the necessary documentationit was a sign of mutual respect.
The middle-aged cavalier nodded at that thought. It may take quite a few steps, but this was the proper procedure for the interaction between factions. It was simply improper to ask for someone by word of mouth, especially a highborn.
“Interesting Well, Igor is no idiot.”
Surprisingly, Israel did not appear angryhe merely tapped his armchair handle rhythmically and nodded pensively. “The Church should have been fighting the dragons. But the loaning of the Nuclear Star meant entering Chaos-infested zones, and now not even that suffices” He said, and left it at that.
The Nuclear Star that was a part of the Diamond family’s treasure. Still, it was not that impressive as an itemthere was a huge difference between different powers after all. The positive energy from the Nuclear Star that was similar to the Sun’s was the best choice as a power source, but whether it was cleansing or healing, Sacred Light was the better choice.
And Sacred Light itself was inferior to ‘Order power’ in terms of purification ability.
If they did not have to save their strength for their battle against the dragons at the Sacred Mountain, the Church probably would not have come to the Empire for aid. Israel now believed that they must have run into some huge problems at the corrupted zone, which was why they could only pin their hopes on Joshua and his Order power.
There was also a simple reason why they did not pick Brandon. Robzek and Saya had recently seen Joshua in action and were even acquainted with him through conversation. On that occasion, the blond sword saint had already returned to the Norththey were neither familiar with that man nor heard of his name.
It was a rather ironic that a Church would display the human habit of picking that which they understand and are familiar with.
Then, noticing Nash’s troubled expression, Israel shook his head. “That’s not a bad thingit merely means that Radcliffe’s abilities are acknowledged,” he explained. “It would actually count as an honor too. The only problem here is that, even as Emperor, I couldn’t compel a noble to leave his own domain, and have him move south, far away from the continent.”
“So, Nash, just tell Nostradamus, and have him forward the message to the warrior.” The Emperor commanded crisply. “It entirely depends on the count’s mood whether the invitation would be accepted.”
On the same day, at Winter Fort Academy in Mount Nissia.
Like a fortress, the academy was built with four-fifth of its grounds within the mountain. There were two reasons for this, one, the entire snow mountain did not offer a surface large enough to accommodate an entire campus. Two, the temperatures within the mountain was much warmer and human-friendly than the outside.
Right now, on a stage deep within the mountain and the academy itself, the stage duels between students was approaching its finale.
“It’s your defeat, Amelia… ” Her brother said calmly as he leveled his edgeless but cold sword by her neck. “And my win.”
“Fine This one is yours, brother.” Realizing that there was no way out, the girl sighed helplessly. She glanced sideways on the blade that reflects both their faces, and simply put down her armed bow to raise both her hands in surrender.
“Congratulationsbut when on earth did you learn swordplay?” She asked, puzzled. For all she knew, her brother was the same as herself, and had only learned a little archery from their father who was a hunter. It was inconceivable that he had already learned such exquisite swordplay!
“Theodore taught me.” Ivan shrugged, and sheathed his sword when he saw that his sister was no longer resisting. “He said that even mages should learn some close-quarters combat skills, or we’ll leave ourselves vulnerable.”
“Right. Still, you were pointing your sword at your sister,” Amelia complained with a shake of her head. “You once promised that you’d protect me for life!”
“My dear sister.” Ivan chuckled, not one to simply lose out. “You weren’t holding back when you were sending chain fireballs and lightning bolts either.”
With his sword in his sheath, the young man finally noticed that his entire body was damp with nervous sweat. That was true especially for his forehead, which was filled with dense droplets of perspiration.
It was a hard fight against his own sibling. And it was a hard-earned victory too.
But a victory nonetheless, Ivan thought.
I’ve beaten Amelia.
I’ve won the final duel of the comprehensive assessment!
It was now that he truly felt the sensation of victory. He clenched his fist, holding back an almost-irrepressible whoop of victory.
Amelia had placed first on the written test, while he was fifth. Still, he came out on top in both the survival test and the duelwhich meant that he was first in the final rankings.
In short, the first comprehensive assessment held since Winter Fort Academy was founded concluded with hisIvan Makarov’striumph!
And what a laborious fortnight it was. First, it was two days of incessant multi-subject written rest, and then six-days and a-half of surviving in a hostile environment. Then, after three days, the breathless and nail-biting stage duels!
Ivan still could see the White Sleet Forest where he stayed alone for six nights. He defeated one snow slime, caught three sleet moths, and hunted a giant boar successfully. Many unexpected things happened on the way, but it was thanks to his ability and succinct planning that he scored first on survival.
Who knew that he had to play hide-and-seek with that slime for half a night? And that he had to rely on the sun’s suppression in the end to kill that popsicle of an anti-magic creature?
The sleet butterflies and the giant boar were even worse; their damage potential alone was several times that of the slimes. If not for his old life where he learned the habits and weaknesses of those creatures, Ivan probably would not have even scratched them.
What remained was the stage duels, which was actually simpler and easier. Students’ lack of mana meant most of them would not be able to keep unleashing spells, and would have to pick up some weapons they were familiar with as backup. Ivan was no exception and picked out a longsword, while Amelia picked a bow.
While Ivan’s natural gifts were nowhere near the top of the academy, he was still amongst the top few in terms of reflexes and combat affinity. Hence, by staying constantly on guard and relying on his excellent blade techniques, he defeated everyone and finally reached the Final, where he faced his own younger sister.
As the student with the highest elemental affinity, Amelia outclassed her brother in terms of spells. Along the way she had dominated against every opponent with that aspect of hereven Ivan barely held on.
Still, Amelia was an initiate and only had a few spells. Ivan, the one who most familiar with her moves, only needed to wait until her mana was depleted to turn the tables on her.
Outside the stage, the other students were cheering for the victor, while the instructors were nodding and applauding too.
Though it was quite the trivial thing compared to the real deal, it was a thrilling match for the students. The teachers, too, clapped at the display of intellect and willpower.
In between blurs of memory, Ivan was led by Theodore to an office on the highest floor of the academy.
“Go, open the door,” the brown-haired wizard told the youth motivationally. “Because of a few little things, the Liege can’t quite show his face in front of the learners. On this occasion, he will give you a special reward alone.”
Ivan was finally released from the joy of victory. He stared at the large door with a badge that showed a hand holding a sword and took a deep breath to calm his bloating emotions.
Then, he opened the door.
The afternoon sun was pouring in from the dormer, adding some warmth to the bitter-cold environment. Dark brown wooden boards absorbed all noise, making the room appear extraordinarily quiet.
A man wearing a black coat was sitting behind a broad desk, poring over an ancient tome that smelt of history. His posture was precise, his expression solemn, and seemed to be absorbed by the book in deep thought.
He had black straight hair and red eyes, and sturdy facial features that seemed to have been carved out of stone.
Clearly, he was Winter Fort Academy’s honorary dean, the Count of MoldaviaJoshua van Radcliffe.
“Ivan Makarov.” A clear, bass voice called from behind the desk as the youth became a little lost about what to do. The man had closed his book, turned to him and said calmly, “You’ve placed first in the general assessment. Congratulations.”
Ivan looked up to the direction of the voice, and the very moment he finally fixed his eyes to Joshua’s own, his spirit throbbed violently.
It was as if all color and light were gone, and the world had fallen into boundless darkness. There was no smell, no touch, no direction or even any sense of time flowing. All that was left was the deafening war cry that was far away and right next to him at the same time.
In the blink of an eye, the young man felt his legs turn into jelly. He almost fell to his knees, but did not thanks to the door being there as support. Covering his ears while his face paled, he hyperventilated.
“Dragon Might” He mumbled softly. “Terrifying So this is dragon might, the sensation of being about to be eaten”
His voice and body trembled as he spoke. But there was a pillar in his heart that he could rely on, and so he bit down and slowly shook himself off the genuine fear.
His goal was to become the greatest dragon slayer!
All his hard work for revenge and repay spilled blood with blood, only to lose to dragon might? The majestic aura that all draconic beasts boast?
What a joke!
He will never take one step back even if he faces death itself!
With that desire, he slowly straightened his back. Despite light tremors, he was now standing upright, his expression hardening.
Joshua’s eyes had flashed with slight surprise at Ivan’s performance, and said, with added meaning, “You’ve passed the test.”
He had refrained from showing his face in front of most students in the academy because of his horrendous negative-value charmit would be asking for a mass-fainting event.
That was why he simply asked for Theodore to bring the student with the highest score to his office alone to receive their reward. First, it was being careful around the other students, and the second was to perform a dragon-might test on the youth about to own a dragon.
Whatever the case may be, dragons are dangerous creatures even when they were mere hatchlings. Men any less brave would not just be incapable of providing the suitable carethey could hurt it.
Therefore, it was only right for the future dragon mage to get used to dragon might.
At present, Ivan had proven far outstanding than he originally thought. In just ten seconds he had broken free and clear his head from the sheer terror. He would even probably be unaffected the next time he faces that power.
“Come,” Joshua said with slight mirth, and took out a silver steel box covered with compact magical circuits. “Here’s your reward.”
Ivan took a deep breath and stared at his idol while walking in the direction of the desk, while the warrior pushed the box slowly towards him.
“My Liege Thank you.”
“Not a problem. But it also seems that you already know what’s inside.” Joshua nodded slightly at the overwhelmed youth and said encouragingly, “It’s what you deserve, there’s no need to panic.”
“This dragon egg”
Suddenly, the warrior stopped talking and turned behind towards the door, where a weird dimensional rift was spreading.
A knock on the door with orderly rhythm followed.
“Come in, Nostradamus,” Joshua greeted. “The door’s unlocked.”
With that, he quickly turned back to Ivan, shrugged and said helplessly, “Sorry, lad. Something seems to have come up and this award ceremony would have to be cut short.”
“If you have any doubts about your reward, just go to Theodorehe’s an expert.Now go enjoy the feast your academy has prepared, and accept the plaudits from your friends.”
As soon as he finished, the door to the office was opened and an elderly gray-robed man walked in slowly. He saw Ivan who was prepared to leave, and nodded in praise. “Nice one, kid.”
Then, the mage took out a small box made from red conifer wood and handed it to the youth who still looked lost. “Joshua gave you something, huh? Well, there’s no way I’d lose out This is for you too.”
“Tha-Thanks Mr. Dean!”
Despite the shocking chain of events, Ivan recognized the elderly manhe was the grand mage Nostradamus, one of the most powerful mages of the Empire and the dean of this academy!
His brain felt mushy from meeting two important personalities who were rarely seen in public. As if dream walking, he walked towards the door, prepared to leave. But just before he did, the youth who held two boxes in hand happened to hear something.
“Joshua, the Emperor has something to tell you.”