Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
At dawn, half a month after Karlis had got in touch with him, Joshua was left surprised by the news he heard while strolling through the stratosphere.
The raging winds unfurled in the elevated altitude, the cold airflow that carried snowflakes reflected the light of the sun and glittered in a lively manner beneath the warrior’s feet. He had both his hands clasped behind his back as he slowly walked over the skies and patrolled his own domain, while the mana projection of an Avian girl hung before her, breaking the news to her with a helpless expression.
“Yes, Joshua. However, it’s more specific to say that they went beyond my observation range instead of missing.”
There was now the mark of a golden star on Zero-Three’s forehead, with two translucent wings flanking it. It was a result of her completely accepting the mark of Gale, Lord of the Skies that bonded with her soul. Still, she appeared to be troubled at the moment, with both her hands hugging her knees as she floated beside Joshua to complain. “You mentioned before that the elite students should be granted greater freedom, and so I didn’t pay much attention to them… Then, she vanished out of the blue, and for almost a week now.”
“Tell me, who’s missing?”
Joshua did not appear anxious, merely grumbling something about unable to look away for a moment under his breath about before speaking calmly. “Lisa or Ivan’s gang? I believe the others don’t have the confidence to play hooky.”
“It’s Lisa, that Drakonid apprentice of yours,” Zero-Three replied, a smile ofschadenfreude 1 faintly visible from his face. “Looks like you are perfectly aware, Joshua, that your apprentices love to scamper around like yourself… Ah, by the way, she is missing along with Zero-One.”
“I’m guessing that she and Zero-One had dug a hole down to play,” Zero-Three added as Joshua turned to stare at her. “Otherwise the signal from her Information Terminal would not be blocked and her position indeterminable.”
After a few months, the tunnel Zero-One had dug beneath the Nissia Snow mountain had reached unbelievable extents: the cavity was deep and long that it was even wider than dwarven settlements, and from a certain perspective the Steel Elemental had dug a small subterranean world all on its own. Furthermore, according to a dwarf engineer who visited the tunnel, it was ‘very suitable for underground living’.
However, it was so deep that even the instructors of Winter Fort Academy did not know where the tunnel headed, while the Information Terminal could not be used that far into the subterranean reaches as well due to insufficient capacity.
In a nutshell, it was a blind spot.
“Joshua, don’t you think that they are in danger?”
Though Zero-Three showed a hint of schadenfreude before, it was but a grumbling against Joshua’s frequent lone departures—she was actually concerned over Lisa and Zero-One. “Do we need to send a party of knights to search for them?” She asked anxiously. “One week isn’t long, but it’s enough to run into some danger.”
“There’s no danger to speak of. I’ve very much purged Moldavia off any magical beast, and those two’s abilities should be able to handle any stragglers… I’m curious how those two ganged up, and why Syndicate would let them scamper around.”
Joshua frowned slightly, although his expression quickly relaxed. “It’s fine. It’s normal for children to be a little active—let them have their fun.”
If push came to shove, he could still directly make contact with Syndicate through Steel Strength Resonance, and the fact that it did not contact him was sufficient proof they were not in danger. Indeed, he could communicate with the balrog even if the tunnel reaches to another world with much more stability than the Information Terminal itself.
Beside him, Zero-Three looked up in the air as she recalled what Lisa and Zero-One did before they went missing. “Let me think… They were watching the moon and ran into each other in one midnight, and then Lisa seemed to understand Zero-One’s electromagnetic signals, and therefore chatted until dawn broke…”
Everything else could not be more natural. Having met another rare person who could speak in its mother tongue, Zero-One appeared to have developed a fine opinion of Lisa, and the two made an effort to meet and chatter in the next few days. They even went for a few strolls around the dwarven settlements, and because Lisa was a friend of Zero-One’s she was treated with exponential respect, and the young girl appeared interested in the mysterious underground world as well.
“And then they dug a tunnel, huh… Come to think of it, that isn’t a bad training—especially with unknown, mysterious and unfathomable danger.”
Joshua considered things and found that there was not much risk, whereas keeping all students under his observation would not permit them to undergo unexpected growth.
“Let’s have Winter Fort Academy set an academy mission,” he said, having made up his mind. “Explore the subterranean reaches and map the underground region Zero-One has dug. One completely mapped passageway gets them two thousand points, and there’s no upper limit. Let me see how much they have learned in the academy… and how deep Zero-One has dug to actually block the Information Terminal.”
At present, the point redemption system of Winter Fort Academy was complete, with gold, silver, and gems available for students with fewer points, and tailored armor for those with more. Even small warships were even exchangeable with enough points, and if there is Special Contribution to the academy itself, they might get special strengthening developed by Winter Fort Academy and various research groups!
A typical mission usually gets one around fifty to a hundred points, with a hundred exchangeable for precious metals enough to cater to a family of three’s expenses for a year. Five hundred meant crafting a magical scepter that could unleash chain spells with Living Metals that was at an experimental phase at the moment, a tool with ten times the speed of gathering mana, spraying different spells like a machine gun without self-destructing even when it overheated. The same principle is also used to craft gauntlets, armors, and helmets with special alloy as a set.
One thousand points can be redeemed Extraordinary substances for research of private use, such as three Leaves of the Lifetree, a bottle of Prime Holy Water, fifty carats of pure mithril and so forth. Even items such as Nuclear Star, Adamantite, Meteor Steel or crystals were amongst the list of exchangeable items. As a result, certain factions such as the Elven Court and the Seven Gods Church were curious as to why Winter Fort Academy would list items exclusive to their possession—they do not recall trading them, something of which a certain Liege who was experimenting with creation conveyed no comment.
Other special requests were also permissible for exchange, including private lessons from a selected instructor. The actual exchange rate lies in the instructor’s rating of their own, which also precludes assist in Ascension or conducting experiments, the pricing of which was a little expensive than tuition.
Those, however, were the normal exchanges that could be purchased with gold, and it was not limited to those when it came to two thousand points, where things money could not buy came into play. Experimental enchanted armors were priced at twenty-five hundred, although it would take few times that amount to have the equipment personalized. Various magical machinery was exchangeable with more points as well, including the ‘Mobile Supersonic Electromagnetic Cannon’ that was worth seventy-five hundred, the ‘Mobile Portal’ worth eight thousand, ‘Anti-Gravity Flight Equipment’ worth thirty-five hundred, ‘Gold-tier Elemental Puppet Contract’ worth nine thousand, ‘Hypnosis Glasses’ worth fifty-five hundred and so forth.
Those items were provided by certain Legendary champions who insisted on anonymity, and were mostly little trinkets they had crafted from to time, and yet those objects were imbued with extreme power. Even so, the usage of those objects was demanding—the Mobile Portal that was donated by a certain Empire’s dimensional mage, as an example, requires the user to be Gold tier or extremely proficient in dimensional spells, though the item was indeed a portal directed to any spot around the continent, and could be carried anywhere. When one had such ability, they themselves could cast fixed-point teleportation spells already.
As for the Hypnosis Glasses contributed by a certain Mister William who did not wish to reveal his name, while sounding evil and actually was, it was basically ineffective against beings over seventy Intelligence points. In other words, apart from magical beasts without any mind to speak of, no humans would be affected unless they were mentally impaired. Even creatures that were a little smarter could free themselves from its control.
While that may be the case, the worth of those objects was unquestionable—if not for the value of those items itself but to study the essence of Legendary powers, they are of a fitting price.
Still, there was yet anyone who collected twenty thousand redemption points. That meant the exchange of a small aerial warship which was eighty-five meters in length and fully equipped with combat armaments. It also came with a small mana crystal powder production line that could be used to produce the gunpowder of beam cannon shells, although the vessel itself was placed there as part of the scenery—no one believed that any student would exchange it.
There was much more mystery when it came to ‘Special Contributions’ as well. Apart from the select few who completed excessively difficult missions—such as the students who wiped out all berserker aberrations on the Ural plains during the advent of the Great Mana Tide—none could claim that feat, and only certain special exchanges could be exchanged by those Special Contributions.
In turn, Special Contributions were also divided into five ranks: D, C, B, A and S. The lowest rank D begins with redeemable exchanges such as ‘Activating Hidden Bloodline’, where the academy would invigorate and materialize a hidden bloodline, whether it was psionic, draconic or any other unusual bloodline inheritance. A fine example was one student from the West Mountains—the Third Princess from a Psionic Kingdom—had been unable to secure a place in the struggle for the crown because she did not awaken her psionic abilities. Plans had been made to send her off to a nearby kingdom in a political marriage, but interference from her mother’s allies saw her sent to Moldavia.
She strove to become a mage in Winter Fort Academy, and luckily attained Special Contribution in one of her missions. Opting to activate her bloodline and after having gone through the ritual, she successfully became a Silver-tier psionic, gaining grounds to return her country.
At present, the academy’s Special Contributions selection had been redeemed up to D-rank. Any higher, such as ‘Stabilizing Casting Ability’ or ‘Special Extraordinary Legacy’ were akin to decorations and yet to be made available, while others existed in data vault but were not made public… After all, things such as ‘Cyborgization’, ‘Experimental Powers Blessing’, or ‘Extraordinary Organs Transplant’ were all experimental and taboo technology, not to mention others such as ‘Racial Conversion’ or ‘Artificial Support Soul’ that involved ethical issues.
Some of those exchanges were researched by Joshua according to his own body systems. One of the A-rank Special Contribution—the eight-hundred points ‘Artificial Support Soul’ would aid in processing, training, empowering energy circulation, collecting and analyzing information, gathering dispersed energies, absorbing the corpses and lifeforce of foes for own uses or other special abilities. Those could rapidly elevate a defenseless mortal up to Silver-advance and arrive before the threshold of Gold, although that was not its limit.
The only issue with the Support Soul was that it would become unstable later on, when the tester arrived at the boundary of Gold. The artificial spirit would not have the same find bond with the tester as they did early on, developing a rejecting reaction that puts their lives at risk. Furthermore, if Joshua and Nostradamus did not keep watch during the experiment, the tester’s life could fall to danger at any given moment.
The reason the redemption system of the academy was so complete was because Joshua had used an experimentally as a reward system. When the Empire formally begins to develop outwardly, the credit could be renamed as contribution points. Special Contribution on the other hand would not need to be renamed—as cumulative rewards for what were benefits and wages, that method could encourage passion on part of explorers, while reasonably improving their ability.
“When it’s almost time and Development truly begins, the timetable where the Exchange System is brought online must be carried forward as well… Most of the experimental technology used for rewards should be more complete by then as well.”
At the very thought, Joshua nodded slightly as he looked toward the south, himself standing on the stratosphere. “The Empire’s technological reserves are far from enough… my trip to the Far South this time would be a good chance to find a partner. The elves’ druid philosophy allows transfiguration into Lifetrees or Dragon Body at will, and much more learned in the techniques of living bloodlines than our racial change ritual. A partnership could swiftly research applications for those experimental techniques.”
“But, Joshua… aren’t you specialized on Steel Strength? Why would you research so much weirdness?”
Zero-Three asked puzzledly beside him. As the creator of Winter Fort Academy servers and data vault, as well as being the data vault and storage copy of Moldavia, she naturally knew what Joshua, Nostradamus, and the others were experimenting with. She found some of those acceptable, while others—such as that artificial soul—a little harrowing and threatening to her own self.
In the end, she was an artificial soul as well, and simply a little more complete. But though she knew that Joshua was not some lunatic, she still felt certain fear.
“Being specialized definitely brings rapid progress, but not opening your eyes to see the world and its vastness would drive yourself deep into the vortex of ignorance, where there would be no return.”
Joshua reached out and tried to pat Zero-Three’s head, but the rather irritated A.I turned so that his hand touched her wing. The warrior thought nothing of it—he understood her mood, but was promptly surprised when he felt something different to the touch.
“Wait. You have achieved initial soul materialization in such a short time?”
There had been feathery touch to the warrior’s hand just now, which felt a little illusionary and carried a hint of watery flow…. Joshua had thought nothing about it at first, but was left astonished when he realized what it was: After the Eastern Sea Sage had visited Moldavia and given him the Soul-Substance Transition Rune, he simply gave it to Zero-Three since he was helping Israel, Barnil and the others to complete the Void Warship Production Line and Information Terminal Server, leaving him without the time to study the Rune. That in turn allowed the girl who was just soul to grasp the mysteries of Soul-Substance Transition… But how long was that? And she already had a breakthrough to boot?
“Hmph… I have attained Gale’s rune for so long, and the Soul-Substance Transition Rune was also definitely appropriate for my current state. It’s just a little progress; it’s nothing.”
Watching Joshua’s surprised expression, Zero-Three could not help making a pleased face and flapped the little wings behind her back. The warrior never noticed that she had been maintaining that form since she had a breakthrough, letting her down, but she was satisfied to have stunned him now.
“Not bad, not bad. Really not bad…”
Joshua, however was delighted than when he was about to Ascend. He reached out to stroke Zero-Three’s again, and this time, she did not evade him.
Zero-Three, artificial intelligence, knew the man before her better than most—compared to rapidly advance in ability and leaving others behind, she knew he wished that others could keep up and advance beside him.
“Let’s go home.” Joshua looked toward the sun amidst a sense of accomplishment. “It’s almost time—the portal should be calibrated by now.”
Zero-Three nodded, aware of the warrior’s plan.
On this day, Starfall Year 837, the 15th of February, was also the day he planned to head to the distant southern elven settlement around the Lake of Eternity, to meet the Nature’s Magister and the current Elven Empress.
Hence, in the very next second, both descended from high above, passing through clouds and temples down to the skies of Moldavia. The view there covered every inch of the Moldavian metropolis, and at the top of a castle-like building in the heart of a city, a pale blue radiance of dimensions flickered.
It was time to go.