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Chapter 354: Somewhat Teaching
Holding out the half-sphere relic, I imbued a small amount of aether into it. The relic flared to life, burning with a quicksilver glow that coalesced around the zone’s exit portal. The opaque field of energy rippled and became clear as gla.s.s. It was like looking through a window into my rooms at Central Academy.
I gestured for Caera to go first.
“I’d call you a gentleman but I know you’re using me as a test rodent for your new toy,” she said with a smirk before disappearing through the portal, immediately becoming visible again on the other side.
Walking through it was as seamless as going through a door. There was no discomfort or sense of vertigo, as people sometimes felt when using the teleportation gates around Dicathen. It felt strange to move so smoothly from the Relictombs into my clean, mostly empty rooms at the academy.
Caera was standing in the middle of the room, her scarlet eyes tracking my every movement as I bent down to deactivate the ascension portal. When both of the pieces were pressed together, they made a faint click and reconnected, forming a perfect sphere. I stored the Compa.s.s in my dimension rune.
“I’m sorry it didn’t work, Grey,” she said finally, her gaze softening.
“It’s fine,” I grunted. “It will, eventually.”
Caera gave me a tight-lipped smile and waved a hand across her body, which was covered with spatters of dried blood and black gore. “Anyway, I better go get cleaned up.” She glanced out the window, where light was already creeping across the campus. “Looks like we were in there for most of the night. Cla.s.s is soon.”
“You should probably clean up here,” I pointed out, gesturing toward the bathroom connected to my bedroom. “It might raise a few eyebrows if anyone sees you roaming the building covered in blood.”
Caera looked at the ceiling as if charting a path from my room to hers. “Good point.”
After handing her a fresh towel, I sat down at the Sovereigns Quarrel board and mindlessly prodded the pieces.
‘Maybe it didn’t work because Sylvie is an asura and we were in the Relictombs?’ Regis asked, picking up on my own half-formed thoughts.
No, I thought. It felt the same as before, just after I’d formed the aether core. Except now, instead of putting buckets of water into a lake, I’m dumping lakes into an ocean.
With my aetheric reserves having grown ten-fold by fortifying my core with a second layer of binding aether, I had thought for sure I could break the second seal within Sylvie’s stone. I was wrong. Instead, I had watched as all the power I had gathered—both from the Relictombs itself and the seed of Three Steps’ dried-fruit toy—disappeared into the vast depths of the runic framework, draining away like sand through a sieve.
But you’re right, I continued, closing my eyes and letting myself sink into the soft mattress. We shouldn’t try it in the Relictombs again. We don’t know what’ll happen if a full-blooded asura emerges from inside.
Caera appeared from the bathing room a few minutes later, scoured clean of the grime and clad in fresh clothing. “It just occurred to me while I was in your shower that my leaving your room in the early hours of the morning, freshly bathed, might start just as many rumors as if I were covered in blood,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Less damaging rumors,” I said.
She frowned down at me, one brow raised. “For you, perhaps. But then, you are not a highblood lady with a reputation to maintain.”
I tilted my head, holding her gaze. “Do you want me to open the portal so you can cover yourself in blood again?”
Caera deflated and wearily waved my words away. “Have a good day in cla.s.s, Grey.”
When she was gone, Regis’s voice filled my head. ‘It’s impressive, you know?’
What? I asked, sensing some trap in his words.
‘How you can be so good and so bad with women at the same time.’
It was obvious how much the mood within the Melee Enhancement Tactics cla.s.s had changed as I walked down the steep stairs of the room.
After it was established that they would be competing at the Victoriad—in front of retainers, Scythes, and Sovereigns—students began to arrive early, even those who had mocked the idea of learning to fight without magic only a few days ago were eagerly waiting with their peers.
Enola and her subservient friend, Laurel of Named Blood Redcliff—Professor Abby’s niece, I found out—had taken up most of the training platform, while the rest had paired up with one another and were spread throughout the cla.s.sroom, sparring awkwardly.
‘What…are they doing?’ Regis asked, disturbed and unsettled.
My brows furrowed in confusion as I watched the students.
These were mostly highbloods from powerful houses—including several from Vechor, where young men and women were trained to be soldiers from the moment they could walk—but only a couple of them seemed to have any idea of what they were doing.
Their punches and kicks were lacking, like they were play fighting with a toddler. Of the entire cla.s.s, only Valen, Enola, and Marcus of Highblood Arkwright looked like they were actually sparring.
I let out a scoff in realization. “They’re not using mana.”
Alacryans awakened as mages earlier than Dicathians, so it made sense that the majority of their training before attending Central Academy relied on mana to fuel their movements and attacks, rather than muscles and technique.
I turned my gaze to see Mayla scurrying up the stairs toward me, brows lined with sweat.
“You’ll be teaching today, right? Seth has been showing me some of the exercises he read about in a book to help us warm up for your lesson!”
“Seth?” I felt a small pinch in my chest at the name, my face involuntarily scrunching into a grimace.
I had kept Seth far back in my mind. It was easier to ignore his existence than continuously trying to convince myself that I was justified in despising him for his sister’s actions during the war.
After all, it had led to countless elves being enslaved and eventually the decimation of Elenoir.
Who cares if it wasn’t directly his fault.
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His family got what they deserved…
‘Even if Seth was personally the one that charted the path to Elenoir instead of his sister, let’s not forget, you did some terrible things as a soldier in the war. too,’ Regis said, his voice tinged with annoyance.
I know that… I know. Just…
I rubbed my temples, walking past Mayla. My eyes s.h.i.+fted away from Seth, who was struggling to do push-ups. I made my way toward the office, ignoring the stares of the students I pa.s.sed until I was stopped by a figure standing in front of my door.
Enola had her arms crossed, eyes staring icily at me even as sweat rolled down her face.
“Is there a problem?”
She lowered her arms and let out a scoff. “It’s been days since it was announced that our cla.s.s would be in the Victoriad, and you haven’t done anything besides tell us to exercise our bodies.”
I raised a brow, jerking my head over my shoulder. “It looks like you all are doing more than that already. I don’t think sparring was part of the regimen.”
Enola clenched her hands tightly as she stepped forward. “Because we’ll be fighting in the Victoriad for Vritra’s sake! We have to do something!”
“And you’re free to do whatever you want,” I responded coolly. “This facility is at your disposal. I’m not holding you back.”
“That’s…that’s not what I meant.” The Frost blood’s heir lowered her head, her shoulders sagging. “Train us. Show us how we can fight like how you did against Valen’s tutor.”
I hesitated, looking away from her pitiful display when my eyes caught sight of Seth once more.
Annoyance and resentment flared as I turned my head back and stepped around Enola. I opened the door when I felt a small tug at my elbow.
“Please,” Enola whispered, her voice quivering faintly.
I waited, silently hoping that Regis would crack a joke or just remind me of the justifications I had made before that were eluding me right now. And for once, he didn’t have anything to say.
I looked back, regretting it immediately. Regretting having to see how the students all looked at me with hopeful eyes, Valen even going as far as bowing slightly along with his friends. Seth stood and peered from the corner of his eye, too afraid to look directly at me, while Mayla smiled meekly.
‘You made the right choice,’ Regis thought.
Who said I made a choice, I replied, gently removing Enola’s hand.
‘That stubborn brain of yours,’ my companion responded with a chuckle.
I shook my head and faced the cla.s.s. “Everyone on the training platform!”
The kids dropped everything and rushed to the elevated platform, Enola somehow being the first one there despite the fact that she had just been next to me.
I made my way toward the crowd, scratching the back of my head and trying not to think about whether or not I had made the right choice.
Inside the ring, Enola had sat down with Laurel while Valen, Remy, and Portrel were close behind. One by one, my eyes scanned the rest of the students, recalling how they had sparred with each other.
Marcus and Sloane, both Vechorians, had been training together with similar styles, a close-in form of combat utilizing hard-hitting knees and elbows. Another of the students from Vechor, Brion of Named Blood Bloodworth had been sparring with the kid he was sitting next to now, a tanned, blonde boy from Etril named Linden.
Linden looked more like a farmer than a fighter and his swings were messy and wide compared to Brion, who had obviously had some level of training.
Out of all of the students watching me eagerly like baby chicks, only Deacon seemed uninterested sitting next to Yanick in the back, his face hidden behind a book.
I let out a sigh. “What would you get if you injected babies with the muscles of a veteran warrior?”
Raising my right hand, I pointed my finger at the cla.s.s. “You.”
This statement was met with a mixture of responses, ranging from confusion to annoyance and even anger.
‘That’s one way to get them fired up for cla.s.s,’ Regis responded.
“Simply put, you guys might as well be punching with your wrists,” I said, demonstrating with a flick of my own wrist. “And the only reason why it’s been working is because you have enough mana to make even that hurt.”
Enola bolted up to her feet, her mouth already open, but I cut her off. “I’m not here to stroke your ego or make cla.s.s fun and exciting,” I said. “I’m going to be teaching one thing today. Whether you choose to listen is up to you.”
“Throwing a punch takes your whole body, starting not from the swing of your arms, but from the ball of your feet.” I swiveled my right foot slowly and pointed to my hips. “Like a tornado, you generate momentum from your leg, rotating your hip and letting power build up as you turn your shoulder and explode your fist forward. Any questions?”
To my surprise, it was Valen’s hand that shot up first. “Can you show us a demonstration using a target?”
“No,” I deadpanned. “Pair up and demonstrate on yourselves.”
Two days later, when I entered my room for the next cla.s.s, I was surprised to find half the students already waiting for me. Rafferty, head of the Melee Combat Department, was also there, sitting in the row closest to the training platform.
Enola was standing in front of him, throwing the same punch I had shown the cla.s.s last session.
“—starts in the foot, legs and hips, like this…” I overheard her say as I made my way down the stairs. Her eyes lit up as she made her way to me.
“I’ve been practicing the punch you taught us, and you were right! The force score on my impact gauge artifact more than doubled after reading my punch, and it’s continuing to improve,” she said excitedly while showing me her battered knuckles.
“I-I see,” I responded, caught off guard by her excitement. Turning to Rafferty, I gave him a small bow, only glancing at the stack of parchment in his hand.
“Just here for a standard inspection, nothing to worry about, Professor Grey. Miss Frost here was just filling me in on your last lesson,” the department head said with a cough.
I gave him a hollow smile before heading to the bottom of the bleacher-style seats. While I waited for the rest of the students to arrive, I listened to the din of conversation coming from the cla.s.s. Mayla was sitting halfway up the bleacher-style seats between Seth and Linden, the only other student in Melee Enhancement Tactics who was from Etril.
“Do you think you’ll get a second rune during the bestowal?” Linden was asking Mayla. “It’s still hard to believe you got an emblem as your first rune…”
Mayla looked down sheepishly. Although she was confident and energetic toward cla.s.swork, she seemed to struggle when it came to communicating with the other students.
“I don’t really know,” she finally answered. “Everyone who hears about how I got the…rune is always so surprised. No one has ever heard of it happening like that.”
Linden was shaking his head, his mouth slightly open. “You’re so lucky. On the verge of being unadorned, then wham! Emblem.”
Mayla twirled a lock of hair around her finger absentmindedly. “Yeah…”
Marcus leaned back in his chair and looked over his shoulder at the pair. “My first rune was a crest. Personally, I’m hoping for a second one during this bestowal. Not as impressive as an emblem”—he gave a little nod to Mayla, who blushed—“but if I can get a second one early, it’s realistic that I could have a third rune while still at the academy.”
“According to my grandfather,” Valen interjected from several seats away, drawing the attention of nearly everyone in the room, “fewer than ten percent of students manage three runes before graduating, but that’s still higher than nearly any other academy in Alacrya.”
Marcus shrugged nonchalantly, as if he didn’t find these numbers troublesome in the least.
“I already have my second,” Enola said, taking a seat in the front row. “A crest during my first bestowal at the academy.”
Rafferty cleared his throat, and all eyes turned toward him. “Remember, the bestowment ceremony is a time for introspection, and your bestowal is a reflection of your effort to master both mind and mana. Focus less on what you will receive, and more on what you have done to earn it. Professor Grey, please start.”
My eyes swept over the students waiting for me to speak. “Last cla.s.s, I taught you how to throw a proper punch. This time, you’ll work on how to properly dodge.”
A hand went up. It was Mayla.
“I’m sorry, Professor, but is it possible to review your lesson from the last cla.s.s? I want to make sure that I’m doing it correctly,” she asked with her hand still up in the air.
“No. Ask your cla.s.smates, make some friends,” I replied as Yanick slipped through the door, the last to arrive. Before he could take more than a couple of steps, I waved him down to the floor. “Yanick, good timing. You’re up first.”
He frowned with concern, but made his way down the steps to stand beside me.
“I’m going to throw two punches at you. A straight right at your face, then a left hook at your ribs,” I informed him.
I raised my fists. “Dodge.”
Stepping forward, I threw my right fist straight at his face. Despite his initial surprise, Yanick was still able to step back away from my reach.
Pivoting on my right foot, I swung my left fist in a wide hook.
Yanick took another step back to dodge.
I turned back to the cla.s.s, who were watching from the bleachers. “What did Yanick do wrong?”
“He had too much wasted movement,” Valen answered promptly.
“Correct.” I turned to Yanick once more. “Again.”
My little sparring partner nodded seriously, readying himself this time.
I punched again, limiting both my speed and power. This time, the young Alacryan leaned away from the cross rather than jumping back, then parried the hook.
I repeated the exercise, and Yanick’s response was the same, lean back before parrying the hook. The third time, his jerking lean back forced him to take an unplanned step, and he only barely got his hand down in time to intercept my hook.
My fist landed solidly in his side on the fourth repet.i.tion, just hard enough to knock the wind out of him.
The boy let out a cough as I turned to the rest of the cla.s.s. “Learning to dodge effectively means that you not only cause your opponent to miss, but also create an opportunity for you to attack at the same time.”
The students looked at me with renewed interest; even Deacon had put down his book to pay attention.
“Who would like to go next,” I said, waving Yanick away. The boy’s braids bobbed as he hopped off the platform before taking a seat.
A couple of hands went up, with Enola practically waving her hand to be picked.
“Valen,” I said, turning toward the highblood.
Portrel let out a cheer, but Valen’s cool look quieted the larger boy.
“You understand what to do by now?” I asked, adopting my stance.
Valen nodded as he slid back into a stance I recognized as the Vechorian guard stance from my short duel with his tutor, Drekker.
When I threw my cross, he leaned forward, and his elbow fell down to block the hook.
I took a step back. “Take note of how small Valen’s movements are. By leaning into the first punch, Valen is setting himself up to both block the hook with a smaller movement than Yanick’s parry, and to be inside my guard for a counter.”
I raised my fists. “Let’s see if he can do it faster.”
Valen and I went several more rounds, with each combination coming quicker and quicker. Finally, his initial in-step was too shallow, and my cross clipped him on the cheek, nearly knocking him to the floor.
Despite seeing the headmaster’s grandson get hit, Rafferty seemed unaffected as his pen continued to blur across the parchment as he took notes.
“Everyone pair up. Go back and forth, trading off as attacker and defender. Attackers, start at half speed and work your way up.”
“Thank you for the lesson,” Valen said with a bow before walking away.
‘It’s so boring now that the kids are so obedient,’ Regis groused.
Are my lessons too basic for the mighty G.o.d weapon of destruction? I asked with a chuckle.
‘Yes, as well as anatomically useless for me. So unless you’re going to start teaching your students to fight on all fours, I’m going to take a nap,’ he answered as his presence faded.
The rest of the session pa.s.sed quickly, and most of the students seemed genuinely surprised when I announced their dismissal.
“Get out of here,” I shooed impatiently.
“Thanks, Professor,” Marcus said as he led the way up the stairs. A couple of the others nodded. Mayla flashed me a wide grin and waved as she took the broad steps two at a time.
Rafferty was on his feet, his papers tucked beneath his arm. He quickly adjusted his black and azure suit. “Your teachings are…unusual, but effective. It looks like I won’t have to worry too much, Professor Grey.”
“Appreciated,” I said as the head of the Melee Combat Department marched up the stairs and out of my cla.s.sroom.
I made myself busy putting things away and shutting everything up. I was almost done when I felt someone watching me.
“Were you going to announce yourself, or just stand there acting all creepy?” I mused, closing and locking my office door.
Caera was leaning against the doorframe.
“I was just a bit stunned watching you clean,” she said with a hand over her mouth. “I am unaccustomed to you looking so domestic.”
‘Domestic indeed,’ Regis chortled.
I sighed. “If you’re going to poke fun, at least help while doing it.”
“I’m here for something else,” Caera said, straightening. “With the bestowment ceremony starting tomorrow, cla.s.ses are suspended for the next few days…”
“I know,” I said, feigning nonchalance. “I’ll finally have time to do those errands that I’ve pushed back, along with some other domestic ch.o.r.es.”
Caera rolled her eyes. “Don’t be a tease. We’re going in, right?”
A smile formed on the corner of my lips. “Of course.”