Arc I – Young Augustus

Life in Trosen

Holy Year 1526Barony of Trosen

"Wake up Augustus! You would not want to be late for class." a gentle voice called out from outside the house. "I've heard Father Diocles does not tolerate tardiness."

"Ughhh… just give me five more minutes." answered a groggy Augustus as he placed a pillow in his eyes to block out the sun. He has a habit of staying up late at night and this results in him usually sleeping until noon. Today was no exception, even though it is the first day of his schooling. He heard his door being opened and someone coming in before the voice called again, less gentle this time.

"No! You've already said that three times. You really should start sleeping early like a normal person." Emilia told her son as she ripped away the pillow from his face. The boy just groaned in complaint before turning his body and laying down on his stomach, burying his face on the bed.

Emilia sighed. There really is no helping the boy. Closing her eyes, she started concentrating. She gathered the water vapor in the room and started to condense them just above Augustus's body. She then forced the heat to leave the mass of water, bringing it to ice cold temperatures before letting it fall upon the poor boy.

"Gaaah! Cold! Cold!" Augustus screamed as he started to flail around and shiver uncontrollably. Damn mages and their spells.

As an apothecary in their village she is one of the civilians versed in magic. While she is specialized in alchemy, which allows her to make potions and medicines for a living, she also practices other disciplines such as elementalism which she used just now to wake up the sleepyhead she calls her son.

"Awake now?" teased Emilia while smirking in amusement. "Go, get ready to leave. I thought you couldn't wait to learn magic."

Augustus sighed in resignation and sat up as soon as Emilia left the room to get back to her shop. Alchemists must get ready early to keep their potions brewing. As his mother said, of course Augustus could not wait to learn magic. He did not just mean alchemy and basic elementalism like his mother but real magic. The magic that the mages of old used to slay dragons and conjure storms. It is unfortunate however that he just has to settle for learning from the local church for now. Maybe if he performed reasonably well, he could get a recommendation to one of the prestigious mage academies scattered in the Empire.

He started to stack his pillows and clean up the puddle that his mother made. It was as he wiped the last of the droplets that a loud bell rang seven times, its sound being heard all across the town.

"Great, it's only seven o'clock. I still have more than an hour and a half before I need to arrive at the church. Why does she insist on having me wake up as early as her?" Augustus complained under his breath. He made sure his mother did not hear him though, lest he gets an electric shock.

Deciding that the cold surprise his mother gave him was more than enough to consider himself washed, he slipped into his favorite pair of outfits. Unlike other more preppy teens of his age, he prefers the comfortable match of a simple cotton shirt and a pair of shorts. While he cares not for his looks, his mother's standing -and money- as an alchemist affords him such decent clothes considering that cotton is usually only available for the tradesmen and nobility. After getting dressed and grabbing his backpack, he bid his mother goodbye.

"Bye mom, 'gotta leave now!" he shouted as he walked through the door.

"Wait, I have something for you to do! Come here for a moment August." Emilia called after him.

"What is it?" August asked as he entered his mother's laboratory. He could see her shuffling around corked glass tubes, reading the labels one after another.

"Ah here they are!" she exclaimed as she held up two tubes filled with a misty colorless liquid. She handed both to Augustus for delivery. "These are for the local huntsman, Gunder. Give these to him."

"Alright." answered Augustus as he wrapped the two tubes carefully in cloth before stuffing them in his bag.

"Oh and don't forget to charge him for those! Each one costs five hundred ducats." Emilia added. "Now go. Be careful and make sure to get back before dark."

"I will mom. See you later!"

- TIC -

"Argh! That hurt." Augustus complained as he rubbed his arm that has been hit by a pebble sent flying by a passing horse. As the main settlement of the Barony of Trosen, the similarly named (as is the standard for most fiefs in the Empire) town of Trosen gets quite busy in the morning. Villagers from the surrounding farms come in to sell their goods or buy necessities otherwise unavailable in the countryside. With a population of more than 7,000, Trosen is a decently large settlement, although a dwarf compared to the monstrous cities like the Archducal seat of Grandesburg, where 74,000 people live.

Above the outline of the roofs in the distance, Augustus began to see the battlements of the keep where their lord, Baron Emer von Trosen rules from. He started to walk in that direction which also leads to the town square, where the local church is situated. He started pass by an alley when he saw a large blur moving quickly in his direction.

"Hey watch where you ar-" Augustus started to yell as his eyes widened.

CRASH!

It felt like as if a bull crashed into him. Both people fell to the ground causing gravel to fly everywhere. Augustus skidded a good meter before coming to a stop. He coughed and rubbed his eyes as dust settled on him.

"Oh it's you August!" He heard the figure call out as it stood.

"Sounds familiar." Augustus thought. "What the… Rollo?"

Now that he had recovered and cleared his eyes of dust, he can now clearly see the beast of a man that is his best friend. They met each other as children when Rollo's father who is a merchant would frequently have dealings with his mother. Coming from the north to trade, his parents are both Nords, which shows in Rollo's unmistakable features. His white blonde hair, tied in a back braid, and bushy beard, paired with his astounding height makes him standout both literally and figuratively amongst their peers.

"What's the big deal Rollo? Why are you such in a hurry?" Augustus complained as his friend helped him up to his feet.

"Did you forget? Today is the first day of our education!" Rollo exclaimed. His excitement and giddiness is apparent even to a deaf and blind person. "We get to learn how to cast fireballs and mind control people! I don't want to be late"

"Calm down Rollo. First of all, we are still beginners, and we probably have to start with the basics. Second, I'm pretty sure mind magic is a highly regulated discipline and no one's going to control anyone anytime soon. Finally, It's just 20 minutes past seven. We have more than an hour to get to the church."

"Wait, I thought we were supposed to start by 7:30?" Rollo asked his friend.

Augustus sighed. "No dummy. It starts at 8:30. Let's go. Walk this time."

"Oh."

He probably shouldn't have been surprised though. Rollo may be physically strong and quite knowledgeable in matters of finance, courtesy of his family trade, but he's quite clumsy and absent minded. He could still remember the time when he and Rollo were still children, when Rollo contracted pinky eyes. He jokingly told him that salt will make the itch go away and Rollo immediately sprinkled some in his eyes only to end up rolling on the floor in pain. In hindsight though, Rollo probably trusted him because his mother is an alchemist, and he should have known what he was talking about. Now Augustus just feels like a jerk.

"Anyway, I heard Father Diocles is in charge of us." Rollo shuddered. "If he is that scary during the Saturday masses, I don't dare to imagine what he is like inside the classroom."

"Then don't give him a reason to get angry. We should be fine. It's not like we are mischiefs or something."

"Exactly. That's why I was in such a hurry earlier. I don't want to give the wrong impression on our first day." Rollo explained.

"That's probably a good idea, though you also have to watch out for your carelessness from now on." Augustus lectured his friend. "I'm sure no priest wants someone who is as clumsy as a bull inside a building full of brittle treasures."

"You're right. I'm sorry for bumping into you earlier." Rollo apologized sheepishly. "Pretty hard too, I imagine." he added as he looked at the scratches in his friend's forearm.

"Nah, it's nothing." Augustus dismissed.

The two continued walking as they talked for a while when a scent of freshly baked dough invaded their nostrils. They passed by a stall selling bread when Augustus's stomach rumbled.

"Crap, I forgot to eat breakfast." he thought as he held his empty belly.

Rollo laughed as he heard the guttural sound and suggested "Why don't we have some of those bread? They smell appetizing."

Augustus shook his head. "I can't. Not only did I forget to have breakfast, I also failed to bring any money."

"Tell you what, let me pay for this one. Consider it as an apology for earlier."

The hungry boy could only grin as they approached the stall. Various pastries are splayed out in the table from the most basic of black breads to luxurious fist-sized cakes topped with sugar. Rollo picked up to pieces of simple but decently sized brown bread rolls and held them up for the stall keeper to see.

"How much for these two?" Rollo asked.

"Six ducats apiece. Both for twelve." The keeper replied.

"What? That's too much! I'll take both for eight." Rollo haggled.

The stall keeper started to annoyed and told Rollo "Look boy, were trying to run a business here. If you can't-"

"Ten and we have a deal." Rollo interrupted, holding up a piece of 10-ducat coin.

"Fine." The keeper grumbled as he took the payment.

Rollo handed Augustus one of the breads as the two continued on their path.

"That was quite unnecessary. I'm pretty sure two ducats are nothing to you." Augustus said as he took a bite from his bread. The taste of yeast was pretty strong but otherwise the bread feels like cake to the hungry boy.

Rollo only chuckled. "Well yeah, but it's the principle of it that matters."

"The principle of stinginess?" Augustus teased his friend.

"How can you call me stingy when I paid for your bread?" Rollo complained.

"Perhaps you only see it as an "investment" to get me to owe you."

Rollo grinned. "Perhaps I did."

Augustus rolled his eyes. "Tsk. Merchants…"

The two continued walking for a while until they arrived in the town square, just in time to hear the bells ring eight times. Deciding that they still had a good half an hour, the pair sat on one of the wooden benches scattered around the square to finish their bread. As the center of the settlement in in terms of geography and activity, the town square is bustling of people. Hawkers fill the sides trying to sell trinkets and wares while villagers milled around looking for items they wish to purchase. Above the noise and chaos, a particular trader caught Augustus's attention.

"Come and look! Real magical amulets and talismans to protect you body and soul! You won't find these cheaper anywhere." a weasel looking man shouts, as he tries to catch the attention of passersby. It was then that he saw Augustus looking at him that he called out to them. "You young men there! Come and have a look. Maybe get something for your girlfriends."

Augustus looked at Rollo to see what he thought. He merely shrugged.

"Come, let's take a look. We still have some time after all." he told Rollo.

The pair stood up and approached the trader who is giving them a wide smile.

"What do you have here?" Augustus asked him. He looked at the table and saw all different kinds of jewelry including rings, necklaces, amulets and talismans. Varying runes, words and symbols are etched upon the items but aside from that, they do not look much.

"Ah my friend, these are magical items all created by famed artificers all the way from Grandesburg." the trader announced proudly. "Here," he said, holding up a piece of necklace, "is a protection necklace. It is supposed to protect its wearer from spells." He then held up a hoop of wood with woven net. Feathers and beads of different types, colors and sizes dangle from the circle. "And here we have a dreamcatcher, which will make sure that no malicious elements can attack you while you sleep. Both costs a reasonable 50 ducats each."

Rollo leaned over to his friend and whispered. "These are obviously bogus. No real magical items would cost a measly 50 ducats."

Augustus just ignored the trader and his friend. Instead, his attention was focused on a plain ring. It's just a simple band of iron or possibly steel among others in a small heap but for some unknown reason, he felt the urge to put it on.

"How much for this?" he asked the man as he held the ring up.

"Oh that? Those are rings supposedly made for the buyer to enchant themselves. It costs only 25 ducats."

"I'll take it. Rollo can you lend me some coins?" he asked his friend while the merchant was smiling widely at the prospect of what may be his first sale of the day.

"What? You can't possibly be considering buying this junk?" Rollo asked incredulously.

"I am. Please, I promise to pay you back tomorrow."

"And what if you don't once you realize how useless it-" Rollo found his friend just staring at him with a serious look. He just sighed and gave up. He knows how stubborn Augustus can be. "Fine, here it is." He said as he handed the merchant 25 ducats. "Better not regret it."

Augustus grinned as he slid the ring into his right ring finger. "Thanks man. I promise you'll have your money back tomorrow."

"Let's just go. We don't want to be late." Rollo said as he started walking towards the church grounds. Augustus hurried his steps to catch up. They entered the gates but were stopped just before they can enter the massive double doors of the church.

"I presume you must be one of the new students?" the boy dressed in monk robes asked them. While he was dressed in such attire, he was not the much older compared to them. He is probably one of the church disciples studying to be a priest.

"Yes we are." Rollo answered.

"Just follow this path." The disciple instructed as he motioned towards the cobble path that bends to the side of the church. "Once you reach the courtyard, just continue forward until you find a gazebo to your left."

"Got it, thanks." Rollo said as he led the way. Augustus chuckled. He was sure Rollo definitely did not get that. He said nothing though, as he was here to make sure that Rollo do not get lost. They walked along the cobble road as the disciple told them when they came upon the courtyard. It was here that Rollo confirmed Augustus's thoughts about him.

"Well, we are here at the courtyard. We should turn left and continue forward until we find the gazebo right?" Rollo asked.

Augustus could only sigh disapprovingly. "You really are terrible with these kinds of things. No we should continue forward and watch out for the gazebo on our left."

"…Oh."

The two boys continued walking across the courtyard, this time with Augustus in the lead. The church grounds were truly beautiful, with well maintained grasses and trimmed hedges. Flowers bloomed across the garden in a vibrant clash of colors. Augustus could see roses, tulips and others that he could not identify which he could only assume were those of magical and alchemical properties. At the center of it all was a large marble statue of a humanoid with wings, an angel, holding a cup from where flows crystal clear waters flow into a large pool on his feet. Augustus did not expect anything less from the most powerful institution in the empire. It is the church after all from where the Holy Empire gets its name. If a church in such an insignificant town is already such a marvel, he could only imagine how awestriking the Grand Cathedral in Zalksbury must be. Such thoughts were put to an end when he spotted a pair of gazebos ahead of them. One is empty while the other has already students waiting in them.

"Look there." Rollo told his friend, pointing to the left gazebo. "About a dozen people have already arrived. I wonder how many in total will there be."

"Hmmm… from what I heard from my mother, each batch every other year comprises of more or less 30 students. We are probably expecting at least another 15 or so to arrive."

"Hey Augustus, I could see that there are girls joining the class." Rollo said with a mischievous smile. "Do you think we can get ourselves girlfriends this year?"

"Shut up!" Augustus snapped, embarrassed at the thought. "That's not what we came here for!"

Rollo could only laugh at his friend. "If you say so."

The pair sat among the semicircle of students that faced a small table. A medium sized box was placed upon it which Augustus could only guess as materials to be used for instruction later. The students grouped together by twos or threes and no one really made an effort to start interacting with the others. Augustus and Rollo were also not that bold to try making new friends this soon and so chatted between themselves.

"I thought we would see more familiar faces. These students seem to be our age but I can recognize no one." Rollo said in a low voice to make sure that the others don't hear them. It wouldn't make for a good first impression if the others think they are mocking them.

"That is to be expected I guess." Augustus answered. "We don't really know many people from the other side of the town. In addition, many would be from the other villages in the barony, probably sons and daughters of the village chiefs."

"Huh, I guess the church would really have to be picky on who they choose to teach." Rollo pondered. "You were accepted because your mother's a rather known alchemist while my father has his mercantile influence. No doubt that everyone here are not some low brow peasants either."

"Oh Rollo, Augustus! I didn't realize you would also be attending." a familiar voice greeted them. The boys turned towards the voice to see their friend Bernal who has just arrived wearing his iconic mischievous smile. He is the son of the town bailiff and their playmate when they were kids. They also went to the local primary school together where local children could be sent to read and write. It was then that they noticed a smaller kid trailing behind Bernal.

"Good to see you too Bernal." Rollo greeted the boy back. "Oh who's this?" He asked motioning to the kid.

"Ah right. This is Fred, whom I met back at the town square." Bernal introduced. "He is the son of a village chief just outside Trosen. Forgive him though because he is a bit shy." Bernal then turned to the boy before continuing. "Fred, this is Rollo and Augustus, who were my former classmates."

"Nice to meet you Fred." Augustus greeted cordially, extending a hand. Bernal, ever friendly as he was, had already made a friend even before the classes could start. Augustus figured that it isn't too bad to get to know his classmates already. They will be studying together for the next two years after all.

Fred shook his hand and replied timidly. "And you too. I hope we get along fine."

The boys continued chatting as more students arrived. It was not long before the small gazebo slowly filled up with conversing teens in their own little groups. Rollo, Augustus, and Bernal reminisced about their elementary days while they pried more on Fred's life in the village. Their bickering was temporarily halted when Bernal motioned to a boy that had just arrived.

"That is Ladon von Trosen. I had heard that he will be joining us but I didn't really believe it." Bernal told the other three.

"Wait, von Trosen as in the Barony of Trosen?" Rollo asked in disbelief. "Are you sure of that?"

Fred nodded with Bernal. "Yes. He is the son of Baron von Trosen."

"Why would he be here then? Don't sons of nobles usually undergo their own private tutelage?" Augustus asked. "I don't understand why he would be sent to study with mere commoners like us."

Fred nodded once again and then explained. "Yes, that is usually the case, but Ladon is already the fourth son. It is customary for those sons far from succession to be inducted into the clergy."

"That would make sense. I hope that it would mean that he isn't as haughty as those other nobles are." Rollo said.

"I don't think he is." Augustus noted when he saw the boy just staring at the ground and avoiding anyone else's gaze. "Being so far from the succession probably did much to not inflate his ego."

The three continued their conversations until the chattering suddenly hushed when an elderly man stepped into the gazebo. He was dressed in a brown cassock and a soft hat with a white beard that flowed down to his chest, something not common to priests. Augustus was drawn to his weary eyes that spark of wisdom but also warn of danger. He made his way to the desk in the front with strong confident steps that were unexpected to a man of his age. Augustus would have expected the man to shuffle his feet instead.

With all eyes looking expectantly in his direction, the priest started to introduce himself. "My name is Diocles, you may call me Father Diocles, and I would be the one in charge of your education starting now on. Does anyone have any questions?" He held his gaze to his students for quite some time. Once it became apparent that no one has any inquiries, he continued "In my class, no one is to be treated differently. I know many of you are not just plain commoners. Most came from families of influence to be able to get into such education, but I promise you that your status will do you no favor nor disfavor here. Is that clear?"

No one wanted to be the first to break the silence so everyone just stared at Diocles and each other. Seeing no response, he raised his voice and asked once again. "IS THAT CLEAR?"

This time, panicked variations of "Yes Father" rang out from the class. They really did not want to get on the bad side of the terror priest. Seemingly satisfied with the response, Diocles took a seat and started his class.

"All right, so before we would begin, I have something here in this box to show you." Diocles told the class while removing an item from the box. From the looks of it, it would seem that it is a clock as it is a circle with a face, with twelve numbers and two arms, with a chain attached to it. This caused massive excitement among the students as it is apparent that it is functioning without a water source or storage as is typical of water clocks nor does it have a pendulum. For many, this is probably the first magical item they have seen in their lives.

"Now, who can guess how does this item keep time? What allows it to work?" Diocles asked. Murmurings broke out across the gazebo, with each group hypothesizing amongst themselves on how such an object operate. Many think that artificing, the discipline of creating magical artifacts would have to be involved. Some suggested that it would definitely involve divine magic as it is from the church. A few even went as far as to think that druidism or arcanism are involved.

"Any guesses?" Diocles asked once more. A well-groomed boy with pale skin, who possessed the physical characteristics of a typical noble, raised his hand. Diocles pointed to him and said "Yes you, what can you say? Introduce yourself first then provide your answer."

The noble boy stood up. "My name is Alfred von Trosen. A pleasure to meet you all." he said with pride.

At the mention of his name, Augustus furrowed his brow. He nudged Bernal and asked him, "I thought you said that Ladon over there is the son of the Baron Emer von Trosen."

"Yes he is. Alfred here is Ladon's cousin. He is the first born of Baron Emer's younger brother." Bernal told the group. "I hear that he is quite arrogant and has a temper. Better not cross paths with him."

"Huh, strange to know that a nephew of the Baron has a bigger ego than that of his own son." Rollo said.

"Well, Ladon is already the fourth child after all. Alfred meanwhile is the firstborn of Elian von Trosen, who is also the magistrate over the whole barony." Bernal explained.

"What's a magistrate?" Rollo asked Augustus.

"Well, my mother said that magistrates are representatives of the Magi Council to an area. They also serve as the magical authority over the area and act as judges over magical issues." Augustus explained to Rollo.

"Hush!" Fred interrupted the conversation of the group. "We don't want to get the wrong kind of attention from either Father Diocles nor from a noble."

The group nodded in agreement before turning back to listen to Alfred's explanation.

"While it may look like it, this clock, which is known as a watch, is not actually a magical item." Alfred started saying. Many students were surprised at this revelation. How could such complex object exist if not because of magic? Even Father Diocles looked startled that someone has seen through his trick.

"This watch actually works through a loaded spring that can store energy, and then slowly release it at a constant rate." Alfred continued. "This spring would cause a series of gears and mechanisms to turn, and with them, the hands of the clock."

"Very good Alfred. You may now take your seat." Diocles said. Alfred sat back down on his bench with a smirk, apparently being content at doing better than his peers that pointed out magic.

"The first thing to know when learning about magic is that everything is not about magic." Diocles lectured his students. "It is easy to think that magic is the solution to everything when the truth is, some things are easier without it. Why do you think that kings still employ levies with spears and shields rather than great armies of mages? A group of a hundred peasants can kill a battlemage through sheer numbers, while costing less in equipment and training. Simply put, the existence of magic does not render any other discipline obsolete. Magic is not a master key for all locks but simply one of the multitudes of other tools you an use to break through it."

The students listened attentively to Father Diocles as he continued his lecture on magic and its uses. Some of them have taken out pieces of paper with their quill and inks as they furiously took down notes. Augustus found himself mesmerized by the vast amount of knowledge that Father Diocles has been sharing to them. While most school lectures that he had attended were boring, Diocles has a certain way to him that keeps the attention to his words, like flies would to honey.

"With that being said, then do you agree that there is no magic in this watch?" Diocles asked.

All of the other students nodded their heads in agreement except for Augustus who seemed undetermined in his answer, a fact that did not go unnoticed by the priest.

"You there." Diocles said pointing to Augustus. "Do you not agree with me? You think you know more boy?" At this, Alfred snickered while most students looked at Augustus with pity. They were about to witness the first poor soul to experience Diocles's displeasure.

"Uh-oh." Rollo whispered to Bernal and Fred.

"Uh n-no Father." Augustus blurted. He mentally kicked himself. What was he thinking? First day of school and he is already disagreeing with the teacher.

"Stand up then and introduce yourself, then tell me why you don't think that magic is absent in this little mechanism despite Alfred's explanation." Diocles commanded while gesturing to a smirking Alfred.

Augustus stood up and took a deep breath. He then tried to rack his brains for something that his mother had told him a long time ago about magic. "Magic is everywhere and cannot be created nor destroyed. It can only be manipulated and changed from one form to another. This stored mechanical energy which allows the watch to turn, while not magic in the intuitive sense, is still actually magic that can be drawn and used. Reverse to how one can use magic to create a mechanical force to push away objects, the stored mechanical energy in the spring can be utilized in other magical uses such as to conjure lightning inside the clock."

Augustus caught his breath after his long-winded explanation. Some of his peers started nodding in agreement and understanding while he was explaining while others are still looking at the priest to see how he would react. Silence filled the courtyard as the tension became thicker, until it was broken with Diocles breaking a smile. At this, Augustus and his friends sighed in relief.

"Well spoken Augustus. Please sit down." Diocles said. "This is another lesson on not just magic but on everything that concerns the field of knowledge. Just because someone of authority such as I made a claim, does not immediately relate to it being a fact. You must examine such claims critically with your own thinking and standing up to your own conclusion as Augustus here has done." The students nodded in understanding, now knowing that Diocles asking for agreement earlier was another trick. Augustus have started to see through Diocles, and he had began to see that he is more like a philosopher rather than a priest.

"Now, going back to what was said, the zeroth law of magic is that it cannot be created nor destroyed, only manipulated from one form to another. This is, of course, except for divine magic, which can only be channeled but is sourced directly from the Burning Spirit. This makes it powerful as this means that such magic cannot be physically manipulated by the opponent so long as the Spirit wills it, but I digress. Energy as we know it is but one of the many forms of magic. This is why mages tend to get tired when casting spells as it is their own energy that they use, unless when they have a condensed form of magic such as magic crystals."

"Speaking of magic crystals…" Diocles took out a pouchs only and dumped the contents into the table. Several stones as large as half a thumb scattered out, each emitting a faint glow. He then proceeded to point at each student, counting on how many there are. "There are 32 of you so I would like you to be group by pair. Each one, starting from my right, count from one to sixteen."

"Oh man. I would have preferred for us to choose our own pair. I don't like the idea of working with someone I barely know." Rollo complained.

"Hey cheer up! It's a chance for us to get to know our other classmates." Bernal said.

"Not everyone can be as sociable as you are Bernal." Augustus agreed with Rollo. As someone who is quite awkward at making new friends, he would have much preferred to have Rollo as his groupmate. It was too late however as the counting was already about to reach them.

"Twelve." said the boy beside Rollo.

"Thirteen."

"Fourteen." announced Augustus. He waited until the counting started from one all over again and watched out for who his pair might be.

"Thirteen." said a burly teen.

"Fourteen." a feminine voice called out.

"Man, you're lucky to have a girl as a partner." Rollo nudged Augustus while grinning. "Gotta tell Aunt Emilia that she should expect a grandchild soon."

"Shut up."

With everyone having assigned their numbers, Augustus proceeded to approach the girl who got the same number as her. As he got closer, he had started to notice the finer details of her appearance. Her silver grey hair in a bob cut just barely reaches her chin and amber eyes. She wears a small red bandanna around her neck, green overalls with over the knee socks to match, and heeled brown boots. Her choice of clothing is odd to say the least, as she looks like to be going on a hike rather than to school.

"I'm fourteen, are you also fourteen?" Augustus asked the girl once he got near enough her.

"I didn't know people now start conversations by exchanging ages." the girl commented while raising an eyebrow.

"What?" Augustus asked, confused and taken aback by the statement. That was then when he realized what she meant. "Oh no. I mean, I got assigned the number fourteen."

The girl could only crack a smile. "Relax, I'm just teasing you. My name is Sierra, and yes, I'm assigned the same number."

Augustus returned her smile. "I'm Augustus, nice to meet you."

"You were the one that disagreed with Father Diocles right?" Sierra asked him.

"Yeah, that was me."

"You know I actually thought the same thing as you but I couldn't bring myself to contradict everyone else. That was very brave of you." Sierra said in a somewhat admiring manner.

"Umm yeah. I just spoke what I had in mind." Augustus agreed. He couldn't bear to break Sierra's impression of him now. She would probably think very differently of him if he admitted that he only did not nod in agreement with Father Diocles earlier was because he was too consumed in his own thoughts.

"That's a good trait to have, as what Father Diocles said. Although I'm not exactly sure if the church agrees with his rhetoric that we must always question authority." Sierra observed.

"Yeah, which is why he strikes me more like a philosopher rather than a priest. The church, after all, does not rally appreciate their own authority being questioned." Augustus agreed with Sierra.

Their small talk was cut short when Diocles stomped his foot to get the attention of the people in the gazebo.

"Now that you have gotten to know each other somewhat, I will now tell you what you must do. Each pair will receive a magic crystal, and that will be yours to do with as you wish." Diocles gestured to the said items on the table.". These crystals are somewhat on the inferior range where crystals are concerned. They are generally referred to as petty magic crystals and only contain a very small amount of magical energy. Your task for the rest of the morning is to fill the small buckets, which I will be providing, with magical substances. The team with the most by the noon shall receive something from me."

Excited chatters spread across the students as they began strategizing on what they plan to do. Sure, these magic crystals would count as magical substances, yet they would be a drop in the bucket.

"Should I go get the materials?" Augustus asked Sierra.

"That would be great. Thanks." replied the girl.

Once everyone got their materials, the different groups dispersed in different directions, with most hurrying in the direction of the church gates. Whatever reward that Father Diocles would be providing is sure to be interesting and everyone wanted to be the group that wins it.

"I've overheard that many are rushing to the Florisk Fields to harvest as many flowers as they can. That would be a good idea and we must also hurry if we are to compete with them." Sierra told Augustus what she overheard from the others.

"I don't think that will be necessary." Augustus told her. "I have a plan."

"And what would that plan be?" Sierra asked skeptically with an eyebrow raised. She seems to have a habit of doing just that.

Augustus grinned mischievously. "Follow me. You'll see."

Sierra could only shrug as she followed Augustus into the courtyard. On one of the benches, she could Alfred clutching the magic crystal in his left hand while his right hand extended with palms facing the bucket that a scrawny boy was holding. She could see him chanting as small crystals of ice slowly formed and dropped into the bucket.

"Clever." Sierra observed. "Alfred seems to already know some elementalism. He is using the magic stored in the crystal as well. We may have a good contender right there."

"Not really." Augustus pointed out as they continued walking. "Elementalism can get tiring quickly especially for amateurs like us. He will probably fill only half of the bucket even by consuming the crystal."

Sierra could see that he had a point. Beads of sweat were already forming on Alfred's brows even though he had just began. "Speaking of Alfred's elementalism, what spells do you already know?"

Augustus shrugged. "Nothing much really. Isn't that the reason we came here to school in the first place?"

"Formal magic yes, but it isn't uncommon to learn some very basic utility spells at our age." Sierra pointed out. "I personally could do a bit of druidism, using magic to convey some intent to animals and determine plants and the like but nothing too outstanding yet."

"Hmmm, I guess I could do some alchemy but not really." Augustus shared.

"Alchemy? That's something teens don't really take interest in often." she commented, being somewhat surprised.

"My mother's an alchemist. I help her out sometimes." he supplied.

"Does this fact have something to do with your plan?" she asked.

"Yes." he smiled knowingly.

The two arrived just in front of the double doors of the main entrance to the church. Augustus looked for the disciple that directed them earlier and found him snipping some flowers. He motioned Sierra to follow and then they approached the figure.

"Good morning. Can you tell us something?" Augustus asked the disciple who then turned around to face them.

"Yes? How may I help?" he asked expectantly.

"Where can we find the church well?"

The disciple turned away from them and pointed to a small building. "There. You can find it just behind the mess hall."

"Thanks. We appreciate it." Augustus said as he started walking in the direction of the well. Sierra was still confused as to what his real plan is.

"You plan to fill this bucket with just… water?" she asked hesitantly as they arrived at the water source.

"Yes. After all, water is a very important alchemical ingredient that serves as a medium for uncountable potions, mixtures and reactions." he revealed triumphantly.

Sierra could only slap her forehead in realization. "That's right! You're a genius!"

"Then come, help me with this thing." he told her as he lowered the bucket into the hole then filled it with water.

Satisfied with their work, the two covered the top of the bucket with a piece of cloth to prevent anyone else from knowing their solution to the task. Augustus then carried the bucket back to the gazebo with Sierra following close behind.

"What do you think will the others do?" he asked her as they walked through the church grounds. They could still see Alfred in the distance attempting to produce more ice to fill the bucket. It has only been a short while yet he seems exhausted already, which just shows how tiring the use of magic can be.

"Hmmm…" Sierra thought hard. "As I've mentioned, many rushed to the fields to gather herbs and flowers. Then there is Alfred who attempts to do this using his own magic. I really can't fathom how others would fare."

"I guess we will find out soon." he said as he plucked down the bucket on one of the benches of the gazebo. There is currently no one else around except for the pair, not even Father Diocles. He must have left for the meantime, clearly not expecting anyone to be finished this early.

"So, what made you decide to study here in the church?" Augustus asked Sierra. He was just trying to maintain small talk but he is also curious as to why she decided to attend the lessons.

"Who wouldn't want to learn magic if it was offered to them?" she asked rhetorically.

"You're right I guess. But what I mean is, is there anything that you particularly want to learn?" he pressed further.

Sierra's brows furrowed as she thought about his question. What is it that I really hoped to gain? she thought to herself. After a moment of Augustus waiting patiently for her to answer, she replied, "I think it's because I really want to be better at druidism. I just really like animals and I hope to be the first mage to actually communicate with them."

A thoughtful look crossed Augustus's face before he asked. "Aren't druids capable of relaying instructions and commands to their animal companions already? You wouldn't be the first to do so then."

"No, not like that." she corrected him. "I mean like talk talk. Not just understand commands but to actually speak with them like a conversation that we are having now."

"Are they really capable of that though? Would they have an answer for example, if I also asked them what their goals or wants are?" Augustus asked skeptically. "Provided you would have been able to understand them in the first place."

"We'll never know unless we try right?" Sierra answered optimistically.

"Fair enough." he conceded.

"What about you? What do you want to get out of this?" she questioned back to him.

"I'm not actually sure yet. As of now, I try to learn magic for the sake of it. Maybe I can then help my mother with her work." he answered truthfully.

"It's good to be honest at least. Although you must be careful though. Many mages have strayed from the Burning Light's guidance simply because they failed to know what they want and were easily swayed by dark forces." Sierra warned him.

"If it comes to that, you and your animal friends can just stop me then." he jested.

"Of course we will. And I would tell them how stupid you are for not heeding my warning." she answered playfully.

"You do that then."

- TIC -

Augustus and Sierra engaged small talks as they waited for the others to come back. They had been waiting for quite a while as they had been given more than two hours to complete the task. The pair however, had been done in a matter of minutes. It was then that Augustus saw Rollo with his bucket walking back to the gazebo.

"You're back early Rollo." Augustus greeted his friend.

"Not as early as you though." Rollo replied while noticing Sierra sitting next to Augustus. "So, who is your girlfr-."

"This is my pair, Sierra." Augustus interrupted Rollo before he could finish his statement. Glaring at his friend, he continued. "Sierra, Rollo, who used to be my best friend."

"Used to be?" Sierra asked, confused with the introduction.

"Nice to meet you Sierra." Rollo greeted while pretending to not notice anything. Augustus was still giving him a say-anything-and-I'll-kick-you-in-the-nuts glare.

"Speaking of which, where is your own partner?" Augustus asked Rollo before Sierra could ask more questions.

"Ah you mean Nish? He got hungry so he stopped by his house to eat." Rollo replied. "We finished early because we traded the magic crystal for some salmon heads which apparently can be used in divination rituals." Rollo proudly revealed while showing them half a bucket of stinking fish heads.

"Smart. That actually seems like something that you would do." Augustus told him.

"So, what did you guys get to return so early?" Rollo asked them.

"You'll see later. I don't want to ruin the surprise." Augustus replied.

"Aww no fair!" his friend complained.

The three chatted for some time while the gazebo slowly filled with the returning students. Most of them have buckets of roots and flowers but most seem to have very little loot compared to what Sierra expected them. Nish, Rollo's partner, joined the trio's conversation after he was introduced to the pair.

"I don't know why they barely got anything. The Florisk Fields should have been teeming with flowers with magical properties." Sierra wondered.

"I was thinking the same. The flowers should have been in full bloom this time of the year." Rollo added.

"Oh it's because we were barely given two hours to complete the task. This meant that the students could only harvest from the parts of the fields closest to the town. Since most have the same idea, they had to compete heavily with other groups to get the most plants, not to mention that other foragers have already harvested the flowers to sell." Nish explained.

"That makes sense. Good thing we took a different approach." Sierra remarked.

It was not long before the midday bells started ringing across the town. The students saw Father Diocles emerge from the church building with a spring weighing scale. Noticing their instructor arriving, Alfred and his pair who was clutching the bucket hurried back to join the others. Augustus saw how the noble had already seem deathly pale from all the exertion. The students sat back down on their seats as Father Diocles started to count if all students have returned.

"It seems that everyone is he now. We shall begin weighing your magical substances to see who was able to acquire the most." Diocles announced while motioning the first group of students to step forward. One by one, those with buckets of herbs and flowers were weighed most of those only measured around three to four kilograms, which were already quite good considering how light the average flower is. Soon it came upon Alfred's turn.

"Using the magic crystal given to us, I was able to sustain the creation of ice to fill this bucket." Alfred proudly announced while showing everyone his creation. A buzz of chattering filled the gazebo as the other students began complimenting him on being able to cast such spells at such an early age.

"Showoff." Rollo muttered from under his breath.

"He may be, but we can't deny that that was really impressive." Augustus conceded. Most mages can only perform elementalism once they enter a university yet here was Alfred doing just that. Granted, his father being a magistrate may have afforded him some of the best instructions and resources but one can't deny that he truly is talented.

"Splendid. Splendid indeed." Diocles praised the noble as the weight was revealed to be eight kilograms. While his face remained stoic, he was obviously genuinely impressed by Alfred's showing. He turned to the other students and said "This is a very good showing of how magic can be utilized to provide great advantage against those without it. Also, by using the crystal provided, Alfred has managed to maximize the resources at his disposal."

"Thank you, Father." Alfred said while basking in the glory and praise. He was really expecting to stand out in this class. His father, as a magistrate, is really expecting him to exceed his commoner peers after all.

The weighing of more flowers and herbs continued but none really got close to matching Alfred's record. Soon it was Rollo's turn.

"Fish heads?" Diocles asked as soon as Rollo and Nish revealed the contents of their buckets. Some of their classmates with weaker stomachs retched away from disgust.

"Yes Father." Rollo confirmed. "We traded the magic crystal for these salmon heads which are popular conduits for divination rituals."

"Very good." Diocles agreed. He turned once more to the others to further explain. "Salmons utilize very sophisticated navigation methods to swim back to the water grounds that they were hatched from in order to lay eggs. This makes their heads popular for rituals that attempt to trace the origin of certain things. The barter also shows a good example of how everything can be used in other ways different to their obvious purpose. Well done. You've managed to get a respectable six kilograms."

Since it was Augustus and Sierra's turn, both carried their bucket forward and revealed its contents only to be met by blank stares of their peers. Diocles had an unreadable expression which made Augustus shuffle nervously. He feared that he may have gotten overconfident on the priest's earlier praise.

"Tell me, how did this water become a magical substance in your definition?" Diocles asked the pair with an eyebrow raised.

Augustus gulped before proceeding with his defense. "Water is a very basic unit in alchemy. It is one of if not the most common and versatile ingredient there is. Due to its neutral properties, it is a highly used medium for new and experimental reagents and even used for high level potion making."

The others remained silent during his explanation. A few found themselves nodding along in agreement as they found his defense understandable and quite logical. They regretted not having to have thought of it earlier instead of tiring themselves in the Florisk Fields.

"That was the explanation I was looking for young man." Diocles said. From the corner of his eye, Augustus could see Alfred seething from anger and envy for stealing his spotlight. "With a total mass of 9 kilograms, Alfred and Sierra have brought back the most magical substance."

"For having completed the task, I will give each of you these magic crystals." Diocles announced while handing them each a crystal half the size of a fist. "These are commonly referred to as small magic crystals, and are roughly as valuable and potent as ten petty crystals. You can do with them as you wish but I suggest keeping these as they may help you with our future activities."

"Now, with that concluded, this ends the day's lecture. I hope you keep in mind the lessons you have learned today as they will be the fundamental principles one has to keep in mind while learning magic. I'll see you all tomorrow." Diocles dismissed.

"Thank you for today. See you tomorrow" Sierra bid Augustus goodbye as she packed up her things.

"Yeah, same to you as well." Augustus bid back. After she left, he then went approached Rollo who was walking with Bernal and Fred.

"Hey man, want to join us for lunch?" Rollo asked Augustus.

"Yeah, we were thinking of going to one of those inns in the opposite side of the town. They serve really cheap but still good beef there." Bernal said.

"Sorry guys but I can't. I forgot to bring money and I still have to run an errand for my mother." Augustus declined.

"If that is the case, we won't be forcing you then. We are already hungry." Bernal said as Rollo's stomach grumbled. The three laughed while Fred let out a small chuckle over the comedic timing.

"Bye guys! See you tomorrow!" Augustus bid them farewell as they separated in front of the church gates.

- TIC –

Augustus walked along the slightly less crowded streets of Trosen. The sun at its zenith has made the city sweltering hot which caused many of the populace to stay indoors for a while. Additionally, most people are having their lunch, which will be followed by their afternoon naps, which meant that for the meantime, Augustus did not have to squeeze through between as many pedestrians and carriages.

He made his way towards the southern edge of the town, nearest the woods. He still have to drop off his mother's shipment to the hunters' camp. He thought about the day's experiences and beamed gladly. So far, his education has been going well. He had managed to impress Father Diocles and he may have a real chance of getting into a university. Not only that, he had been glad to see Bernal again and meet from. Most of all, he had managed to get to know well-

"Sierra?!" Augustus gaped in surprise. As he neared his intended location, he was surprised to see the familiar person exit a grocer's store whom he nearly bumped into.

"Wha- oh it's you Augustus." Sierra smiled at him. "What are you doing here? I thought you lived near the heart of the town."

"Oh uh I was just about to go to the hunters' camp to deliver something." he answered.

"That's perfect! I was actually about to go there myself." she revealed.

"Really? What business do you have there?" he couldn't help but wonder.

"What do you mean?" she asked with confusion sown into her face. A moment passed before her face lifted in realization. "Ah! That's right, I haven't told you. I live there."

"You live there? But you're not a hunter." he asked. It was now his turn to look confused.

Sierra only chuckled. "Of course not! But my father is the official huntsman."

"Oh. That makes sense." Augustus replied, slightly embarrassed that he haven't thought of that. "You mean Gunder? It is him that I actually have some thing to deliver to."

"Right. So allow me to take you to him."

The pair walked into the closed off grounds. There were guards to prevent any unauthorized people from entering but since they know Sierra, the two were let in without much of a hick. Inside, Augustus could see various people going on with their works. Craftsmen and hunters can be seen separating pelts from the game and tanning the hides for other uses. Seeing all this made Augustus remember of how Sierra said she loved animals.

"I thought you said that you love animals." Augustus inquired. "You would event want to talk with them so how can you live with… this?"

At the question, Sierra could only sigh. "Personally, I have some issue with it too but what can I do? This is my father's post and livelihood after all. Besides, even animals themselves hunt and eat each other to survive and I just convince myself that this would be no different. I guess it is better this way where the animal is fully used and not wasted."

Augustus could only nod as she spoke. She may be ethical, but she is also practical and it is hard to argue with that. He allowed the conversation to wander to other more mundane things before they arrived at a small log cabin in the center of the camp.

"This is my father's office." Sierra explained as she opened the door. Inside, were various small trophies of stuffed heads and animal pelts. On the wall behind a desk is a mounted head of a large boar complete with its razor sharp tusks. Being the head huntsman does have its own luxuries. "Father! Someone is here looking for you."

As soon as Sierra called out, a hulk of a man emerged from the adjacent door. While he is bald, his beard was more hair than an average man has on top of his head. It almost seemed impossible to imagine how such orc and Sierra can be related. His rough shirt was stained in blood and he smelled strongly of carcasses. It seemed that the pair have caught him while he was in the midst of butchering a game.

"Yes, what is it boy?" the man ask in a deep voice that one would expect from someone of his stature.

"Um yes, my mother had me deliver these vials to you." Augustus replied as he produced the mentioned items from his backpack and handed them to the man.

"Oh are you Augustus?" Gunder beamed. "My how you have grown! You look just like Emilia."

"I'm sorry?" Augustus asked, clearly puzzled on how Sierra's father had known him.

"Ah right. You probably don't remember. We used to be neighbors when you were still a baby. We had to move when I was made the head huntsman."

"Oh." was all that Augustus could answer. He really didn't know how to react since he had no memories of him.

"Anyway. Tell your mother that these potions of her had been a great help. Neutralizing the smell of humans had made hunting even if the animal is upwind much easier." Gunder nodded approvingly while holding up to examine the vials. "Sierra, go and fetch 1050 ducats from my pouch and give them to Augustus here."

"Yes father." Sierra complied and went through a door to get the money.

"Um sir-"

"-Uncle." Gunder corrected.

"Uncle Gunder, each bottle only costs 500." Augustus said.

"I know. Take the 50 as your tip. Buy yourself some snacks."

"Thank you si- uncle." Augustus replied as Sierra handed him two notes denoting a thousand and a fifty. He carefully hid the notes in his backpack before bidding them goodbye.

"Thank you once again uncle. See you tomorrow Sierra."

Once Augustus had gone from the door, Gunder looked at his daughter with an eyebrow raised. "See you tomorrow, huh?"

"He is also attending Father Diocles's lessons. We became sort of friends after we paired earlier." Sierra explained.

"Only friends?" Gunder grinned.

Sierra only reddened in embarrassment. "Shut up dad!"

- TIC –

"I'm home mom!" Augustus yelled as he walked inside their house. He arrived just in time to see his mom close the shop for the day. It was a bit early if it were any other business but there really were not many walk-in customers for an alchemist shop in such a small settlement. Villagers don't buy potions on a whim and most of their clients are regulars who only come to pick up their orders in the mornings.

"Good to see you're back early." Emilia smiled warmly at her son. "So, how as first day of school?"

"It was great! I met with Bernal and Rollo. We learned quite a lot today." Augustus replied as he started to help his mom clean up the ingredients scattered across her laboratory and wash the glassware.

"I hope you didn't give Father Diocles a bad impression."

"Of course not! Quite the opposite actually." Augustus announced proudly as he told his mother the details of their day's lesson.

"Glad to hear it." his mother smiled with him, proud of her son as well.

"Oh by the way, here is the thousand ducats from Uncle Gunder." he said as he retrieved the note from his bag and gave it to his mother.

"Uncle? I'm surprised you still remember him." Emilia remarked.

"Not really." Augustus replied sheepishly. "He insisted I call him that when he reminded me of how we used to be neighbors. Speaking of which, his daughter was actually my pair for the activity I told you about."

"Ah. Sierra was it?" Emilia recalled.

"Yes. We got along really well."

"Hmmm… She's a good kid. I wouldn't mind her as your girlfriend." Emilia teased.

"Wh-what? No! It's not like that!" Augustus turned beet red.

"Relax. I'm only teasing you." Emilia said while trying to hold back her laughter.

The mother and son continued chatting as they finished cleaning up for the day. Augustus helped his mother make her new batches of potions until dinner came along. After eating, he went to his bed to get a good rest after being exhausted from the day. What he didn't know is that it will be a while before he gets to sleep peacefully again.

- TIC -

A/N: For the map of the world, visit imgur.c0m/82vf0Fm (make sure to replace the 0 with o)