The rest of the time I spent with the three friends was much less tear-filled. Though, from the way they were able to seamlessly alternate between quarrels and laughter, they behaved more like siblings than just friends.
Since I felt better and had already figured out a spell for Tamie to work with, I decided to not waste any more time and speak with her about it.
There was a serious concern over how much information and access to my skills she would have, without even mentioning her potential reaction to the Sun Avatar spell itself. Its definition included my ability to convert ether into mana after all.
I highly doubted that being a human with the wisdom attribute was even half as unconventional.
However, when I got to Tamie’s room, I found its door locked. I was informed by a passing instructor that at this time of the day she was probably in one of the classrooms upstairs with the kids taking their lessons.
“You are Edward, are you not?” They asked me with a look of curiosity “I just came from Bunker and they are saying the strangest things… Are you really a titled delver?”
“Oh. Yes, I am. Thanks for the help.”
I left, slightly taken aback by how fast the news had traveled. But then again, it made sense.
The sudden appearance of a third delver probably was the current main topic of discussion in Bunker. Especially considering that the delver in question was the same kid who had strangely made the Undermine a safer place. It probably also gave them a reasonable explanation as to how I was able to do something no one else even knew was possible.
But it also meant that it no longer was just the most unfortunate people of the city who were affected by my existence. Now that I influenced the balance of powers, the warriors were too. What that would mean was still left to be seen.
I went up the stairs and navigated the temple’s strange layout to the best of my abilities, opting twice or thrice to asking random kids the direction to the classrooms after I somehow ended up in the girls’ aisle. No matter one’s age, earning glares and suspicions of depravity wasn’t very comfortable.
Before long, I started hearing different voices from rooms left open, some of them using that particular tone teachers everywhere used to speak to their students.
With quick glances, I noticed that the students weren’t at all similar in age. There were kids sitting in the same room as older teenagers and even young adults who, from the colorfulness of their clothes, clearly didn’t live in the temple.
It seemed that mastery of the subject was all that mattered and the orphans certainly had an advantage in that area since they had started taking classes sooner than the outsiders.
I awkwardly roamed the hallways, only nodding when the teachers would frown after spotting me.
They were mainly teaching practical skills, but some of them taught more conventional subjects like Mathematics and History in classrooms that were severely less populated.
“If it isn’t Edward. Can I help you?” spoke a voice I had trouble recognizing.
At the front of a classroom filled with students that were all staring at me, was standing Royin, the head priestess of the temple.
I still couldn’t spot any horns protruding from her tight bun. No scales or visible markings on her olive skin. No claws. She really seemed as human as I was.
Which I’m not sure means much anymore…
Unlike Tamie and the other members of the staff who only worked in the temple, her blue robe was very simple, which I thought was admirable. She was looking as stern as ever and I had to mentally kick myself to not chuckle at the thought of her being romantically involved with Ardos.
“Sorry to be a bother,” I said. “I am looking for…”
I spotted Tamie, looking at me with confusion from the corner of the classroom.
“… her,” I said, pointing a finger in her direction. “I hadn’t realized she would be in class, so I will just wait over-”
“Do not be ridiculous,” Royin said as she waved for me to take a seat. “Class will be over soon. Who knows, you might be interested enough to come back. Far too many of those on the martial path neglect expanding their knowledge.”
She wasn’t really leaving me any choice, so I entered the classroom, pulled an empty chair and sat next to Tamie.
Ignoring the fact that they were older, to say that my desert clothes made me stand out from the rest of the students would be an understatement. They all looked like wealthy merchants… or well-fed sons and daughters of wealthy merchants who took great care to polish their appearances. Which I wouldn’t have thought was a concern of anyone living in this shard.
Their expressions as I walked past them also strongly indicated that I wasn’t welcome. Not that I was worried.
Royin resumed her lesson and Tamie gave me a questioning look.
“Got the spell,” I whispered without looking her way. “Came to see if you can work with it.”
She said nothing, but I saw her hand slightly shake, before furiously taking notes like her comrades were doing.
From what she was writing and Royin’s words, I eventually came to the conclusion that the class’ subject was a language named Leol.
How long as it been since I last sat in a classroom?
Because of the… civil war that had ravaged my country, my school years had seen an abrupt end. But a few decades later, with the support of the regular army, I had been able to fill the holes left in my education and even get a degree.
…Still. Probably around forty years. It all feels so silly now.
In any case, I was shocked to realize that the only way for me to tell when someone was speaking a different language than their usual one, was if they suddenly started making odd grammatical mistakes. In Royin’s case, I simply couldn’t tell at all.
This “translation” ability had to somehow be an effect of the Transmigrant title, and I found myself wondering what its limits actually were.
What words actually came out of my mouth? If I spoke in front of two people who couldn’t understand each other, would they both hear the same thing?
There was probably a lot of money to be made as a translator somewhere. Sadly, I didn’t think such opportunities existed in my immediate vicinity.
Zoning out because I was literally unable to learn anything from the lesson, I opened my status and went straight to its now most lacking part. My human trait.
Unspent ether: 518
Apparently, people around the world were mostly treated like second-class citizens for having this trait. However, seeing how cheap the upgrade was made me think that using my remaining ether might be worth it.
I almost let out an audible chuckle at the sight of the small number. Only four and that’s it?
But then my amusement slowly faded as I realized that I had just received four points to an attribute for adding a little ether to a trait. The same amount I received whenever I upgraded my “Blade priest of the Deep” class.
If it happens with each upgrade, I could come out with a lot.
With anticipation, I added the forty ether required for the next level.
Ability to force unbound A.I. to obey orders.
Scales with Int.
The amount had been doubled. The potential easily overshadowed the new skill, considering I wasn’t very likely to use it any time soon.
I glanced at my Intelligence attribute.
Intelligence 70 (+8)
It was now the highest one I had and I still had enough ether for one last upgrade.
How frustrating does this have to be for the other humans?
To have the natural ability to house so much magic inside of them, yet being denied using it twice without external help.
They probably save it… Some might just sell their mana to the highest bidder. And that’s assuming they got their hands on some ether somehow.
Summon: Intermediate Rooting Mine
Allows user to summon a mine. Once triggered by nearby movement, will briefly cast the status effect Slow on the being that triggered it.
Mana usage and severity of slow increases with summon time.
This is insane.
I would have to test it all at some point, but there was no doubt that return on investment was massive.
My increased mana would make the Sun Avatar spell more powerful, allow me to use Kirby much longer…
… And let’s not forget that my rifle will be mana based. This is basically free ammunition.
While figuring out its actual mana consumption could be an issue, it was the mine’s cooldown that I was most curious about.
I was already thinking up ways it could be used in combat. If it was low enough, this new summoning ability would become a devastating addition to my still lacking arsenal.
Even in close quarters, it could-
“…dward. You seem lost in your thoughts.”
I was brought back to reality by a push from Tamie and Royin’s voice. She was standing right in front of me. The lesson was over and the few students who weren’t chatting with each other were leaving the classroom.
“I was,” I said. “Lots of things on my mind lately, including my inability to find Ardos.”
“Yes,” she said. “I’m aware of the pressure we are putting on you… and I am as sorry as I am grateful.”
She had a pained look on her face and was different from her usual self, the one I had first met and the one who had been teaching just now. This was probably who she was when alone with her daughter and husband.
“Of course, simple words cannot erase what you had to go through and what still has to be done,” she continued. “But still, I think that saying them is important. I am glad to see that you’re in good health, as opposed to what I had heard. I had planned to see if there was anything I could do.”
“It is,” I said. “I’m fine, as you can see, but I appreciate the thought. By the way, we haven’t had time to speak since I came here and I have a few questions.”
I couldn’t imagine how much stress it could be to run this place. But when I thought about Genoneva’s words in the old throne room, I couldn’t help but think that there was something these people were hiding.
“Anytime. Just come to my office when you have some time available.” Royin said with a rare smile. “Ardos must still be with his own students, but they should be done soon. I will inform him that you are already in better shape and tell him to find you. Take care of yourself.”
She punctuated her last words with a hand on my shoulder, and as she leaned closer I saw something in her eyes. Something unnatural that completely contrasted with the way I had been seeing her until then and made me entirely dismiss the idea of her being human. I couldn’t describe it with a word other than “glamour”.
The strange phenomenon stopped when she broke eye contact to speak to the girl next to me, “The festival is coming soon Tamie. I’ll be counting on your help this year as well.”
“Oh sure, mistress! I had completely forgotten about it.”
Royin left the room and I find myself with Tamie who was visibly struggling to contain her excitement as she put her notes away.
“What is she?” I asked.
“Who, the mistress?”
“Yeah. She looks human to me, but she can’t be…, right? You said yourself that you never met one before me.”
“Ah, but that’s a secret,” she said with a mischievous smile. “Of course, she’s not human. Have you not seen her eyes? There are no full humans in the whole region except you. Well… as far I know.”
She took a thoughtful expression, “Maybe something changed in the ether and that’s why-”
“Hey,” I called, interrupting her musing. “You were saying?”
“Ah, yes. So she’s not human, not beastkin and obviously not brahnan. So what’s left?”
“Tasel folk,” she said with a sigh. “She’s one of the Tasel folk. You… don’t know what they are?”
She slowly shook her head.
“Why am I not surprised? Let’s go to the roof, I’ll explain on the way.”
“Hmm… The roof? Why?”
“So that you can show me your spell?” she rolled her eyes. “How am I supposed to use it without ever seeing it in action?”
“I don’t think it would be a good idea. It’s… very dangerous. And isn’t that place forbidden to the student?”
That only made the sparkles in her eyes brighter.
“No need to worry about that rule, I’m part of the staff. So… Dangerous? How dangerous exactly? Come on! The stronger the spell, the better the weapon!”
I will have to come clean. There’s no other way. Partially at least.
“Alright,” I said. “Let’s go to the roof. I won’t use it there, but I can explain it to you and I don’t want anyone else to hear the specifics.”
“Ugh, fine!” she said, raising her hands in defeat. “But you will still have to show it to me eventually.”
We left the classroom for the stairs, but because of the younger kids randomly requiring Tamie’s assistance, we progressed at a much slower pace than I knew she would have preferred.
“Tasel folks have even more varied appearances than us beastkins,” she said while brushing a bunny girl’s hair. “They have an endless number of ethnic groups each with a particular racial trait. Mixed children between them or with other races make things even more complicated…”
“So saying that someone is a Tasel folk doesn’t mean much,” I concluded. “But wait. If they have different racial traits, why are they all considered to be part of the same race?”
“For two reasons, the first is history. All Tasel folks share a common ancestor, the offspring of the Strange primal being and a golem. The second reason is how their racial traits work. They are tied to literal functions of their bodies that handle the only way they can use magic.”
I frowned, not sure I understood what she meant. “They can only use magic a single way… Can you give me examples?”
“Well, a mermaid’s trait would be directly affecting her voice,” she said. “An arachne’s trait would be tied to the attributes of her threads. It’s also the reason why dwarves can mold metal with their bare hands. Get it?”
“I think I do.”
Those names were familiar. They belonged to mythical creatures that only existed in children stories back on Earth. Or at least I thought they did.
Maybe our grandmothers’ superstitions weren’t as baseless as they seemed.