"Did you guys do your homework?" I sat down on top of the podium so I could get a better view of the class while I fixed my hair .

I'd slept through most of my Fundamentals of Mana Manipulation class so I felt a lot better . Looking around from the center of the stage, I saw my students glance desperately at each other in hopes that one of them had the answers to the questions I asked them yesterday .

"Looks like there's no choice but for me to answer the question," Feyrith finally sighed before standing up .

"The mana core is an excellent way to easily and accurately measure the level of the mage's power because it is correlated with how much effort and time that mage has spent on condensing and refining mana from their surroundings into their core . " He finished off with a swish of his hair while sitting down .

"No . " I hopped off the stage and walked toward the shocked Feyrith .

"It certainly is an easy way to gauge the mage's power but it's far from accurate . Princess Kathyln, if you see an ordinary fighter that stood at two meters and weighed almost three hundred pounds full of muscle, what is your assessment on that fighter?" I turned my gaze toward the princess that was sitting next to the embarrassed elf .

"I can expect the fighter to have robust strength," she finally said after pondering the simple question .

"Correct! All we can tell is that the oaf is probably freakishly strong . Does that say anything else about his combat ability? Yes, he's strong, but in order to be a great combatant, there are other factors such as agility, technique, mental fortitude, experience, etc . The stage a mage's mana core is only determines how much 'muscle' he or she has, but it doesn't explain much else in regards to the other factors . Refining your mana core to higher stages is still important, of course, but if that's the only factor you use in gauging your opponent's level, you're setting yourself up for defeat . " I saw some students start jotting down notes so I caught my breath .

The pretentious student with glasses raised her hand after she finished writing down her notes . "Question!" she declared .

"Yes, Miss Myrtle?" I found it amusing how much her name suited her character .

"If trying to sense the opponent's mana core isn't an accurate way of gauging his or her level, what do we do?" she asked with an expression that made it seem as if she was testing me .

"You don't . Just assume that the opponent is stronger than you . Gauging the mana core stage of anyone should just be used to satiate your curiosity but nothing beyond that . Even if sensing the mana core level could accurately gauge the fighting strength of your opponent, what are you going to do if your opponent's fighting strength is lower than yours? Go easy on him? Pick on him because you know you'll win? What do you do if his fighting strength is higher than yours? Run away? Chances are, if you're in a situation where both of you are actively sensing each other's mana core, then running away won't be an option . " I paused for a minute .

"Being overconfident because you found out that your mana core is higher than your opponent's can make you careless and getting scared if your opponent's mana core is higher than yours can make you feel hopeless . Bottom line is, life isn't so simple that you can accurately know whether or not you can beat someone based on the color of their mana core . There are cases of fighters beating careless mages because the mages got sloppy from being too arrogant . Always assume the opponent is stronger than you and try your best . If that opponent is weaker than you, then you put an end to the fight quickly to save him the humiliation . If that opponent is stronger, congratulations, you've overcome the mental limit you guys have been holding onto all your lives . " I felt like some inspirational speaker rather than a lecturer .

I walked back to the podium where Sylvie was now taking a nap and continued speaking . "Now, for the next piece of homework . Any of you figure out what I did last class with the two wind spells?" I asked, leaning back against the podium .

A hollow silence filled the room .

I let out a sigh . I guess being spoon-fed answers all their lives really took a toll on their critical thinking skills .

"I'll do a little demonstration for the augmenters' answer first . " Rolling Sylvie to the side, I took out two pieces of paper from underneath her . I crumpled one of the papers into a small ball and showed it to the class .

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"Watch . " I put the ball on my right palm and inhaled deeply, building the suspense .

"Fwoo . " Utilizing all of the air in my lungs, I managed to blow the crumpled ball of paper about a meter away from me .

The students stared at me with blank faces from the anticlimactic outcome .

Holding my fingers up to silence any students about to argue what the point of that was, I rolled the other paper I had into a makeshift tube . Packing the ball tightly into the back end of the tube, I inhaled deeply one more time .

Letting out another deep breath, the crumpled ball of paper shot out more than fifteen feet in front of me before bouncing on the ground .

The faces of some of the students lit up in understanding while others voiced their surprise . I couldn't help but grin as the students all brightened up and took notes . Princess Kathyln furiously scribbled in her notebook while Feyrith stared blankly at the ball of paper on the ground .

"Since many of you seemed to understand what I just did, can someone please enlighten the rest of the class?" I asked as I picked up the pieces of paper I had littered .

"It has to do with concentrating mana into a small point, then compressing it and shooting it out, right Professor?" A timid girl with a huge spear next to her responded in a hushed tone .

"Correct! Augmenters are raised to utilize the plethora of mana channels they have so we unconsciously use a lot of our mana channels for many of our spells, diluting it . It doesn't matter so much when you use it on your body but the spell is weakened greatly when attempting to cast a long-range spell . " I demonstrated by widening the paper tube I rolled up . Blowing through one end, the ball I put inside loosely just dropped down in front of me .

"It'll be hard to get used to at first but being able to better control your mana channels will help you greatly . Now, the Conjurers' turn . " I picked up the crumpled piece of paper I shot out again .

"Since conjurers naturally have much fewer mana channels compared to mana veins, they naturally shoot their spells in a compressed form, whether it's out of their body directly, or by affecting an area to have the mana alter it into the form of their desired spell . What conjurers need to do is utilize the raw amount of mana they can absorb to compensate for their lack of mana channels . Close your eyes and try to imagine this . " The students looked at one another, confused, but they lowered their gaze nonetheless, waiting for my next instructions . "Imagine both conjurers' and augmenters' bodies to be pools of water . We'll say that leaves are particles of mana . For an augmenter's body, picture small bundles of leaves being dropped in various locations over the pool . While these bundles may be small, because there are so many, they begin to spread and join the other leaves that spread from other directions until the surface of the water is covered in leaves . That is the essence of body enhancement . Now, for conjurers, imagine just one gigantic ball of leaves drop into the pool of water . Because it comes from a single location, it may take longer for it to spread, but in the end, the leaves will still be able to cover the surface of the pool . That is how body enhancement should work for conjurers . " The class remained silent as they opened their eyes and pondered over what I had just said .

"The reason why all of you conjurers injured yourselves while trying to absorb the spell you conjured is because you didn't use the mana from your core . The only mana that you're completely immune to is the mana refined in your mana core . Even that, after your mana influences the environment into a spell, can hurt you . Therefore, conjurers will need to utilize both mana from the atmosphere and mana from their mana core for a spell and integrate it into their body, or drop the big pile of leaves to make it spread over the pool of water . " As I finished explaining, I motioned for the class to come down onto the stage and start practicing . For the rest of the class, I went around helping them while giving them little tips on how to better visualize what they needed to do .

After the giant bell rang, Sylvie stirred awake and hopped on top of my head as I dismissed class . I was surprised when I overheard some students grumbling to their peers that the class was too short .

I took the long route to my next class to take up more time while I did a broad surveillance . I messed around with sending very faint pulses of wind to try and use it as a sort of three-dimensional radar but it proved to not be as useful as I thought it would be . Earth Pulse was also of little use since I could only detect the very basics, like how many people were in the area, not if they were actually in combat or not . Even worse, the buildings and trees diluted the accuracy .

I arrived at Gideon's class late but he just motioned for me to hurry on to my seat before he resumed talking .

"Hey . Why are you so late?" Emily whispered to me .

"Disciplinary committee duties . I have to go around school until ten minutes after class starts," I responded, lowering my voice so Gideon wouldn't hear .

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"All right! Let's get in pairs and work on our project . The materials are in the back but don't all of you go at once . " He took a seat and began reading over something while the class got up to collect the materials needed for the Light-Producing Artifact . I was about to walk over as well when Emily stopped me .

"I already have all of the materials we need for an LPA . Let's just get started . " She rummaged through her oversized bag, finding the various necessary components . After laying out all the things we needed, she looked at me and motioned for us to start .

Building the LPA wasn't easy but Emily seemed fairly impressed by how fast I had caught on . Even if she was only a twelve-year-old, her being a genius and all made me a bit happy .

The rest of class was spent tinkering around with some of the various parts of artifacts that Emily had brought with her until Gideon dismissed us . As I was about to leave, he grabbed me by the back of my shirt and pulled me toward him .

"Brat . Let's catch up sometime . We have a lot to talk about . " He gave me a devious grin but otherwise just patted me on the back .

"Mhmm . We should grab some tea, Professor . " I waved back before leaving the room with Emily .

'Papa, Avier told me to head over to the training room again . ' Sylvie thumped my nose with her paw to grab my attention . Is Avier Director Goodsky's green owl? How can you talk with it? I asked my bond but she didn't really know why either .

"Hey Emily, I have to head over to the library so I'll be skipping lunch . Go ahead without me!" I waved at my friend .

"Do you want me to go with you?" She looked at me but I just shook my head .

"It's fine . Go find Elijah for me! He'll be lonely if I'm not there . " I shot her a smile before running off in the direction of the library/training rooms .

"Good afternoon, Mr . Leywin," Chloe greeted me with a professional smile and a bow before motioning me to the back door .

"Nice to see you again, Chloe," I smiled back, following behind her with Sylvie wagging her tail on top of my head .

After passing by the scary man, I made my way downstairs without the help of Chloe this time . Hopefully Elijah won't be too bored hanging out with Emily, right Sylv?

"Kyu~" 'He'll be okay!' my bond reassured me .

Reaching my room, I placed my right palm against the cold, giant doors, and a bright light once again greeted me .

"Boo!" Tessia jumped from the side of the door with her hands out wide .

"Hey, Tess," I responded casually .

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"Aww… you weren't scared . No fun," she grumbled while catching Sylvie who had jumped off my head .

"You'll have to try a lot better than that . Come on, let's get started with your assimilation . " I pushed her toward the center of the training room . It was amazing how dense the air was with mana in this room compared to outside . Even the very fact that there was grass and a waterfall put me in awe every time I came in .

"How's your body been feeling lately? Are you still getting symptoms of rejection from your Beast Will?" I asked while Tess took a seat near the pond .

"I haven't gotten any since the last time we were here," she responded but turned quiet afterwards .

Tess looked over her shoulder and stared at me, batting her long grey eyelashes . "Hey, Art?"


"I'm sorry . "

"For what?"

"Well…compared to you, I'm so emotional and so I feel like you get overwhelmed and just end up following my selfishness . " Tess' gaze shifted down as she said this .

"Ah, so you do know," I smirked in response, earning me a smack on the arm .

"We've known each other for how long, Tess? At this point, you can trust that you've seen all sides of me, even the ones I don't want to show . Even knowing that, the fact that you accept me and have patience with me, I'm grateful . Don't ever think that what I'm doing is out of obligation . " Ruffling the downhearted princess's hair, we began the assimilation .

Tess' mana core had come a long way . At her age, being a solid orange stage conjurer was on the level of a genius . While she wouldn't able to refine her mana core until the assimilation was over, it shouldn't affect her too much . While mine took years, I estimated that with my help, it should only take a couple more weeks for her to completely assimilate with the elderwood guardian's beast will .

"Let's end it here today . " I patted Tess' back to signal that we were done .

"Thanks . " Tess shot me a shy smile as we both sit in the grass, the only sound coming from the waterfall and Sylvie's soft breathing .

"I-I know you said to give you time but . . . do you think I can maybe hold your hand right now? Just for a bit? If not, it's okay—I won't be mad . " Tess averted her gaze to avoid mine . While her bangs covered her face, she couldn't hide her red ears poking out .

I gently grabbed Tess' right hand with my left and squeezed gently . While our fingers weren't interlocked, the warmth from her hands spread onto mine .

"Is this okay?" I tried to take a peek at Tess' face but she quickly turned her head away . I couldn't help but smile helplessly when she nodded her head in response .

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For a couple of seconds, time seemed to go slower as we just sat there, hands locked . It intrigued me that such a seemingly impractical action could fill me with a sense of calm .

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