56 Bargains And Promises
“Nice trick, by the way. Silverwing’s Hexagram is an uncommon skill for an admission exam, but generally those who are capable of performing it are fighting oriented mages, that don’t apply to either White or Black Griffon.
I must admit to have underestimated you. I would have never expected a country bumpkin to have such deep knowledge, and to be able to exploit it to turn a good performance into an excellent one. They have not seen one of these in decades.”
“F*ck me sideways!” Lith’s smug and thoughts were polar opposites.
“Either Nana didn’t know about this, or she set me up. Let’s hope my score isn’t too high. I don’t want some ‘school princess/prince’ bother me because of it.”
In a matter of minutes everything was settled, new dimension doors opened and the mages disappeared without saying a word.
Back into the Headmaster’s office, Linjos gave them the result.
“Congratulations, young…” He remembered that Lith had no family name.
“…mage. Your admission at White Griffon has been approved unanimously with a score of 93/100. Your actual score was 88, but since it has been years since an applicant was capable of performing the Hexagram, we awarded you 5 extra points.”
“88/100?!” Lith thought. “Either I limited myself too much, or someone is really cranky today. The Hexagram proved to be a wild card, but luckily my score is still within the expected range.”
Linjos continued his speech, unaware of Lith’s worries.
“I look forward to see you back here in a couple of months, to start your specialization years. Here, this is some material you can study and revise to take your choice.”
The Headmaster gave Lith seven small books, the first six were about elemental specializations, while the seventh one was about item creation. Lith took them all avidly.
“Those are highly confidential. You are not supposed to show them or discuss about their content with anyone outside the White Griffon.”
Linjos tone was dead serious, Lith gave his most heartfelt assurances.
“Perfect. Any question before I call in the wardrobe for your uniform?”
“Yes, one. What is the academy position about bullying? As you know, I come from a backwater village, my father is a farmer, and I don’t even have a last name. In my experience, even the best of us tend to look down upon me, if not worse.”
He threw a meaningful look at the Marchioness, who pretended not to notice.
Headmaster Linjos puffed his chest with pride, straightening up his back even more.
“Glad that you asked. Before my time, commoner’s and merchant’s children had quite a rough experience. But I have established a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and violence in my academy. I hope to set up an example for everyone.
The Queen picked me up for this position because even as a student, I fought hard to defend the rights of the less fortunate. No matter their origin, powerful mages are too precious assets for the Kingdom, to allow some spoiled brats to ruin years of hard work.
You have no idea how many academies’ alumni have defected our Kingdom to get their revenge. The Court is giving this matter the utmost importance, that’s why I expect many heads to fall in the next years.”
Just thinking of how many brilliant mages, even geniuses, had their lives destroyed by abuses of power, made Linjos heart bleed. Once they grew in power, they had left their home country with no hesitation, turning into a thorn in the side of the King.
Their rage was unbridled, the only way to make them come back would be to wipe out entire ancient noble families, but that was something outside even the King’s reach. It would start a civil war, he had to choose the lesser evil.
But that didn’t mean he would let that evil to keep eroding the Kingdom’s backbone.
“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m afraid of.” Lith didn’t feel even a bit reassured by his words.
“As a hunter, I learned that a cornered beast is the most dangerous one. What if, hypothetically, I would be harassed by one or more influential people?”
“I would stand by your side, and give them the proper punishment!”
The answer was too quick.
“Man, this guy is green. Either he comes from a fairy tale, or has not been in the real world long enough for it to bite his a*s.” Lith thought.
“I’m sure of your sincerity, but please, think about it. Prince whatever harasses a country bumpkin and gets reported. It’s just the victim word against someone who has at his back political and magical influence. What could you do?”
“I would order for an exhaustive investigation, listening to all the witnesses.”
“And what if the witnesses get intimidated? Or if there is no witness at all? Are you telling me you could still do something?”
Linjos long face seemed to become even longer.
“No, I could not. Prince whatever would at worst get a reprimand, and I could only ask the staff to keep an eye on the bumpkin.”
“Isn’t there anything at all you can do to prevent this?” Lith was seriously rethinking everything. Getting admitted with a high score and having just Count Lark as an official backer, would make his permanence a nightmare straight from day one.
“With all the magical marvels you got, isn’t there some kind of alarm? A panic whistle? A ‘gods please, someone, anyone save me’ device?”
“Actually, there is.” Linjos words made Lith sigh with relief.
From one of the desk’s drawers, Linjos took out a big wooden box twice as big, full to the brim of black pearl-lookalike spheres the size of a baseball.
“Lucky bastard! Even his drawers are pocket dimensions. I want to learn forgemastering so bad.”
“These spheres are actually magical items, called Guilty Ballots.” The name was self-explanatory. Even in that world, justice was represented holding a scale.
The jurors would cast their vote by setting black spheres on one of the plates for a guilty verdict, white on the other for an innocent one.
“Once you imprint one as yours, just like for a communication amulet, the Guilty Ballot will record every word and action happening around you as soon as you send some mana into it.
A second mana pulse would trigger a call for help, alerting the academy staff that something is wrong. It would also work as a beacon for Warp Steps, allowing us to intervene immediately.”
“Warp Steps, uh?” Lith thought. “I’m a man of tradition, dimensional door sounds much better, but when in Rome, do as the romans do.”
“Thank you very much! That’s exactly what I hoped for.” Lith grabbed one without a second thought.
“Wait, there is a reason why I didn’t offer it to you immediately.”
Lith wasn’t much interested, but he had to keep appearances.
“Is there any side effect?”
“No, the Ballot itself works perfectly, it has been made by the best Forgemasters, after all. The problem is that its use is socially frowned upon, by both students and teachers. I must warn you that it’s much more famous as the ‘coward’s end’.”
Lith hid his mouth with a hand, pretending to be in deep thought, while he was actually grinning in disgust.
“Yeah, right. I had enough of this bullsh*t back on Earth. ‘You need to learn how to stand up for yourself’, they said. ‘A little bullying helps you build your character and prepare you to face real life’ and all that cr*ap.
Then, all those as*holes of teachers would be the first to cry when one of the victims committed suicide, or even better if they took up a gun to settle their scores.”
Seeing that Lith wasn’t replying, Linjos continued.
“Very few students have picked a Ballot, and even those who did, usually returned it after some weeks. Isolation and ostracism are another form of violence I can do nothing about.
And for someone away from home for the first time, a bad friend is better than none at all. It could prevent you from socializing, keeping everyone away from you, even those who could actually become your true friends.
Please, have faith in me, I will stand by your side, no matter what. All the teachers I handpicked share my vision and will do all they can to help you.”
Lith wanted to sarcastically laugh in the face of his groundless optimism and wishful thinking.
“Thank you very much for your concern, but as I can see it, it would be a thorny path with or without it. Besides, I decided to join your academy to quench my thirst for knowledge, not to make friends.
Without the Ballot, I would be in the hands of fate. With it, instead, if you are right, I will never need it, nor ever be forced to reveal I do possess one. If I am right, we both will have our backs covered, and you will have what you need to pursue your ideals.
It’s a win-win situation.”
Lith tried to be polite and accommodating, but in his mind, he could see several flaws in Linjos’ pep talk.
“He admitted not being able to purge all the bad apples, this means that I need to be wary of both students and teachers. Not to mention that we barely knew each other. How can he possibly be so naïve to expect me to take his word at face value?
For all I know, he could as well be a strawman with no actual power, that a rotten system has put into this place just for marketing. Only time will tell me if this guy is just a frigging paintjob on a rust bucker or the real deal.”
Linjos sighed, but insisted no more. It hurt his pride and spirit seeing such a young man being so cynical. When he had started as a Headmaster, he had always pictured himself as a charismatic figure, capable of instilling trust in his pupils.
But being a mage, he was more pragmatic than idealistic, and recognized the truth behind Lith’s words.
“After Linnea destroyed his future, it’s natural for him to be biased. I’ll show to both him and the Queen that my methods work. The Ballot is a sad relic of the past, born because of the incompetence of my predecessors.
Nobles and commoners can and will go along!” Linjos thought.
After concluding that matter, Linjos summoned in his office a wardrobe clerk, that delivered a uniform way too big for Lith’s size. It consisted of a white shirt, blazer, pants, a robe and black shoes. The embroideries instead were of a pitch-black colour.
“At the moment, the uniform is at its biggest available size. Our Forgemasters enchant them so that they are able to perfectly fit the wearer. As you grow over time, it will expand, so you will not have to change it.
The uniform has many other properties. They are all described in a note inside the chest pocket, with one exception.”
Linjos took out his shirt’s cuffs and an unused Ballot, bringing them close. The black sphere suddenly disappeared.
“You do not possess yet any dimensional object, and you cannot walk with a Ballot in your hand the whole time. So, our uniforms’ cuffs possess a hidden function, a very small dimensional storage that only applies to Ballots.
As far as I know, aside from us and the Forgemasters, no one is aware of its existence.”
Lith nodded, sending mana to the Guilty Ballot in his hand. The magical item absorbed greedily the energy, imprinting Lith’s mana as its master. In many ways it was similar to Solus, yet the differences were like heaven and earth.
The Ballot needed Lith’s mana to function, not to live, and it was incapable of absorbing it on its own. Through his mana flow, Lith was capable of making it start/stop recording, projecting the recorded images and sounds.
“This thing is dead as a doornail. Is just like some kind of CCTV and I’m the power plant. The uniform, thought, has some pretty sweet properties.” Lith thought while skimming the instructions.
Before leaving the Headmaster office, Lith received even more booklets that described the academy’s history, its forest, how the student point system worked, and so on. There was enough to fill a small library.
Thankfully, the Marchioness offered to carry them for him in one of her dimensional pockets.
“Dammit, if it wasn’t for Soluspedia, it would take me months to read and memorize all this stuff. Between knowing the White Griffon rules and regulations inside out and the Guilty Ballot, I should have what I need to survive the next two years. Maybe.”