And so, time flowed on relentlessly.
By the time I reached the age of twelve, I had grown taller, my physique more robust and solid.
This was all thanks to the consistent help I lent in the fields.
While I could have easily strengthened my muscles with magic, making the labor significantly easier, my father had advised against it, saying, “It’s better not to rely on magic for physical labor, especially during your growing years.”
Thus, I continued to work in the fields without the aid of magic. As a result, I developed a quite impressive physique for a twelve-year-old, if I do say so myself.
My training and studies in magic had also progressed considerably.
I had found a book that I cherished dearly.
A thick volume that my father had procured from town, its leather cover, and the sheer amount of content marked it as a luxury item. The title was “Fundamentals of Magical Study.”
After a thorough search, my father had chosen this book because it was the most substantial one available.
I read and reread the book until the leather cover was worn, practicing its contents until I had mastered them.
True to its title, the book covered the very basics of magic, exploring the benefits of shaping and visualizing mana in different ways. It was a perspective I hadn’t found in any other book. Even my father, when asked, admitted he had never come across a book that went into such detail.
I had struck gold. Taking the book as my textbook, I devoted myself to practicing magic between my field chores.
Now, I could recite almost the entire content by heart, and I was able to put it all into practice.
More importantly, I had found a purpose.
A goal for the future.
Researching about this country made my heart race with excitement. I had found what I wanted to become: a detective.
There wasn’t a police organization tasked with investigating crimes in Shaark. Instead, state-certified detectives took on assignments from the nation to solve cases. In other words, detectives here were public servants.
Surprisingly, this system wasn’t unique to Shaark; many other nations had adopted a similar approach.
Why was this the case?
My analysis pointed to the existence of magic.
Magic, a profoundly personal and intangible skill, varied significantly from person to person. It was a part of society’s foundation. Given that magic could be used to commit crimes, deducing the perpetrator based on the method of murder became an intricate task.
Consequently, the idea of an organization employing standardized methods to investigate crimes was unconventional in this world. Discussions on typifying crimes or systematizing investigation techniques were practically non-existent.
Detectives worked on a case-by-case basis in dealing with crimes, which was deemed sufficient. The current system catered to this approach.
From my point of view, there couldn’t be anything more marvelous.
It was akin to stepping into the world of good old-fashioned mystery novels, where detectives reign supreme.
I would graduate from the Military Academy and become a renowned detective.
That had become my ultimate goal.
And just like that, the day of departure finally arrived.
“Take this with you.”
Before setting out, my parents and sister and the villagers had gathered to see me off.
As I was about to board the carriage—driven by the six-legged horses I had grown accustomed to—my mother handed me a cloth bag.
“Hm? What’s this?”
“It’s packed lunch. Eat it in the carriage.”
“Oh, okay. Thank you.”
With that, my belongings now consisted of writing materials, a change of clothes, a packed lunch, a sum of 180,000 gil—which was half a year’s worth of living expenses for our family, scrupulously saved up by my parents—and my worn-out copy of Fundamentals of Magical Study.
“Van, don’t worry about a thing, all right? If it doesn’t work out, just come right back home.”
My father’s words carried a hint of worry, but were interrupted by the villagers.
“What are you saying, man? That’s some ill fortune.”
“Van’s got his act together, unlike you. He’ll make out just fine.”
Unlike the adults, Leena simply waved at me with a serene expression.
I wave back at her.
She probably didn’t quite grasp the concept of me going far away. And perhaps that was for the best.
Leena was now eight years old.
She had inherited my mother’s golden hair, shaping up to be a strong-willed beauty.
I regretted not being able to witness my sister’s growth up close for a while, but it couldn’t be helped.
“Well, I’m off.”
With that, I boarded the carriage.
The carriage bound for the capital started moving.
“Give it your all, chap!”
“Van, you can become a king if you set your mind to it!”
“May Lady Fatia bless your journey!”
The villagers waved until they were out of sight.
As for my family?
Turning to look at them, I saw my usually composed mother shaking with sobs.
My father, while waving at me, was comforting her.
Leena looked back and forth between them, seemingly confused.
For my father, mother, Leena, and all the villagers, I continued to wave from the carriage until they were out of sight.
I need to make something of myself.
The thought lingered in my mind.
I have to become someone of importance, earn a fortune, and give back to my family and the villagers.
No matter how much money I make, it will never be enough to repay the debt of gratitude I owe them.
The carriage took half a day to reach the royal capital.
Having finished the lunch my mother had packed for me, I thanked the coachman and disembarked.
I had heard about it, but this was my first time laying eyes on the royal capital.
Buildings of white-painted stone lined the streets.
The broad avenue was bustling with people, and numerous bazaars crowded every available space.
And in the city center, several massive buildings were visible, even from a distance.
The imposing, square building over there must be the courthouse; I had seen it in a book. A bit farther away was the royal castle, which looked just like the castles in video games. And that must be the Military Academy where I’ll take the entrance exam.
I imagine that most people coming from the countryside to the royal capital for the first time would be overwhelmed by this sight.
However, I have memories from my previous world. I’ve seen skyscrapers and domes, so this doesn’t faze me much.
Still, my heart leaps when I see books on display in the bazaar.
But no, I shouldn’t.
All the money I have is meant for living expenses once I’m admitted to the academy. I can’t afford to waste a single gil.
Chanting “emptiness is form, form is emptiness” to myself, I proceed down the road.
The Military Academy isn’t hard to find; I just need to follow the main street.
Up close, the academy exterior looks even more imposing.
The image of a school doesn’t quite fit; it reminds me more of a prison.
First off, the grounds are surrounded by high brick walls, and on top of the walls are sharp iron spikes as if to impale anyone trying to climb over.
There’s only one looming metal gate, and in front of it stand five burly gatekeepers, admitting test-takers.
Most other examinees seem to be from noble families, dressed in flamboyant clothes made from delicate red and gold fabrics.
Among them, my humble hemp pants and shirt stand out.
But, well, who cares?
I hand my exam slip to one of the gatekeepers, feeling a bit nervous.
The burly man takes my slip without a word, scans me from head to toe, and then returns the slip to me.
Guess that means I can go in.
I tentatively step through the gate.
Feeling a gaze on me, I glance back and see the other examinees watching me curiously as I enter.
Perhaps they find it strange that someone who is clearly neither noble nor wealthy is taking the exam.
Past the gate, I see a vast courtyard and the school building, which also resembles a prison.
The building itself looks sturdy, painted in clean white stucco, but its shape is an unappealing square, and all the windows have bars on them.
Is this to prevent escape? Either way, it’s pretty intimidating.
But there’s no time to stand around.
I hurry to the exam hall.
As I rush down the sterile but cold, white hallway…
“Same as always, huh? You’re disgusting.”
“Hah, is this guy for real?”
“I can’t believe this.”
I hear a series of taunts dripping with mockery.
What’s this now?
I should be heading straight to the exam hall, but it seems like there’s some trouble down the right path.
There’s still time before the exam, so maybe I’ll take a look.
Driven by my curiosity, I turn right and immediately see a group of fellow examinees huddled together at the end of the hallway.
What’s going on here?
Rather than huddled, it looks more like three people are surrounding one person.
Judging by their clothes, the three doing the surroundings are high-ranking nobles.
They look exactly like spoiled young masters, chubby boys in flashy clothes.
I can’t see the person they’re surrounding well, but the situation doesn’t look friendly.
I decided to stick around and watch.
“This isn’t your place, and it never will be.”
The apparent leader of the group halts mid-sentence and turns to face me, prompting his companions to do the same.
The leader, a short and pudgy boy, is dressed in extravagant clothes, with a round face that seems to exude malice, and narrow, twisted eyes and lips. His hair is curly and red.
He looks somewhat like a stereotypical dwarf, I think analytically.
“What do you want?”
He eyes me with undisguised contempt.
“Lost your way? Scram, peasant.”
Judging from my clothes, he’s decided I’m neither a noble nor a wealthy merchant and dismisses me with a sneer.
Wow. He’s the epitome of an unpleasant noble brat.
Instead of anger, I feel a sort of admiration for how perfectly he fits the stereotype.
“Er, what are you guys doing?”
I ask, and he responds, “Didn’t you hear me?” His face turning a shade redder.
“I’m Mehsin. Bob Mehsin. Never heard of me?”
I’ve heard of the Mehsin.
“The Mehsins control half of Shaark’s Port Town, right? They’re a major noble house.”
“Heh, so you do know.”
Bob puffs out his chest proudly.
“So, what’s going on here?”
I press him further, and he just glares at me, his face turning beet red.
“What’s with this guy? He’s got screws loose.”
“What makes you think you can talk to Bob like that?”
His lackeys start complaining in his stead.
“What’s your problem?”
I’m ready to throw down.
I refuse to lose a fight, especially to kids like these.
“What’s with this guy?”
One of the lackeys takes a step back, looking unnerved, just as the other doubles over.
He clutches his stomach, wincing in pain.
There’s no way I could have sent a shockwave or anything like that.
I soon realized what happened.
The person surrounded by the three had just kicked the lackey in the stomach.
Bob shouted, but…
“Shut up, you lot…”
The individual, seemingly holding back an imminent outburst, said in a high-pitched voice, silencing Bob with an oppressive air.
“Tch… Let’s go.”
Bob and his cronies – one clutching his stomach and the other unscathed – left, casting sidelong glares at me and the other person.
Now, it was just me and him.
Compared to the trio that had just left, he might have seemed a notch less threatening. He wore modest but expensive-looking clothes and carried himself in a manner befitting the progeny of middle-tier nobility, presenting an appearance that was by no means a cause for shame.
His face was strikingly handsome, framed by shoulder-length hair, yet his gaze was sharp and feral, reminiscent of a stray hound. His locks and eyes were as dark as a raven’s plumage, glistening as if wet.
Clad in slim-fit pumps, his shirt and jacket seemed to cling to his body, outlining his slender frame. While this attire appeared to afford ease of movement, it also seemed, paradoxically, to constrict him, as if his own form bound him.
He expressed his gratitude with a high voice, not softening his intense gaze.
Despite his words of thanks, I could almost feel the bite. His murderous intent sent chills down my spine.
Perhaps my impression of his outfit restraining him was not too far off the mark. Maybe it was a means to contain his violent tendencies.
“Ah, no, it’s nothing.”
“No, you helped me. Are you an exam-taker?”
“Kyrio Laafla. Just a small fry from the weak Laafla family.”
Oh, he was introducing himself.
“I’m Van. Just a commoner, Van.”
Without easing his murderous aura, Kyrio gave a slight nod and walked away.
“Hey, wait a sec.”
I tried to stop him, wanting to ask what had just happened, but…
As he turned around, I saw his eyes, sharp and bloodshot, filled with explosive killing intent.
“Uh, no, it’s nothing.”
Completely intimidated, I was frozen, managing only those words after a pause.
Kyrio stared at me, motionless, for a moment longer before finally leaving, as if nothing had happened.
I couldn’t move until he was completely out of sight, as if I was under a spell.
What the hell, that guy was terrifying.