Black Iron's Glory - Chapter 61

The book was more memoir than diary. This volume was penned just after Landes became a third-rank rune magus. He'd just gotten his first private room in the tower which had eventually been destroyed by the cannon barrage his final entry in the first diary had mentioned.

This volume also appeared to be the first one he'd ever written, since it started right at the beginning of his life, deep in his childhood. He was quite the diligent documenter, too. He noted everything of even the remotest interest -- interest to whom, Claude didn't know -- from how hardworking his parents were to how much he and his sibling loved one another. The first ten pages were quite confusing, a disorganised jumble of what might be called the broadest details of his life. It gained some clarity and structure -- maybe even a semblance of order -- from the eleventh page onwards, however. One thing was clear through his ten pages of ramblings: he was very proud to have finally become a third-rank rune magus. It took him only four years to turn himself from an illiterate 14-year-old boy into a third-grade rune magus. He hadn't let his parents down.

The diary was written in ancient Hez, so it took Claude a long time to read through it. He had to stop to refer to the dictionary often as well. He realised, by about the twentieth page, that magi weren't the evil things everyone described them as today.

Landes wrote that he grew up in the village of Whitestag, a settlement built near the scenic Lake Balinga. Claude was astounded to see the coincidences continue to pile up. The entire region where the three prefectures stood today apparently belonged to the tower's master, a seven-ring archmagus called Loenk. But as the great archmagus was busy probing magic arcane secrets, he couldn't be bothered with managing his land and left it to the three magi households that lived on it.

Landes' childhood household had eight people. It was him and his parents, his two older brothers, and older sister and a younger sister, and their grandmother, whom he dearly despised.

His father owned a small fishing boat and would take his two brothers to fish on the lake early in every morning. They had an acre of farmland and a small vegetable garden, which were tended by his mother and elder sister. They also owned a cow and horse, the caretaking of which fell to him. Most of his time was spent grazing the two animals.

Landes' grandmother and younger sister managed house and fed the ten chickens. The whole family worked day and night, but they had to give half of everything they produced to the local magi noble as tax for being allowed to use the land. They could barely feed the family with what was left after the tax collectors came by.

When his three elder siblings started to grow up and looking for a husband and wives, his parents started worrying about how they would save up money, something they generally lived without entirely, to pay the two husbands' dowries, and contribute to their daughter's dowry. The magic test was conducted in town that very year.

The test was conducted on all the children in the archmagus's domain. Everyone between the ages of five and fifteen had to be tested. Children above twelve discovered to have talent would be sent to the tower and developed into apprentices while those younger than twelve would be marked and tested again when they turned twelve. If their talent was still there, they would be brought into the tower as well.

So talent fluctuated? The thought interested him, but his attention soon returned to the diary. Landes said that, ever since childhood, his sense of hearing had been really sensitive. No matter how quiet his grandmother complained about him, he could hear it all. He might have liked the old woman otherwise.

Landes wrote that, sometimes, he would take the the cow and horse out to graze. He would lie down for a nap while they grazed, but despite closing his eyes, he would still see them clearly in his mind, and not just the normal mental picture most people described. It looked exactly like when his eyes were open.

The magus who came to town to test the children had a long beard. He wore a black robe and a stern expression. Many of the children were absolutely terrified of him.

He was also the guy that came around every year to collect the taxes. The villagers darted out of their homes and shops, children in tow, often being dragged quite literally kicking and screaming behind their parents.

Landes' parents took him and his younger sister to be tested as well. In all, 40 families' children, over 50, were going to be tested.

Whitestag should be the last place in the southwest where the evaluation would be carried out. Ten or so children, dressed in identical grey robes, stood behind him. Both boys and girls were among them and each and every one stood proudly.

The evaluation went quickly since no one showed any talent and it was soon his family's turn. His sister went first. The testing device was a transparent glass ball. The grim-faced magus had Landes' sister stare into it. The ball flashed green for a moment. The magus said his sister had a wood affinity, but it wasn't strong enough to qualify as a true talent for magic.

He was next. He stared into the ball intently. He dearly wanted to touch it, but he dared not do something like that under that steely gaze. He was told to stare into it and see if he could see anything.

He noticed a shape inside the ball, but he couldn't quite see what it was. It felt like liquid was rushing at him inside that ball. He increased the intent in his gaze, and finally made out what it was. Inside, a small fire danced like a bubbling liquid. It grew larger the longer he stared, and slowly turned from a bright spring orange into a deep summer red. He eventually noticed that the bubbling wasn't random, like a carefully choreographed dance, the flame took on fleeting shapes every now and again, they sometimes resembled sheep, sometimes houses, sometimes mountains, sometimes strange mythical beasts. The recogniseable shapes only ever lasted a moment, before fading into a random bubbling mass again as if nothing had just happened.

The red darkened, and eventually faded entirely into black and vanished. The ball was clear again and Landes finally snapped out of his reverie. His eyes darted nervously to the magus, afraid of the scolding he was no doubt about to get for staring at the ball quietly for so long, only to see the magus stare at him, saucer-eyed.

It took him a moment to realise the magus wasn't just staring at him, but shouting as well.

"Fire affinity, level nine! Mental power, level eight! You're chosen!"

Landes' diary noted that a year after he went to the tower he learned of what the glass ball really was. It was called a talent-evaluator and it was a magical item personally crafted and refined by the towermaster.

The magi believed everyone had at least some affinity for magic. Commoners were no exception. They categorised the talent using affinity to a number of elements and quantified it into a number of levels. Everyone had a score of at least one, and most could go up to two. Three and four were only slightly above average, and five to six were good enough to actually use magic if trained properly.

Commoners, however, never had a chance to learn magic on their own. Nurturing magi required lots of resources, especially of the magic variety, and it only got worse as their strength grew. The noble families hoarded all the dwindling resources for use in training their own scions.

There was a saying among the nobles: 'What you lack in talent, you can make up for with resources'. Which they did. Any noble child with an affinity greater than four would be trained.

It was much the same as 'pay to win' games. No player, no matter how good or dedicated, could beat someone willing to vomit money for boosts and special items.

Someone with an affinity between seven and eight had great talent. Even commoner children with that level of affinity would be nurtured, to a point. Such children could become common magi without too much resources, which meant more could be spent on noble children with weaker affinities. The commoners would be trained into common five or six ring magi and apprenticed to a high-ranking magus.

Those with an affinity of level nine or ten were beyond rare, genii among genii. Any household who produced such an offspring would be provided for for three centuries.

They were treated no different from other chosen commoners, however. They would also only be trained to the five or six rings.

The ball could measure more than just affinity; it also measured mental energy. The two usually went together, so that made sense.

Landes had a high affinity for fire, which was why he'd seen a fire in the ball. The shape indicated affinity, the brightness level, and the duration mental energy. The ball consumed mental energy at a constant rate, so the longer the testee could stared into the ball, the greater their mental energy was. People with particularly strong mental energy also caused the image in the ball to morph into different shapes of objects. The magus didn't miss that particular detail in Landes' test either.

He didn't know what the magus meant when he said he was chosen. And he was too terrified to try and figure that out. The tax collection official soon calmed down, however, and spoke to his parents. He later learned they'd been exempted from taxes and he'd been chosen to go to the tower to train as a magus.

His parents had never been convinced this whole being chosen to become a magus was a good thing, but the exemption changed their minds. They took the boy home and his mother cooked up a feast, they even invited the neighbours over. With all the foods and stuffs they'd usually have to hand over to pay their taxes now staying home, they could save up enough money for all five their children in just a couple of years.

Landes wasn't as happy that night, however. He was numbed by shock and terrified to leave his family, not to mention doing so with that frightening old bearded man.

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