I followed Francisa into a small room with a round stone table and a few wooden chairs around it.
Fredrick was waiting inside, holding a chair out with a slight smirk. Francisa went and sat down on it, a scowl persistent on her face. He then went on to sit right in front of her. I shrugged as I stepped in and sat in between them.
The silence was thick and tense. Fredrick still held a faint smirk as he gawked at Francisa. She, on the other hand, looked confused and angry in equal measure. Just as I was about to break the ice anyhow, the door opened again and another NPC walked in.
"Ah, greetings princess. You're here already?" A woman's voice echoed from behind me.
"Greetings Neysaa!" princess, losing her scowl, "Yes, the hero and I elected to get in a bit early."
The woman walked in from behind me towards the princess. As soon as she entered my sight, I noticed her tanned brown skin and the gait of those who kept themselves physically fit. She had a small light-blue crystal covered in Runes in her gloved hands, which she placed on the table.
"The hero?" She noticed me then. "Oh, Sir Pat. Greetings!" She greeted politely and curtsied. Her robe was similar to Fredrick's. All show and no function. At least she looked pretty in it. "I am Neysaa Ingrasia. Apprentice to the Royal Archmage."
"Greetings Neysaa." I decided to become formal henceforth with new NPCs. At least with polite new NPCs. "I'm Pat, but you seem to have heard of me already. Nice to meet you."
"Of course. I was supposed to assist my master in setting up your tutelage here." She surmised. Turning to Fredrick with a small frown, she continued, "I did not expect Fredrick here, however."
"When I heard my old friend Francisa was coming, I begged His Eminence for his leave and he graciously allowed me to attend as well." He briefly glanced at Neysaa then went back to smirking at Francisa. "How goes it princess? Are you happy now that you got to fulfill your duty?"
"Fredric-" the princess started but was cut off again. Another person joined our little meet-up. And it was not little anymore.
An NPC who appeared on died of French Fries and Cheeseburgers sauntered into the room. Fredrick stood up and bowed so low I feared his hair might sweep the ground. "Master!" he spoke with a passion. Neysaa was not far behind. With a formal bow no different than what she gave me, she intoned respectfully - "Master Arkanis". Francisa got up and gave a short bow, one that could even pass as a nod. Going with the flow, I got up as well and nodded to the man. I even smiled, to be polite. He sniffed.
Then he ambled around the table and sat down in front of me. The rest took their seats as well. He held up his palm at the crystal and whispered something too low for me to hear, and the Runes on the crystal shined with a whitish-blue glow.
"Place your hand on the sphere." He spoke, boredom coming off in waves from his tone.
I looked at the glowing crystal. I sort of knew what it was, but couldn't help myself. "What is this crystal?"
It was Fredrick who answered. "It's a Status Sphere. It shows your Status Window. Every Noble worth their salt has access to one. Even commoners get to access it when they come of age. To think the hero has never even seen it -"
"Enough banter, Fredrick. Do not waste time." The Archmage admonished Fredrick. 'Perhaps it was angled at me as well?'
'But why do they need an artifact to check their Status Windows. Do they not have Spells for it?' I stashed the mystery for another time. Apparently, the guy had a tight schedule. Without hesitation, I placed my hand on the crystal and a small window became visible above just my hand after a second.
'Wait, this is incomplete - I have a couple more special effects!'
"Pff" Fredrick snickered. Neysaa and Francisa were staring at the screen with wide eyes.
"Do you have no Skills, hero?" Arkanis questioned. This was the first time since he entered that I saw him without his blasé attitude. He seemed curious, amused even.
"No, I don't." 'The Mages here get Skills? Betty mentioned something like that.'
Fredrick chimed in. "A hero with no Skills. Barely at level 20. Deliver us from the calamity? Even my younger brother could do better, and he is not thirteen summers yet!" There was still a faint echo of hilarity in his expression.
Francisa soon came out of her daze. "It matters not. He may still use Runes as he sees fit." She gave me a small smile.
"Humph. Extra experience. Not even worth all the trouble..." Arkanis was muttering something to himself. Eventually, he got up with a flourish, picked up the crystal, and left the room; dictating an "I leave this to you" to Neysaa, who was still lost in her own world.
Fredrick leered at Francisa. "See you around, Francisa!" He followed his master out.
¤ ¤ ¤
"So..." I glanced at Francisa, then at Neysaa, "What's next?"
"Ahem," Neysaa was apparently done with her ruminations, "The lack of Skills matters not, for the duration of training at the very least."
"Those two were making quite a deal about it though?" I countered.
"Well, Mages can sustain themselves on just Runes, but Rune Scrolls are usually one-time use only while being less effective as similar Skills; and the mana cost is quite significant. Etching a Rune Circle takes too much time and effort to be useful in traditional combat, not to mention they are notoriously difficult to get right. Innate Skills, however, are quite easy on the mana and can be cast in a blink. Not to mention infinitely reusable with a steady supply of mana potions. It may not matter much when working in a large party, the army, or even in a group of Mages. But as a hero -"
"I'll be venturing out in small party where without Skills, I can only depend on a small supply of expensive and ineffective Rune Scrolls. Basically, making me useless. But what about Spells?" I wondered. 'I did pull my weight in the Tutorial, didn't I?'
"Pah. Surely you jest, Sir Pat." Neysaa giggled as she stood from the chair. Francisa answered my query instead.
"The Spells are only visible with the Status Spheres, which are rare enough as is. And no new Spells have been created in the last three hundred years. Each Clan guards their Spell books zealously. The Runes are created from those Spells. The Runes, and as an extension the Scrolls and Circles, are thus more or less set in stone. No one uses Spells anymore beyond that. They are more blueprints than tools of war."
"Aptly put, princess." Neysaa walked to the door, holding it open. "I'm aware you seek many answers Sir Pat, but it is time for us to retire today. We shall sit here again on the morrow after breaking fast. I shall be more than happy to supply any answers that I can. I am to be your tutor, after all!"
We said our farewells and I started my stroll back to the palace. Francisa drifted beside me, glancing at me now and then with furrowed brows.
"Something on my face?" I asked lightly.
"Uh, n-no Pat." She hesitated. "It's, uh, about Fredrick..."
'Hmm, not that I care but she looks eager to vent. Guess I should hear her out?'
"Fredrick?" I nudged her on.
"Yes." She held her hands tightly together. "He, uh, may have had feelings for me for a time. For the way he acted today, I beg your forgiveness on his behalf."
Honestly, I was more curious about the Archmage. His dark purple robe had several intermingling Runes. But he acted aloof and ran off before I even had an opportunity to talk properly. I assumed Fredrick was just coded as an asshole NPC and did not give him another thought.
"Um, sure. I don't really mind. What about you? Have you had feelings for him too?" I teased her. Ostensibly, I touched a sore spot.
"N-no. I never... I belong to Sir Pat now. Please, believe me." I noticed moisture forming on the corner of her eyes. Her hands were clamped together so hard that they turned white. She stopped walking and bowed her head. "I swear on my name as the Royal Princess of Clan Lohengramm."
'Wha-?' I stood still, gawking at her sudden change in demeanor. She let out a soft and mightily suppressed sob. Before it could turn into a full-fledged river of tears, however, I hastily consoled her.
"Hey, hey! Francisa. Look at me." I held her shoulders. "Come now, raise your head. I was just joking, okay? It is not your fault but mine. I'm sorry. Will you forgive me?"
It took the rest of our march back to the palace to calm her down. 'Hold on, did she say she belonged to me now?'
I decided against broaching the subject again. We had a full dinner again, with me digging into interconnections of Spells, Runes, Scrolls, and Circles. My gap of general knowledge regarding magic usage in the Simulation was slowly filling up.
¤ ¤ ¤
"Aye, and he just disappears right in front of my eyes; like poof, gone!"
We were in my room. Carol, Arya, and I were sitting at the table laden with bread and some hot green liquid. It was not tea. Carol was currently engaged in recalling her introduction with her mentor. My usual maid was frolicking in the corner. 'What was her name again? Elaine? Damn it, I forgot.'
"Looks like you both got along well with your tutors. And I have to read the daily journal, or I should say fanatic mutterings, of some dead old woman." Arya complained as she tore her bread with a vengeance. Her tutor had still not been decided. In the meantime, she was provided with Francisa's great-grandmother's effects to study. A couple of ancient books and a broken staff to be precise.
I had already regaled them with the description of the new NPCs and my interactions with them from last night. "Heh, don't worry Arya, you'll get yours soon enough. And did your mentor get your Status checked as well Carol?"
"Oh, yea. He did place a wee shiny bauble in my hand. It was missing some effects though." Carol mused. "He said I was very lucky with my Skills. They are quite rare, he said."
"And I was almost laughed out the room for not having Skills." I sniffed.
"But it doesn't matter for you, right? What with your magic spells and stuff." Arya queried while taking a sip of the bitter not-tea.
"Well, yes. I can simply flick my finger up and check the Spells. But these NPCs cannot even see their Status Windows without that crystal." I supplied. 'Dare I risk another sip myself?' "I haven't told them that yet. Been wondering if I should at all. It would turn their world upside down, at least for the Mage Class."
"uoah thinfin toh muh." Carol must've come across a particularly stubborn piece of bread.
'Was I?' The crystals were somewhat of a status symbol in this world. Holding one not only signified their high position in the hierarchy, but also gave them the power to create Runes. If they came across someone who could "Identify" without the crystal? Cast Spells bypassing the Runes like their Skills but not restricted to them? Create new Spells from scratch? 'Imagine the chaos!' Even the system itself was hiding information from the NPCs. Perhaps caution was the best approach.
"I'm gonna learn how to turn Spells into Runes today." I continued the conversation. "Runes are supposedly the building blocks of this world's entire magical system. They draw them into Circles to do magic. Some Circles are etched on surfaces to make them permanent. Like my hood on the robe there. They also ink Runes on a piece of paper for a one-time effect. Scrolls, they call them."
"Interesting. How are Scrolls different from Circles?" Arya, very much into the explanation.
"Circles are intricate connections of a large number of Runes, designed for extreme efficiency. Least mana for most effect. They all are also, well, circular for some reason. Some high-level Circles are made up of many low-level Circles. And most Circles require multiple Mages and sustained supply of mana to react." I took the leap, finally sipping on the bitter liquid to hydrate my parched throat. Scrolls, on the other hand, are not restricted to a circular shape, for one. Also, they take up too much mana and have less of a response. A Scroll of lightning, for example, will either throw less lightning, or work for a shorter time, or both; as compared to a Circle. It does use a lot less time, effort, and resources to make that Scroll of lightning, however, as compared to etching a Circle of lightning on a staff. And the Scroll can be used by a single Mage in a pinch, with no issues. Also, a minute mistake while engraving the Circle and the staff is useless." I concluded my explanation.
"And then you have your Spells," Carol smirked.
"And then I have my Spells." I smiled. "Best of both worlds."