Richard had discovered in his studies that he was outstanding with math, runes, and body movement control. He could understand complex formulae easily, and the more he learned the more mysterious he felt the world of magic was. It made him feel even more ignorant than he’d felt before. The boy was extremely focused, and could deal with solitude well. Right now, there was nothing in his life but magic.
Winter arrived in a flash, but Richard wasn’t even aware of the first flakes of snow. The Deepblue remained as warm as spring, and with so many months of his life spent here he was already accustomed to the warm magic lights in his surroundings.
A meteor flashed past the sky tonight, unbelievably close to the earth as it sped across the snow-filled sky to land on the highest platform of the Deepblue. 23 mages were already present there, waiting in anticipation of someone’s arrival despite the cold and the snow. Three of them were even grand mages.
The meteor split open, revealing Sharon’s petite figure within. Two female mages immediately went forward and draped her in towels, while four others laid out a red carpet before her feet, continuously unrolling the carpet as she walked. More mages rolled up the carpet behind her, ensuring that her feet never once touched the ground since she landed.
The three grand mages walked beside her, hurrying reports about the events in the Deepblue during her absence. Sharon remained nonchalant about it all, until she brightened with the third mage’s report about classes and talents. “You’re saying little Richard has talent in setting up spell formations?”
Facing Sharon’s gaze, the grand mage whose beard was almost completely white quivered in place, beads of cold sweat forming around his body. The gaze of a legendary being was like a snake staring at a frog. The sheer difference in spiritual force would put great pressure on the lesser mage, making them feel like they were facing a dragon.
The man would never have thought that Sharon was interested in such a small matter. Fortunately he’d prepared the report well, immediately handing over two small magic formations Richard had sketched. Sharon’s interest was piqued the moment she saw the sketches, and she slowed to a stop as she perused them in detail.
Cold sweat continued to pour out of the old man’s body. These two sketches seemed extremely normal to him, just the most basic of spell formations. There were in the standard format, and there was nothing innovative about it. The runes at the front were extremely simple, and the logic was clear and limited. Still, there was no need for innovation here. It was a standard formation Richard had learnt in his classes, and the only reason the grand mage even reported it was because Sharon was interested in the boy. She’d remained close to the examination room for the entire gamut of tests they’d run on him.
This was several hours in a primary plane! Time was precious to a legendary mage, so the man had figured that Sharon was greatly interested in Richard. He’d thus kept an eye on the boy, and reported his improvements since it would be an important milestone. The grand mage was just trying to gain her favour. After all, Sharon’s Delight was an important field in every month’s paycheck.
This was indeed some small improvement on Richard’s part. The sketches had no mistakes, but that wasn’t really a big deal. Anyone with proper training would be able to avoid all mistakes in such a basic spell formation. The only thing worth commending was that this had been done first try, but which grand mage wasn’t a genius? The old man wouldn’t bat an eyelid at such a drawing. Of course, the formation was almost identical to the textbook version, and the errors so tiny it was somewhat surprising, but rune drawing wasn’t alchemy; there wasn’t as strict a margin of error. Once one crossed the threshold, any more perfection was useless. If a millimetre of tolerance was allowed, what was the point of being accurate to ten micrometres?
If Richard could innovate on these basic spell formations, the grand mage would’ve looked at him differently. However, someone under level 10 wouldn’t have the ability to create a spell formation of their own.
Despite all these thoughts of his, Sharon had been looking at the sketches for so long. Even if he was an idiot he’d realise things weren’t as simple as they seemed. Still, he just couldn’t discover what was special about them.
“Really, wonderful!” Sharon cried in joy, bringing her hands out to pat the grand mage. She was minute compared to his mighty figure, so he had to bow his waist to allow her to reach his shoulder.
*Thud!* However, the grand mage felt like he’d been hit with a dragon’s claw when that snow-white hand touched him. He couldn’t muster up any resistance to the force, falling straight to the ground.
“Oh!” Sharon exclaimed as she waved her hand, forming a water shield to stop the grand mage from falling and lifting him up, “I was a little too excited, and did not control my strength.”
“It wasn’t heavy, it wasn’t heavy! It was great!” The old grand mage smiled like a fresh flower that had just bloomed.
Sharon waved the two sketches in her hand and said excitedly, “I never thought that you’d be able to discern the anomaly in these two sketches! You seemed to have gotten smarter since I last saw you! What have you been eating recently?”
“It was all due to your teachings.” The grand mage smiled humbly, as if he was rejecting the credit given, as if he knew about why the two sketches were special. He wasn’t a simple man by any means, after all he was in his current position today, but his heart was racing right now. Sharon’s unbridled laughter meant his income this month would be an amazing figure!
Sharon seemed like a little girl, impatient and eager to share her joy. She showed the sketches off to the grand mages, saying, “Look! The sketches are almost identical to the textbook!” Only after her stress on the word identical did the three grand mages look on the sketches once more, a look of revelation flashing in their eyes.
“The difference between these drawings and the standard is just a tenth of a millimetre, and even that is pretty much constant. This precision and accuracy... Only someone above level 10 who’s practised rigorously can have such precision. Richard did it at level 1!” Sharon continued.
One of the grand mages said in realisation, “This is a rare talent! He has outstanding spiritual force...”
“He has excellent stats all round, with no shortcomings,” another added.
The third handed the sketches back to Sharon, inhaling a deep breath before he spoke in a tone of disbelief, “We have a runemaster in the making?!”
“Indeed!” Sharon grinned widely.
Rune knights were an ultimate display of power amongst the humans. Originally archers, defenders, frontliners, or even mages, they all had the ability to bear runes on their bodies. A mid-tier rune would raise the might of a melee fighter by thirty percent, putting a level 13 or 14 rune knight on par with a level 17!
Power levels were a pyramid in the world. The higher one went in level, the fewer there were with such might. There were few level 18s in the world, and they were all experts that many factions wanted to rope in. None of them would join an army to become cannon fodder. On the other hand, rune knights weren’t inferior to these saint classes but were far more numerous. There were enough of them to turn the tides on a battlefield.
Ever since rune knights had been introduced to warfare, all generals shared a maxim— Only rune knights can resist rune knights. The ones who made this miracle possible were runemasters.
Still, despite there being far, far more level 13 or 14 warriors than saint classes, the Sacred Alliance only had roughly a thousand rune knights. Even at the peak the empire had no more than three thousand.
This was all due to a bottleneck of runemasters.
Rune knights were strategic forces, and legendary mages were strategic deterrents. Much the same way, a runemaster was a strategic advantage. However, becoming a runemaster was difficult, requiring great talents in magic, control, and the ability to create with patience. Rune knights were limited in the number of runes they could bear, so runemasters needed to shrink large spell formations down to the size of a palm before inscribing them on their bodies. A powerful runemaster’s drawings were often so small the regular eye couldn’t even see it. The powerful inscriptions often took months to complete.
Even as one of the three human empires the Sacred Alliance possessed no more than a dozen odd runemasters, even when beginners were included. Nobles vied for the services of each, as even novice runemasters could add a small troop of rune knights to a family in a decade. This was an irresistible attraction, one that put runemasters not much lower than legendary mages in status.
These two sketches had revealed the most important attribute of a runemaster, precision. Sharon seemed happier the more she looked at them, her smile growing wider as a peal of laughter travelled across the earth and the skies.
‘This woman...’ The three grand mages perhaps thought of criticising her, but they still continued to smile with her on the surface. Their smiles were extremely affable, as if this runemaster in the making, Richard, was their own child.
“I really can’t stop smiling!” Sharon sighed, before resuming her laughter.
Sharon had no desires for a secular army, and rune knights were of no attraction to her. However, having been with her for a long time, they knew the true reason for her happiness.
It was simply because she finally got to teach a runemaster! It meant she could now stomp the other runemasters of the world beneath her feet! While Sharon had many talented mages as her students, there was never a runemaster amongst their ranks till now. She’d offended a runemaster once, and now he’d become a national treasure of the Sacred Tree Empire as a great runemaster, so even as a legendary mage she couldn’t touch him. Her long grudge would now be fulfilled.
However, nobody knew how the target of her delight, Richard, would be treated. Her desires were extremely wanton, but nobody wanted to point it out because they’d lose Sharon’s Delight.
It was not easy for the legendary mage to stop her laughter, but she eventually turned solemn. “Give Richard full support from today, and groom him into a runemaster. I want this to be kept secret as well, nobody but you should know,” she said strictly.
The grand mages and the others present all criticised her in their minds. Sharon’s laughter had travelled through several towers earlier, and not long after this she would not be able to suppress her smugness and announce it to the entire world. But for now, they all agreed to her on the surface and put on a solemn expression.
It was close to the month’s end today, and Richard returned to his region in the evening. The girl was already waiting silently by his door, and handed over the bill to him as usual. And he didn’t ask for her name. As usual.
Richard activated his badge in the forge, reading the contents of the bill. Just as he’d expected, his expenses had only increased as he continued practising broader and broader fields of magic. His expenses had already outstripped his stipend, which meant his savings from the first month were no more. He either had to slow down cultivation, or find ways to earn more money. However, he had no idea of how to earn a single cent outside that stipend. A level 1 mage was already an official mage in the outside world, but in the Deepblue those at level 3 and below were only considered apprentices.
Just as Richard was vexing his frustration, he noticed that another field was filled in his income.
Sharon’s Delight — 500,000 gold coins.
The delight of a legendary mage was indeed of value! Richard’s mind completely turned blank, emptied of all thoughts.
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