That evening, Roel massaged his forehead as he walked out of the library and headed toward the central district.
The National Athenaeum of Wisdom had many records of the academy’s blueprints, but the problem was that they were all professional blueprints drawn to be viewed by those working in the same industry. It was incredibly exhausting for a layman like Roel to decipher all of those symbols and abbreviations.
The good thing was that his efforts did pay off. He managed to figure out the layout of most buildings in the academy, so he wouldn’t have to buzz around like a headless fly anymore.
And now, it was time for him to meet that strict ‘teacher’ of his.
He put on his hoodie and scarf and traveled through the crowd discreetly. As usual, he had to utter that embarrassing password before he was allowed into the classroom.
When his eyes fell on the woman standing at the podium, he found his heart skipping a beat.
She’s wearing a purple dress today.
She wore a traditional purple long dress that swayed along with her movements, leaving Roel unable to retract his gaze. Similar to what she wore yesterday, the dress was loose but tightened around the waist, though this one had a wider collar line that exposed a fair bit of her shoulders. As if to conceal the exposed skin, there was a graceful purple bowtie sitting around her fair neck.
Roel had to agree that purple was a color that complemented Lilian well. It was a perfect fit with her amethyst eyes, and it seemed to accentuate her disposition.
An astute but enigmatic ice beauty—this was the impression that Lilian usually gave off. But somehow, she felt even colder today.
Roel was able to figure out the reason behind it right away, but he chose not to raise the subject. He obediently took his seat and waited for the class to begin. On the other hand, Lilian also didn't say a thing about it and started the class right away.
Regardless of the negative feelings she might harbor toward him, it didn’t affect her class at all. Her lesson was still as sharp and detailed as ever. What was frightening, however, was that every time Roel wanted to ask a question, she was able to answer it a second in advance. It left Roel wondering if she had used some sort of mind-reading spell on him.
However, he had no way to prove it since Lilian always made sure to go through the concepts thoroughly, regardless of whether he had already grasped a portion of it or not. The slight repetitions that occurred here and there were a bit frustrating, but he dared not voice any complaints to his cold-faced senior.
Even if it was a request from Chris, it was true that Lilian was doing him a huge favor here by sparing her precious time to tutor him. The least he could do was to pay full attention to everything she said even if it was redundant, which was what he did.
His earnest learning attitude seemed to have satisfied Lilian a little.
Halfway through the lesson, they proceeded on to practical combat training.
While Roel was hopeless in mana control, mana compression was a different story. It was a concept first theorized and researched by the Energy Guild, the key idea being enhancing the quality of mana so as to amplify the prowess of one’s spells.
Lilian’s mana compression training could be described as a duel.
Of course, it wasn’t a real duel in the sense that they weren’t really fighting against one another, but they would manifest their mana threads—or in Roel’s case, mana rope—and pit them against one another. Whoever’s mana thread was severed first would be the loser.
With a light crack, Roel’s mana rope was sliced into two with hardly any resistance. He looked at the shattered manifestation of mana in his hands and sighed softly before swiftly manifesting a new one. Meanwhile, Lilian provided him with some criticisms of his performance.
“Haven’t I told you that thickness doesn’t matter here? What you need is to focus on your skills right from the start. It’s not about making it huge before attempting to squeeze it down. You have to make the change at the very start.
“What you’re releasing right now is no different from water. It needs to be far more condensed right from the start in order to succeed.
Perhaps it was due to Roel’s mistake being far too obvious, Lilian ended up speaking more than she usually did. However, her teachings didn’t spur an epiphany in Roel; instead, it left him with a weird look on his face.
The two of them needed to be close to one another in order to conduct the ‘duel’, so Lilian had to walk down from the podium to stand before Roel’s desk. As a result, Roel found himself faced with her slim tummy.
Ro’s accursed words surfaced in his mind at this ungodly timing, causing his face to swiftly redden. It felt incredibly awkward to him, but at the same time, he couldn’t really lift his gaze or lower it either.
“What are you waiting for? Try again.”
Lilian’s nonchalant voice cooled down Roel’s overheating mind a little. He raised his head to look at Lilian, only to see her looking back at him with a shimmering thread between her fingers.
This won’t do. I need to calm myself down. In the first place, what does her tummy even have to do with me?!
Roel nodded in determination as he directed his focus back to his mana compression practice. Under Lilian’s guidance, he finally showed some improvement. After being one-shotted more than ten times, he finally held his ground in a clash for once.
Roel was overjoyed to see his little crimson rope surviving Lilian’s devastation.
But before Roel could voice out his joy, Lilian mercilessly swiped her silver thread down once more and severed his crimson rope into two, causing his smile to stiffen in place. Those excited words that were already at the tip of his tongue vanished right away. He blinked his eyes blankly for a moment before quietly lowering his head to compress his mana once more.
Perhaps it was due to her casual action dealing a blow to Roel’s motivation, Lilian contemplated for a moment before speaking up.
“It was a fair attempt. Let’s continue.”
Those concise words hardly sounded encouraging at all, but Roel found himself raising his head to stare at Lilian with utterly astounded eyes.
“Yes, I’ll try my best.”
Roel revealed a brilliant smile that left Lilian dazed for a moment. Once again, she felt an inexplicable feeling of intimacy toward Roel welling up in her heart.
This again. What’s wrong with me?
Her amethyst eyes narrowed a little. Her face remained as placid as ever, but her heart had already plunged into confusion.
The truth was that she wasn’t intending to console Roel when she severed his mana rope earlier. While it was praiseworthy that he was able to make significant progress on his first training session, she didn’t think that it was any of her business.
If anything, she should be hoping for Roel’s failure since she had more to gain from that. She could have just done the bare minimum as a tutor, and that would have still been fulfilling the obligations she owed to Chris.
Yet, when she saw Roel celebrating his little success with a smile on his face, only to lower his head in disappointment at her disregard right after, she felt something pounding hard in her heart. She subconsciously thought that she had done wrong.
It was this inexplicable feeling that prompted her to encourage him.
Is this bewitchment? Or is there something else here?
Lilian pondered over this while continuing with the lesson, but she was unable to figure out an answer to that.
Soon, the night deepened and their class finally came to an end.
“Let’s conclude things here today,” said Lilian.
Roel heaved a sigh of relief and slumped his exhausted body onto the chair.
Mana compression was a far more delicate process than he had expected. Controlling and compressing mana were difficult tasks that would require one's full attention even when done separately, but Roel was expected to multitask and accomplish the two of them simultaneously This was definitely a huge challenge for anyone who wasn’t accustomed to it yet.
Damn it, do I have to do this every class?, grumbled Roel in his mind.
He remained seated in his chair and waited patiently. Based on their previous agreement, he would only leave ten minutes after Lilian so as to avoid being spotted together. To his surprise, the latter didn’t leave right away but instead lingered in the classroom.
He turned to look at Lilian, only to see her deep in thought.
“Senior? Aren’t you going to head back?”
“I met Paul today.”
Lilian finally raised her head to meet Roel’s astonished gaze. Her face was as impassive as ever, serving as an impenetrable barrier that prevented anyone from reading her thoughts.
“Why did you accept him?” she asked nonchalantly.
Roel sensed that his response was of vital importance here. After careful consideration, he stood up and answered slowly.
“There are many reasons behind my decision, but there are two key ones. First, I can’t stand the culture of discrimination going on in the academy. Second, I see great potential in him.
“I’ve already expressed my opinion about Paul’s identity as an illegitimate son of the Ackermann Imperial Family. I believe that he shouldn’t be held responsible for his own birth and that he’s nothing more than a victim here. Thus, I can’t accept all of the oppression and discrimination directed toward him. At the same time, while none of you bear any expectation for Paul, I see talent in him. I believe that he can become someone great in the future.
“Well, I guess it all boils down to my personal preference and my eye for talent. Are you satisfied with this answer?”
Roel looked at Lilian with conviction in his eyes as he gave his earnest answer.
The person standing before him was no longer his senior but the imperial princess of the Austine Empire. Right now, she was in the midst of assessing the intent behind his decision to take in Paul. If she were to deem his action to be of malevolent nature, there was a good chance that she would try to exert her influence to control Paul so as to prevent external powers from making use of him.
In the worst-case scenario, she might even send Paul back to the Austine Empire.
This was not something Roel could accept.
A few minutes ticked by, but it felt like an eternity had passed instead. Lilian maintained her gaze on Roel, trying to peer through his inner thoughts. Yet, the more she looked at him, the more convinced she was of his sincerity.
After a long standoff, she finally spoke.
It was her usual concise response, but it sounded like the blare of a triumphant horn to Roel. There was still hardly any emotion on her face, but Roel knew that she had accepted his reason.
Paul Ackermann, collected!
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