Anthony was 63 years old, but unlike the doddering Bale, his body was still very healthy and strong and his hands and feet were as nimble as a young man's. He was also still full of energy and could most likely live up to a hundred years old.
At seven o'clock in the morning, he was still in the East Cove Magic Academy. But by 8 o'clock he was already in Springs city and he had been discussing with a large group of senior officers about the appointment of an army Magician. By 3 o'clock in the afternoon, he had basically decided on the most suitable candidate.
The expedition with the army would be a challenging task. Although the Magician would receive some special treatments, the expedition would still require a Magician with some physical strength. Therefore, the Magicians involved in the army were no older than 40 years old. In Anthony's view, one person who fit the position the most was Darris, the first genius of the younger generation in the academy.
At the young age of 30, Darris had already advanced to becoming a Level-4 Magician and his future looked very promising. Anthony saw the shadow of his own past in the young Darris, so he wanted to give him this chance to accumulate experience and prestige.
Originally, he had considered his disciple Herrera as well. Unfortunately, she was a woman, so she wasn't suited for the position. In the world of magic, there was no discrimination between men and women-in fact, there were many powerful female Magicians. But in this case, a beautiful woman like Herrera working among the army would probably be a bad idea.
At 6 o'clock in the evening, Anthony attended a sumptuous dinner that King Leon had specially prepared for him. After all the perfunctory greetings and social ceremonies, the time was already 8 o'clock. He then rushed to the palace of the portal tower of the palace, ready to go back to the academy.
So far, everything was in line with his plan, and nothing had happened that had diverted him from his schedule. Overall, he was satisfied with the trip to the capital city this time.
Although Anthony didn't always like to attend these tedious meetings and dinners, he understood that it was his duty as the dean of the East Cove Magic Academy. The whole thing had wasted a whole day of his time, but now that everything was settled, he was eager to come back as soon as possible and hated wasting another second in the city.
Shrouded in the flickering glow of a magic aura, Anthony was finally back at the academy, the place where he spent nearly 40 years of his life. But as he was walking down from the portal tower, Antony frowned as he could sense that there was something amiss with the academy today.
Under the portal rune, Maxim, the Magician responsible for the maintenance of the portal tower, was standing there quietly with his brows slightly creased and his face gloomy. Anthony could instantly sense that something was troubling him.
"Maxim, what happened?" asked Antony with a frown. His white beard seemed to stand on its end, his nostrils were flared, and his thick lips and his round eyes were piercing. He didn't look manifestly angry then, but his features were nonetheless very imposing.
Maxim immediately bowed respectfully to the dean, then said in an overwrought voice, "Sir, there has been a problem."
"What is it?" asked the dean.
Anthony's face sank and the air around his body became depressed. The elements in his surroundings began to agitate while tiny tornados began to form in the air around him - these were the effects a powerful Level-7 Magician could exert on his surroundings.
Cold beads of sweat started to form on Maxim's forehead; he knew how tempestuous the dean's temper could be. Even though he had mellowed slightly with age, the oppressive air he exerted now when he was in a bad mood was enough to intimidate anyone. In fact, anyone not used to it might even be scared stiff by it.
"Sir, I don't yet have the details," said Maxim, "but all the Master Magicians have been waiting for you in the Hall of Truth, so you'll get much better information when you get there."
The Hall of Truth was where the academy's most important meetings were held. Only Magicians of Level-3 and higher were eligible to attend the meetings held here. Generally, these Magicians were the elites of the academy.
And right now, all of the Master Magicians were gathered there. Even Maxim, a Level-5 Magician was reluctant to reveal any details himself. Anthony surmised that the cause of this commotion must inevitably be grave indeed. His brows were now tightly knit together just from thinking about it.
He forced himself to maintain his composure and followed Maxim all the way to the northeast corner of the academy, to the Hall of Truth.
Along the way, they met some Magician's Apprentices who seemed to be oblivious to the dire situation looming over the academy. Their expressions bore no worry nor anxiety, and as they encountered the dean, they bowed at him and quickly scurried away.
This discovery made Anthony feel relieved. Although the current situation upset him deeply, he was still glad that the top officials had kept everything concealed from the apprentices. This thereby prevents the problem from being scandalized or spread panic throughout the academy.
Five minutes later, they arrived at the entrance to the Hall of Truth.
The magic barrier of the Hall of Truth had been activated and a purplish, semi-circular barrier enveloped the entire hall. This prevented anyone from the outside to overhear or use magic spells to spy on whatever was happening in the hall.
There was a thick and sturdy magic door in front of the hall. Maxim rushed in front and opened it for the dean. Through the door, Anthony noticed that there were not many people inside. There were only a handful of people there and most of them were white-haired, old Magicians.
Maxim did not enter the hall but stepped aside to let the dean in instead. Anthony took a deep breath and walked into the hall then immediately sealed the magic door behind him.
He glanced around the spacious hall and found that five Master Magicians were sitting at the long table for the academy's High Council. There were six members in the council: Grenci, Fendan, Vossmir, Hanswise, Andorras and Bale - all were present, except Bale.
When they saw Anthony, all five rose to their feet and greeted the dean.
In the middle of the hall, a young man stood there with a familiar-looking young woman by his side. After a while he recognized the woman as his favorite disciple, Moira. The young man near her looked very young-he was probably no older than 20 years old. Yet Anthony could sense a very powerful aura surrounding him. He must be at least a Level-4 Magician.
"Who is this?" asked the very surprised Anthony. He'd never heard of a Level-4 Magician who was under 20 years old in this academy. Such a gifted Magician should be renowned throughout the Firuman continent. But who could this be? Could he be Wavier, the famous Magician from the South?
Wavier was a 19-year-old Magician whose Mana had already reached Level-4. He was known as the most gifted young Magician among mankind.
Link then took a step forward and with one hand on his chest and one hand behind him, he bowed respectfully.
"My name is Link Morani," said Link. "I am Magician Bale's apprentice."
"Link? Oh, it's you," said Anthony. "Yes, that's right, I remember reading your thesis...By the way, where is Bale?" Suspicions started to creep up on Anthony. If it really was a big problem, all six members of the council should be present. So why was Bale still missing?
This oddity had made him forget about his wonder and curiosity of the young Magician.
"Tutor," said Herrera, after a long sigh, "Bale is over there."
She then pointed towards the dark corner next to a statue. When Anthony looked over, he saw three figures on the wall, all of whom had been restrained by Mana Lock.
Anthony couldn't see very clearly at first glance, so he approached the figures and squinted his eyes to see better. When he could finally make out the identity of the figures on the wall, he unconsciously drew in a sharp breath.
Among the three, one of them was almost burnt to a crisp, with all the hair on his head charred. His breathing was labored and shallow. He looked terrible indeed, but not nearly as terrible as the other two beside him!
The other two had lost almost all of their flesh and muscle. All they had left was a layer of skin that covered their bones. They looked no different from bare skeletons. One of them had a glowing flame in his eyes like will-o'-wisps. And even though they had been restrained by Mana Lock, Anthony could still sense a faint but piercing cold aura radiating from these two.
"But that's a Lich!" shouted Anthony. "No, Bale, is that you?"
He knew that something terrible had happened, but he still wasn't prepared for such a shocking revelation.
Although Bale's appearance had changed beyond recognition, he was still someone Anthony had known for nearly 40 years, so he immediately recognized the ghoulish figure as his colleague and old friend Bale.
This man moved slightly, then let out a sigh heavy with regret.
"Yes, Anthony," said Bale. "It's me."
As things had progressed to this stage, Bale was now nothing but a heartbroken old man. He was no longer in the frenzied state that he was before.
"What happened?" asked Anthony in a desperate voice. He then walked towards them and pointed his wand at Shade. "Did he trick you?"
Anthony still couldn't believe that Bale, the Magician he'd known for all these years, would embark on the path of black magic.
"It was my own doing," said Bale. "My friend, I'm afraid I've let you down."
By now, Bale had already calmed down. Now that things had reached this point, he realized that whatever he'd done was irreversible, and he didn't even wish to keep on living. What he wanted most right now was a peaceful death.
Anthony sunk into a long silence. After that, he turned to Moira and said, "Moira, tell me what happened."
Herrera nodded. She then began explaining how she had accidentally sensed the aura of black magic on Darris and got suspicious, so she asked Link to help her investigate them. At last when the truth was discovered, Darris ambushed Link but was defeated by him. She then described how Bale had escaped to the black Mage Tower in Mist Basin and how he was defeated and captured there. She spilled out everything that had transpired, and apart from the exact details of the battles they fought, nothing was left out.
When she was done, Anthony took a long hard look at Link. Herrera had kept her words plain and simple, but the grave danger that they must've suffered through was apparent to Anthony. There were some strange points in Herrera's explanations that he found suspicious as well, though this wasn't the time to be asking those questions.
"My old friend," said Anthony as he turned to Bale, "do you have anything to add?"
"I've completely failed as a Magician," said Bale as he shook his head. He seemed dejected and grief-stricken. "I have nothing to say for myself."
"Darris, what about you?" asked Anthony, turning once again to Bale's chief disciple.
Darris had been seriously wounded, and now he had to face Anthony's imposing presence, the situation was almost too much for him that he felt breathless.
"I...I don't want to die!" he finally said.
Anthony let out a long sigh and went into silence for a long while. He then turned to the remaining five members of the council.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Bale may have chosen the wrong path, but I believe he had not really committed any serious crimes, and his knowledge and wisdom in the fields of magic remain valuable and impressive. I propose to permanently block his Mana and prevent him from ever being able to cast spells again, and to imprison him in the Tower of Azura. (Note: This is the academy's prison tower for Magicians who committed crimes.) As for Darris, he should be stripped of his magic powers and handed to the River Cove Town court to be tried for his crimes. And as for...him..."
"His name is Shade," said Herrera. "He's a Level-5 Necromancer."
"Yes, the Necromancer Shade," continued the dean, "As for him, I judge him to be guilty of the cruelest crimes, and I propose the Purge of Fire as his punishment."
The five Master Magicians then put their heads together and discussed the matter.
Some of them thought Bale's punishment to be too lenient in light of the clear evidence that proved he had indeed murdered a coachman of the academy. Yet, none of them brought this up because they didn't want to offend the dean. Bale was, after all, their long-time colleague, and despite all the wrongs he had committed, no one was willing to inflict harsh punishment on him. After much deliberation, the second most powerful Magician of the academy, Grenci, stood up and announced their verdict.
"Sir, we are all in agreement that your proposal was just and wise," said Grenci.
The matter was of the utmost importance and must only be decided by the highest officials of the academy, so Herrera and Link could only observe on the side and had no right to participate in the decision making. Once the verdict was reached, Bale, Shade and Darris' fates were then sealed forever, with no possible chance of alteration.
Bale hung his head low and said nothing. No one knew what thoughts were running through his head at that moment. Darris' eyes were lifeless by then and soon enough, he couldn't hold out anymore and collapsed to the ground. As for Shade, he was silent throughout the whole incident. He knew that he was finished the second his Flame of the Soul was severely injured, so he had long resigned himself to his fate.
Antony now turned to Herrera and Link and a glimpse of pride cropped up on his usually severe face.
"Both of you," the dean began, "have risked your lives to expose the darkness that lurked within the academy. And you've done it with careful discretion to preserve the good name and reputation of the academy. Your courage and wisdom deserve to be rewarded!"
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