181 The Calm Before the Storm

 In the Celestial Pool of the Heaven's Thorn Mage Tower.

There weren't many innovative changes to the structural spell this time, so the whole modification process went smoothly. In merely one hour and a half, Link had completed his Supreme Magical Skills modification on the spell to improve its spellcasting speed.

And now, it was time for him to give it a final test.

Vulcan's Hand!

As soon as the thought emerged in Link's mind, the Glyph of Soul caused a momentary stun throughout Link's body for a fraction of a second, then the spell structure of Vulcan's Hand emerged fully formed on the surface for the controlling magic seal. Just before the fire elements began to coalesce, Link halted the process abruptly, and in that instance the Machine Gun Supreme Magical Skill took effect and his Mana began to reverberate!

The surface of the magic seal flashed in a dim white light, which was then closely followed by the emergence of the Level-6 Titan's Hand and the roaring fire elements which then gathered and converged to form a miniature version of the Titan's Hand.

Link then tested a variety of movements using this miniature Titan's Hand. Eventually he tried about 200 different movements with it and they were all a success.

It's finally perfect, thought Link with a smile. After all the experiments, his Mana had been depleted down to less than 200 points. Had he not drunk a vial of potion before, it would've been down to zero by now.

Just at the moment when he stopped the spell, a flash of light appeared on the interface. Link took a look at it and discovered that it was a congratulatory notification.

Player successfully broke through the spellcasting speed limit for Level-6 spells. 50 Omni Points rewarded.

Player successfully created a new Supreme Magical Skill-Inter-Spell Resonance. 20 Omni Points rewarded.

With 70 newly earned Omni Points, added to his existing 150 points, Link now had 220 Omni Points. He was always careful not to spend too much of his Omni Points as they might come in handy during emergencies.

"Since you caught me breaking through the limits," he said to the gaming system, "that must mean that you recorded my spellcasting time. So how long exactly did I take?"

0.65 seconds. You have the potential to decrease it further by 0.1 seconds.

Link was very satisfied with 0.65 seconds. It was fast enough even if he had to fight against a Level-6 Warrior. As for the potential to decrease it further by 0.1 seconds, Link was sure that he would achieve that naturally just by practicing anyway. Thus, Link made a decision to call it a day. He looked at the time and realized that it was only half an hour before noon. He'd been busy all morning, and his stomach began to rumble in hunger, so he left the Celestial Pool to get himself an early lunch.

When he reached the great hall on the first floor of the Mage Tower, Link noticed the servants bringing food to the table. Selasse and the dean's other disciples were all at the table ready to start the meal.

"Link!" Selasse greeted Link when he noticed him. "Want to have a meal together?"

Link thought it rude to refuse. Besides, it wouldn't be his first time to dine here at the dean's Mage Tower, so he went over to Selasse and the rest of the Magicians there and joined them at the table. The servants then promptly provided him with a plate and a set of cutleries.

"Have you been so busy that you can't even trim your beard, Link?" a Level-5 Magician called Ivan teased.

Link immediately cast a magic mirror and checked himself with it. At a glance his craggy unkempt face with his untrimmed beard made it seemed as if he'd aged ten years in the last month!

"Ah, you're right!" said Link. "I guess it's time for me to visit the barber!"

"You can cut your hair anyway you want," said Selasse, "but don't completely shave off all of your beard. Otherwise you'd look like a teenaged boy and no one would believe your actual skill level and they might underestimate you!"

The Magicians around all nodded in agreement to Selasse's remarks. Link felt quite uncomfortable having his beard being the center of attention. He mumbled a few words in acknowledgment then pounced on the bread rolls which had just been served up by the servants.

"I'm starving! Let's eat!" said Link enthusiastically, eager to change the subject, to which all the Magicians at the table erupted in laughter.

During the meal, a few of them didn't just talk about magic and spells but chatted about their past experiences as well. All of them were the dean's disciples and they were all in their prime, the oldest being only 41 years old. With the exception of the poet Selasse, these Magicians were all of Level-4 and above. They've all traveled extensively and had seen much of the outside world. Most of them had achieved glorious fame and reputation and were regarded as the Elite Magicians among the human realm.

Link listened keenly to the tales told by these Magicians and gained a lot of new insights from their adventures and rich experiences.

"Have any of you heard," said Ivan suddenly, "of the rumored signs of a high-level demons in the capital city of Leo Kingdom by the Southern Magician Alliance?"

"How reliable is the rumor?" said Selasse, doubtful of the story's veracity. If there really were high-level demons, they would've caused certain cataclysms that would be hard to miss. Yet, the academy had not heard of such reports recently.

Link's ears pricked up at the mention of this strange incidence. To his knowledge, no high-level demons should appear around this time. Even if they did, shouldn't they be found here in Norton Kingdom? Why did they turn up in the South instead?

"Who cares how reliable it was?" said Ivan, who at the time had thought nothing of the rumor other than an amusing hearsay. "It's none of our business anyway. I hear there were signs of not just one demon, but three of them! And you wouldn't believe this, but they said one of those demons was so beautiful she managed to charm Wavier's socks off! You all know the Wavier, the Magician in the South, don't you?"

"Of course," replied another Level-4 Magician named Arthur. "He's the darling of the Magician Alliance!"

"Let me tell you," continued Ivan with a mischievous smirk, "they also said that Wavier was so besotted with the she-demon that he was soon overcome by lovesickness and didn't care to sleep nor eat! He'd gotten so thin now that the president of the alliance got so worried his hair turned white within weeks!"

"What a character!" exclaimed Arthur with a hearty laugh. "This Wavier was reported to be a man whose talents the world hadn't seen in a century, but who would've thought that his taste in women was just as unique!"

Several other Magicians broke out in laughter at this remark as they all took this rumor to merely be a funny story. Only Link sat there quietly focusing on the food on his plate. He had, in truth, sank deep into thought and was brooding about the rumor from the South.

A high-level demon beautiful enough to charm Wavier off his wits, mused Link, could it be Celine? Link suspected that this she-demon in the rumors must really be Celine, and the other two must've been the demon soldiers her father had ordered to capture her back to the abyss.

Link wasn't too pleased to hear of Wavier's lovesick behaviors. He was also greatly disturbed by the thoughts of Celine being all alone while two of her father's demon soldiers were pursuing her aggressively. If only he could drop everything and run to the South to find her now!

But he knew full well he couldn't do that. Not while the academy was still shadowed by the threat of the Black Moon Conspiracy and the release of the demon Tarviss. Yet knowing this didn't make him feel the urge to go to Celine less in any way at all.

After that, when Ivan and the other Magicians had moved on to other topics Link couldn't pay attention to a word they said any longer. He wolfed down his food, said goodnight to everyone, and left the Heaven's Thorn alone.

The sun still hung high in the sky when he came out of the Mage Tower. The glorious sunshine and the fact that he had solved the spellcasting problem of the Titan's Hand had coupled to loosen Link up gradually. He took a walk around the academy for more than ten minutes, then when he walked past a barbershop he was suddenly reminded of Ivan and Selasse's remarks on his appearance. Celine wouldn't like to see me looking this haggard either, Link thought. And so, he decided to enter the barbershop and have his hair and beard sorted out somehow.

In the end, Link had his hair cut and his beard slightly trimmed. He now looked as if he could be about 23 or 24 years old. He walked out of the barbershop feeling like a new person, ready to go back to the Mage Tower to continue studying his magic textbooks.

To his surprise, he met Herrera and Rylai on his way back. They were holding hands and strolling towards Bryant's Inspiration Courtyard, looking as if they were taking a casual stroll after the meal to admire the beautiful scenes of spring.

Rylai called out to Link immediately as she noticed him. Herrera, on the other hand, seemed to see through Link's worries and anxiety after taking a glance at him.

"You've been so busy lately," said Herrera, "why don't we take a walk together to the square considering how beautiful the weather is today?"

Herrera thought it would be such a shame if one was to stay cooped up in the Mage Tower when spring had bloomed so beautifully after a season of harsh winter.

After a moment's consideration Link nodded and agreed to accompany the two women for a walk to Bryant's Inspiration Courtyard. He needed some time to relax and clear his mind after all, so a short walk wouldn't hurt.

Once they reached the outskirts of the courtyard, bunches of bright yellow catkins rushed up into view and the fresh fragrance of the newly grown grass and leaves filled the air. Rylai fluttered about the courtyard like a butterfly while Link and Herrera walked slowly behind her, chatting freely.

"The dean told me that you've mastered a Level-6 spell," said Herrera suddenly. "Is it true?"

"Yes, it's the Fist of Firomoz," said Link with a nod, seeing no point in hiding it from Herrera. "I've managed to modify its spell structure as well."

Herrera sighed after hearing Link's reply.

"I have nothing more to teach you, then," she said. "I don't think it would do you any more good to keep on staying in my little Mage Tower either. Have you any plans for the future?"

The question had been on Link's mind a lot lately. As his level continued to increase, his repertoire of spells became more and more complex as well. The East Cove Magic Academy might have a wealth of rare and valuable textbooks, but Link feared they were still insufficient in quenching his thirst for more knowledge. He found that he couldn't find any books that would answer his questions as easily as he did before. More and more now it was up to his own reasoning and experiments that would solve the problems he faced in magic theories and spells.

Could it be time for him to graduate from this magic academy?

"My estate was almost completely purged of robbers and bandits now," said Link after a moment of silence. "I think it's time I leave the academy and focus on building my estate after April 15th."

Another plan on his mind that he didn't mention to Herrera was his resolution to go south after the affairs of his estate had been straightened out. He must find Celine somehow.

"Not a bad idea," said Herrera, half expecting Link's answer. "The Ferde Wilderness isn't so far away from here. If there's any problem at all just send a letter and I will do my best to help you."

"Thank you, tutor," replied Link sincerely. Herrera had been a great help to him ever since he started learning magic. He didn't think it would be possible to advance to Level-6 so quickly had it not been for Herrera's selfless and patient guidance.

"Don't mention it," said Herrera with a gentle smile. "I only did what I should as a tutor."

Just then, the sound of Rylai's sparkling laughter reached their ears. When they turned to her direction, they discovered that she was happily playing with a magic kite that a Magician's Apprentice had just given her.

As they looked further, they saw how there were many other Magician's Apprentices in the courtyard enjoying themselves with their own magical toys as well. Some had kites just like the one Rylai was playing with, while others brought their own magical dolls or magical pets. Those who were slightly older either took a walk around the square or stood there watching the younger ones play with relaxed and happy faces. Everyone seemed to be basking in the magnificent early spring weather, giving the atmosphere an overall pleasant and cordial air.

Link drank up the jolly sight in front of him with a light heart for a while. But gradually the unnerving anxiety that bubbled underneath began to rise up to the surface, and the sight before him ceased to be pleasant anymore.

In the game in his previous life, Bryant's Inspiration Courtyard at this moment had become a wasteland with a huge gaping hole in its middle, while the Mage Towers around it that once stood tall and proud had been reduced to ashes and rubbles. All the trees within the area of the academy were leveled to the ground, the fresh blooming flowers were withered and trampled on and the entire ground of the academy was covered in a layer of dark greenish-black aura.

Corpses of dead Magicians were strewn all across the entire area, most of them were too disfigured to identify. Chief among them was the corpse of Anthony the academy's dean, whose body was riddled with holes because he had burnt his own soul as the last resort to fight against the demon Tarviss. Strangely enough, his body still stood there stiffly, his eyes were now hollow and blackened by the fire that burned his soul, yet they were frozen there, looking over at the scene of the academy's total destruction before him.

It was a scene full of sorrow and despair.

The East Cove Magic Academy's obliteration was a huge blow to the Norton Kingdom's overall strength. Because of this, the kingdom was in shortage of powerful Magicians who would've been a crucial strength in the war and the kingdom was so weakened that it collapsed under the Dark Elves' attacks, never to rise up again.

Will the same thing happen again this time? Link couldn't help but worry.

Link had no answer to this question. The mission of investigating the Black Moon Conspiracy still remained unsolved in the gaming system, proving that the enemy was still moving the plot forward in ways that Link hadn't yet discovered.

If the demon Tarviss was released, how will I fight against him? The best thing to do is to lure it out of the academy and kill him then, but will I succeed? Who knows...all I can do is to give it everything I've got and fight to the death...

"Link... Link!" said Herrera just as Link was deep in thoughts. "What's wrong?"

"Huh?" Link was suddenly jolted back to reality. Herrera's flawless face was illuminated by the brilliant sunlight right in front of his eyes, yet Link could detect a tinge of worry in her expressions.

"It's nothing," said Link shaking his head. "I was just thinking about the demon Tarviss. What if..."

"There are no more what ifs about that!" Herrera interrupted, her eyebrows furrowed but she shook her head assuringly. "The academy has undertaken the best security measures. Even if Tarviss was released, we are now well-equipped and ready to face him!"

Link nodded. He was slightly pacified by Herrera's assurances. He'd changed many things ever since arriving in this world. Besides, he wasn't fighting alone, there were many powerful people fighting against the forces of darkness just like him. Furthermore, he now had the help of the Prophetic Stone, so there really was no need to worry himself sick.

"Tutor! Aunt Herrera!" cried Rylai as she ran towards both of them with a face that shone with happiness. "Come, follow me! There are Golden Orchids in full bloom over there. They are just the loveliest things!"

A Golden Orchid was a rare plant species that was renowned in Firuman for its beautiful and dignified flowers. It was also the national flower of the Norton Kingdom.

Rylai's joy and innocence were so infectious that Link and Herrera were soon in a much better mood. They both cast away their gloomy worries for the future and followed the girl with smiles on their faces.

When the future generations looked back at the history of the East Cove Magic Academy through the archives, they would remember this day as the last glimmer of peace and harmony before the dark days that were to come.

The 18th of March, the 1057th year of the Holy Calendar, marked the first day of the war between the Dark Army and the Realm of Light. It was known throughout history as the Spring Night Battle. The day was filled with joy and harmony, but no one knew that it had been the last moments of calm before the monstrous storm that was to hit. Apart from a handful of high-level members in the academy, almost no one knew that there was a looming darkness that was about to engulf the academy and indeed, the whole Realm of Light.

On this fateful night, a diabolical storm swept across the East Cove Magic Academy. Many young Magicians died in their sleep, oblivious to the end of what had snatched their young lives so quickly in the silence of the night. Several Mage Towers that once stood so majestically were razed to the ground.

This was also the day the Magician Link Morani unleashed his unrivaled power for the first time. This battle had thrust him officially onto the stage of warfare between the good forces of light and the evil forces of darkness, marking the day when the first lines of his own epic poem were written down. -Selasse Moormont, historian and Magician of the East Cove Higher Magic Academy.