32 A Glimmer of Sunlight in a Cold, Cruel World (Part I)

 This gatekeeper certainly calls it like he sees it.

Fortunately, Link was prepared for this kind of outcome. His current Maximum Mana limit was now 24.1-a very low figure, no different from that of an average Magician's Apprentice. It would take a miracle for him to get accepted into this academy.

Of course, he still had 105 Omni Points left, and he could spend all of it to increase his Maximum Mana. Even if Ailing Mana had a 90% effect on him, by exchanging one Omni Point with 10 Points of Maximum Mana, he could increase his Maximum Mana to 129.1 Points. That was equivalent to that of a typical Level-2 Magician, and enough for admission into the magic academy.

But that would be a silly thing to do. Yes, he might possess the power of a Level-2 Magician, but his knowledge would be nowhere near that. And if he did enter the academy this way, he would naturally be assigned to classes for Level-2 Magicians-classes that would be completely incomprehensible to him. What would be the point of that?

Admittedly, Link was only here to try his luck. He knew that if he was rejected he would just have to go back to the inn and teach himself the basic foundations of magic, and then he'd try again. He wouldn't feel too bad about being turned away, so he responded to Eliard's sympathetic stare with a smile, signifying he was fine.

Nonetheless, this experience had taught him a valuable lesson. He would never have guessed that one could enter the East Cove Higher Magic Academy with just a thesis. Nothing like that was ever mentioned in the game on Earth.

In fact, in the game, once you reached a certain level, you could just pay a certain amount of money and bam-you were now a student of the Higher Magic Academy.

"How could my friend prove his skill in magic then?" asked Eliard.

Vincent snickered as he scrutinized Eliard's appearance from head to toe. He gave the young man's attire the once-over and said jeeringly, "Worry about yourself, boy! The tuition fees of the Eastern Cove High Magic Academy aren't cheap you know?"

Vincent had seen all walks of life, and this had allowed him to accurately judge a person's situation in life just based on their appearance. With a mere glance, he could clearly see the disparity in quality between these two young men's clothing. This unremarkable young man might have been wearing a plain grey robe, but it was made of fine squirrel fur, the value of which was at least ten times higher than that of the shiny new clothes on the pretty boy's body.

By his estimation, he was sure that the ordinary looking young man must be of the noble class. His companion, on the other hand, was nothing more than a simple commoner.

Regarding funds, Eliard had naturally come prepared. Before preparing for magic training, he had thought over and over of various ways he could make money. Fortunately, he had a decent brain between his ears, and that allowed him to find a way to save up 200 gold coins-the exact amount, from what he had heard, needed for the academy's tuition fees.

"Oh, you mean the 200 gold coins? I've got it right here," Eliard said with a laugh.

To the young man's surprise, Vincent shook his head and laughed. He held up two fingers and said, "No, no, you've got it all wrong my boy. It isn't 200 gold coins for you, that is the price for a student who came from a noble family. For a commoner, it's 300 gold coins. Unfortunately, though, the academy received too many students this year, so there isn't any space left. If you do enter the academy, you will be an extra member of the student body, and as such, you will be charged for the extra arrangements and extra materials-and these, of course, will cost money. As a commoner you won't be entitled to benefits or discounts, so all in all, the total fees will amount to 2000 gold coins."

Eliard was stunned, and his brows furrowed. "It can't possibly be ten times the usual amount! That's ridiculous!"

How many commoners in this world could fork over 2000 gold coins!? Only the rich merchants of the Northern Free District could ever afford such a ridiculous sum of money.

This is nothing more but a barely masked effort to prevent commoners from learning magic!

Link, however, knew that the magic academy wasn't just trying screw them over. Money was essential to a Magician. What commoners might view as a large sum of money could easily be spent in a heartbeat on a random piece of magical gear.

Take this New Moon wand in his hand, for example. This single wand alone would've cost him 1000 gold coins. And if it's the Crystal Fire Staff we're talking about, then the price could easily go over 3000 gold coins!

He had encountered a similar situation like this in the game back on Earth. You had to spend money immediately after choosing to become a Magician! The price to pay for magic skills training alone was already more expensive than the other professions, let alone the various other gears needed to practice magic.

From Vincent's perspective, 2000 gold coins wasn't just a random number he coughed up. It was roughly the calculated cost needed to study magic, but of course, he knew that this explanation alone could not conceal the academy's unfair treatment towards commoners.

But Eliard was unfamiliar with the world of Magicians, and this caused him to erupt in anger.

Vincent's countenance was relaxed and unmoved. He spread out his hands, leaned back into his seat and glibly said, "There's nothing I can do about it. I'm not the one setting the price, after all. These are orders from the academy dean. I am simply the messenger."

However, Eliard still had another trick up his sleeve. He pulled out a letter. "I've got a recommendation letter from Duchess Alice."

Vincent glanced up and saw a wax seal on the letter and immediately recognized the blooming rose insignia-it really was the seal of the Norton Kingdom's one and only Duchess.

He looked at Eliard's strikingly handsome face, then laughed. "Oh, what a blessing to be born good-looking!" he mocked. "You could even get a noble to write you a recommendation letter! Well, according to the academy dean's orders, with a letter of recommendation from a noble, fees are cut down by 500 gold coins, making it 1500 gold coins!"

Seeing this letter, Link suddenly saw how clever this young man really was. No commoner could earn 200 gold coins even if they worked their back off their whole life. Yet, this young man had somehow managed to earn that much by the age of 17. He had even obtained a letter of recommendation from a duchess to boot! Link knew that such things could have only been achieved through great sacrifice.

But 1500 gold coins was still an unacceptable amount of money for Eliard. He couldn't contain his anger any longer and finally lost his cool. "This is blatant robbery!" he shouted through clenched teeth, his face red.

Vincent shook his head, unmoved. "I'm warning you boy, you're lucky I'm in a good mood today, so I will let your impudence pass," he said with a sinister calm. "But if you ever utter such drivel to a Magician who's not as forgiving as I am, I assure you you'll pay for it in blood!"

Sensing that Eliard was going to continue arguing with the gatekeeper, Link quickly pulled him back by his arm.

Right now they were nobodies, while on the other hand, the East Cove Higher Magic Academy was the most prestigious magic academy in the Kingdom of Norton. The academy's dean was also a Level-7 Master Magician. If they lost their temper here, it would achieve nothing, and only leave a bad impression of themselves on the academy and the dean.

Eliard was a commoner and he didn't have enough money for the tuition fees. Although there might have been some unfair treatment towards commoners on the academy's part, these were just the facts of life. No amount of shouting and arguing could change anything.

Link became the first ever Archmage in the gaming server back on Earth all because he had full control of his emotions. He never complained nor held grudges against anyone, and he would never get riled up without good reason either. Whenever he was faced with a problem, he would stay calm and collected, and try to solve the issue with reason and logic.

It was indeed this strong character of his that enabled Link to become the first ever Archmage. And for this same reason, when the God of Light dumped him into this strange unfamiliar world, not only was Link able to escape from Gladstone city alive, he was even able to save the city from ruin. And as he was then, his character remained just as strong now.

Link understood that in order to abolish this unfair rule from the East Cove Higher Magic Academy, a few dissenting voices wouldn't amount to anything. Real change would only come when everyone was forced to notice the absurdity of the rule.

With a slight tug from Link, Eliard slowly came to his senses, but his eyes had already turned red. It wasn't that he had never experienced society's unfair treatments before. In fact, under normal circumstances, he wouldn't lose control over his emotions so easily, but this matter was too close to his heart. He couldn't just give in. He had fought tooth and nail just to get to this point. He had endured unimaginable pain and many hardships just to earn those 200 gold coins.

To earn the money, he undertook dangerous missions. Because he had no fighting skills, he had to navigate dangerous investigative assignments in which he had only a one in ten chance of surviving.

Apart from those missions, he also did all kinds of businesses, frequently receiving extortion threats from ruffians and rogues. He still managed to save his money though, copper by copper.

Ever since he was ten, except for when he was invited to dine with his friends, he would only have three coarse wheat buns a day, and nothing else. Sometimes, when he felt that he was not getting enough nutrients, he would go to the river in the middle of the night and catch some small fish and shrimp to eat. He could only do this at night because he was too busy working during the day. He wore the same clothing for three years. Even the old horse he rode was not actually his. It was, in fact, a parting gift from a friend.

When he had heard of the East Cove Higher Magic Academy's prejudice against commoners, he knew he had to obtain a recommendation letter from a noble by any means necessary.

To that end, he swallowed his pride and slept with that fat, ugly duchess for a whole month. He endured this humiliating and demeaning experience every night, casting his dignity aside.

He had suffered through hell, and he had sacrificed everything that mattered all to chase his dream of becoming a Magician, to ensure that his natural talents wouldn't go to waste, and to prove himself and stand a head above the rest.

But now that he had finally earned enough money, obtained that recommendation letter, and showed up at the door of the academy full of hope, reality had once again dealt another blow to his chest.

Simple words plainly uttered had raised the goal of admission into the academy to unattainable heights. In the end, all of his hard work had amounted to nothing. Should he start over and try to earn more money again?

By the time he earned 1500 gold coins, he would already be over 20 years old. If luck wasn't on his side, he might just die on his missions before that.

The next few years of his life were critical for magic training. How could he just throw them all away?

At that moment, the enraged, hurt, and hopeless young Eliard looked up at his dream right in front of him, but there was an impenetrable moat obstructing him. His eyes had unknowingly started to redden.

A commoner chasing his own dream-how much more difficult can such a simple task be? Eliard balled up his fists, raised his chin, and forbade himself from showing any tears. He would not make a fool of himself in front of this glorified guard dog.

But Vincent had long seen through him. He shook his head and chuckled while uttering these cold words, "May I suggest a brilliant solution to your woes, boy? Why don't you just go back to Duchess Alice and serve her well? Who knows, she might end up paying all the fees for you? Hehehe."

Eliard was so livid he shook. This matter was his biggest shame. Vincent's words had sliced through him and cut open the terrible scar in his heart.

His face turned scarlet, his heart beat so hard it could jump out of his throat. He clenched his fists tightly, having only one thought in his head-whatever the consequences, he would beat this old man to a pulp.

Just as his rage reached its peak, someone grabbed his arm. He struggled to break free, but the grip on his arm tightened. "Let go of me!" Eliard demanded.

Link's voice cut through the fog that clouded his judgment. "Eliard, don't bring yourself to ruin!"

This voice was like a cold splash of water to the face. Eliard's struggle gradually became weaker and weaker.

Eliard turned his head and came face to face with the young man who was then quietly staring back at him, gently shaking his head. Link's eyes glimmered softly. His face was ordinary and plain, yet the young man emanated a spirit that could calm a heart at its wildest as if there was nothing in this world that could provoke or disturb him. As calm as a still lake, as piercing as a knife's blade. This moment, this scene would forever be etched into Eliard's heart.

Many years from now, whenever he was in a fury, in doubt or in despair, this memory would emerge again and again to remind him how a true Magician should act in the face of this cold, cruel world.