By the time I was six months old, I had developed enough teeth to actually start chewing food.
The maids other than Eyva were thoroughly horrified at this, seeing me grow almost to a five year olds size in just half a year.
They believed me a monster child soon to grow fangs, though they were professional enough to keep that to themselves for the most part.
And because Eyva harshly scolded them whenever any of those sentiments came out.
Beyond just growing physically, though, I felt my mind expanding as I learned. Or maybe those were just headaches from studying too hard, like muscles repairing together stronger.
Or wait, did the brain even work like that?
That felt wrong.
But whatever, as long as I learned, I was happy with myself.
I was never an academic in my past life.
In fact, I barely knew how to read or write back then, but that was because I never needed to.
My master taught me how to kill things, not how to write poetry.
The style I learned in particular, the Phoenix style, was the most suited for assassination out of the four he passed down. It was the most directly lethal. The most suited for direct killing.
It involved not just physical conditioning, bashing elbows and toes and fingers over and over again until they were like solid knives, but also mental hardening to become heartless, ruthless, and efficient.
That mindset was why I had died alone.
I wanted to live a different life this time.
It sounded corny, but I wanted to try making friends. I wanted to try to love a woman. I wanted to know what it felt like to have parents. A family.
There were people in my old life that had such things, and even when they were far weaker than me, they seemed so much happier.
I wanted to know what that was like.
I also didn know whether I had it in me, but…I wanted to try and be a good person.
There was a memory that stuck with me. In the apocalyptic wastelands, there had been an older man growing crops and livestock by himself. I passed by one day, terribly hungry and terribly beaten.
The old man gave me a roof to sleep under and food for the night.
But I was in the midst of a long trek, and my supplies had been destroyed in a fight.
I thanked the old man before I killed him to take what I could to ensure I survived the rest of my trip.
The way he looked at me when I speared my hand through his gut still haunted me. He stared at me not with hate, not with vengeance, but with pity. Kind hearted pity.
When I unsheathed my hand from his viscera, I saw him collapse into a pool of his blood. Smiling.
I never knew how he managed to smile in the face of such an ignoble death. How he managed to be at peace in the end despite being so weak.
I wanted to know what that peace felt like.
Things didn look too great on that end for me right now in terms of the whole living a normal, happy, loving life, what with both my parents being less than stellar people.
But Eyva filled in the gap with her energy and love.
The mere thought of raising my fists again was nauseatingly tiring at this point.
So, I retired my fists for pen and paper. I threw myself into learning with devotion.
In my three months learning, I understood that the writing system and language of this land, called Unitan, was quite simple once I got used to it.
It was phonetic with specific symbols for vowels and consonants.
These would then cobble together to form words.
At a basic level, it was easy to write something anyone could read and understand.
But there was a big difference between basic and advanced writing.
Symbols called Marks were drawn with words to indicate things like gender, plurality, declension, and even symbolic meanings.
A flowing squiggle, for example, represented a concept of water or coolness, indicating that the tone of its accompanying word was meant to be soft.
Multiple marks could be on one word, confusing things even further.
The mark system was so complicated I thought about giving up more than once, but if I was to be of nobility, then I most definitely had to learn how to write properly.
Knowing marks was also crucial to fully understanding any written text, and that understanding was a status symbol too.
More intellectual works used marks more liberally to create sophisticated texts. Learned individuals were, par for the course, expected to read such texts and produce them as well.
For reference, by now, I could read a basic childrens book, the type where illustrations covered more than half the paper space, with no issue. These had almost zero marks on their words.
But the History of Oria I could barely figure out as every word had marks that added far more subtlety and nuance to them.
I had to admit, studying was god awful boring.
I even begrudgingly had to acknowledge that martial arts training was more fun despite being infinitely more brutal.
At least I was moving around and hitting things. Sitting in one place staring at squiggles of ink felt mind-numbingly boring.
But I persevered.
I burned through textbooks rapidly, pulling all nighters at the ripe old age of six months.
Whenever I felt like dozing off, which was quite a bit, considering my growing body, I pinched myself awake.
The mental discipline of having been a Fighter helped here.
Back then, I suffered through starvation and cold and pain and the threat of monsters more times than I could count.
Yet, I had to admit, sometimes, studying felt as just as bad as teetering between the edge between life and death. I probably was just not cut out for it.
To break the monotony of being trapped and studying, I occasionally asked Eyva to explain the world to me, and she liberally indulged my curiosity in the form of story times where she held me in her lap and told me all about everything I wanted to know.
For a very brief summary, the kingdom I was in, Oria as it was called, was a Magocracy with all of its positions of power filled by mages.
In fact, to even be a citizen, you had to be a mage.
The most interesting thing about Oria was that most of it was entirely airborne. It comprised of thirteen Sky Cities that floated high in the air.
Twelve of these were under the rule of Magic Lords, of which my father was one.
The last one was the capitol where the Hierophant, the proper king of Oria, resided as the highest authority.
Oria was said to be the most advanced nation of humans, having unbound themselves from the dirt and ascended to the heavens themselves.
And I could definitely see why.
I was never allowed to leave the confines of my room, but occasionally, from a large, rectangular window, I could see giant blips and smaller, jet-like ships soar overhead in the blue skies.
These did not look like aircraft from earth.
Instead of smoke trails, they coughed up tails of steam, and instead of engines powering their movement with mechanical and chemical reactions, magic circles and cores of crystal propelled them.
The end result was the same, though: humanity had conquered the skies. A big marker of technological progress.
Overall, from what Eyva told me, Orian society seemed to be something close to the Victorian era of earth. From seeing pictures of the city streets, architecture, and fashion, that was the general image I got, a sort of slightly fantastical and turn of the century European feeling.
You had antiquated looking brick and mortal cottages with chimneys puffing lazy wisps of smoke flanked by paved cobblestone streets that were home to both beast drawn carriages and magic-fueled cars.
The cars had a very old look about them, a sort of ultra retro late 1800s design with large, spoked wheels and blocky designs.
Men and women dressed very formally, yet distinctly. Men liked to keep their clothing austere, favoring suit jackets and coats dress pants in darker, cooler tones. The women were much more colorful in wearing their dresses and especially their hats, which they adorned with bright plumes from many a magical bird.
Generally, the magically captured street images looked almost entirely full of humans. When I asked Eyva how she, an elf, was here, she explained how Orian society generally worked.
Oria respected magical ability regardless of what race or nationality you were.
My father exemplified this. He did not hail from here. He came from a different, far eastern country called Hu-An, but his exceptional talent in magic let him take a spot as one of the twelve great Magic Lords.
This showed that Oria was, in large part, a meritocracy. Your magical ability could let you rise to the top of society regardless of where you came from or how different you looked.
Eyva herself was here because she was famed for raising children well, teaching them in all manners of topics ranging from the arts to magic. As a result, she was hired by nobles from various human kingdoms for her services.
However, Eyva was only here temporarily.
Oria did accept demi-humans, the catch all term for non-human humanoids, but they were not allowed to be permanent citizens unless through exceptional cases.
And among demi-humans that Oria accepted, most were elves.
Elves seemed to be one of the more mystically gifted races, hence, their favorable treatment.
Oria also had quite a few vassal states located on the ground that they conquered with their magical might. These states provided a host of manual labor and a tribute of resources, mostly mined goods, that went to the floating cities.
The vassal states therefore comprised, quite literally, the underclass of Orian society.
On the topic of the underclass, I also asked about what being a Fell was.
It was by accident. I saw a hunch backed, muscled, misshapen figure with several horns growing from his head in one of the street pictures Eyva showed me.
He stood out grotesquely compared to the well dressed humans around, so I naturally asked what he was.
I thought maybe this was another fantasy race, but no, that man was a Fell.
Fell children were, as I suspected, Orian-born individuals incapable of using magic, but it didn just end there.
They were said to be afflicted by a curse from a now long extinct race of magic absorbing demons known as the FelVar.
That curse manifested in a very small proportion of Orias population and children afflicted by the curse were considered sealed. Their magical energy was trapped within their bodies, unable to escape, effectively preventing them from ever using magic.
That alone was disgrace enough, but the Fell curse also caused internal mana to circulate wildly through a Fell childs body in cursed fashion, mutating them over time.
Children born as Fell seemed normal until they hit their seventh birthday. At that point, they would sprout a single horn, and from there, their life was forfeit.
Naturally, Fell children were seen as abominations.
Not just because of their inability to use magic and their hideous appearance. They were a threat to public safety; the longer they lived, the more they mutated, eventually growing insane and dangerous.
Common Fell children were therefore branded and stripped of their intelligence, turned into dumb but strong slave labor or, if they were lucky and from a recognized bloodline, given a chance to survive by being exiled and cast down from Sky Cities.
That wasn much better than a life of eternal slavery. Being cast down was essentially akin to a death sentence. Orian society cast that judgement on lowly criminals, the bottom-most, filthiest rung of society.
If I didn end up developing some way to use magic by seven years old, that was going to be my fate.
A fate that was basically the same as death as it meant I would be all alone in a hostile world, destined to be consumed by a curse that turned me into a mindless monster.
Very similar to being infected by the Mutagen back on earth.
That, of course, scared me enough to ask rigorously about magic.
I couldn read any magic tomes yet, but I might as well try and figure out the basics by pestering Eyva with questions designed to mine information.
Eyva didn want to answer my questions about magic too much. She seemed to think it was far too early to be curious about it. But she indulged me regardless.
From her, I got a basic rundown of it.
Magic at its base level seemed to function similarly to how you would expect it to in an ordinary fantasy world.
It involved shaping mana with your mind and giving it physical form in the form of spells like, say, a fireball.
Most mages, though, preferred to inscribe words of power in the air called Arcana which manifested spells.
Chant based magic tended to be more unstable, with silent magic being the most liable to fail.
Eyva herself could use magic, creating tongues of flame around her fingertips with ease without a chant, though I greatly suspected she could do far more than that.
The mechanics of the magic, however, were a little more complicated.
People that could use magic did so by extending their willpower out of the confines of their bodies, surrounding themselves in a visible aura called a Mana-Veil.
By directing that Veil, a manifestation of their willpower, around them, they could absorb mana in the environment and transform it into magic.
Thus, to practice magic, you had to first be able to generate said Veil in the first place.
The only way to create a Veil, however, was to Awaken, and that happened spontaneously and naturally.
Awakening was when a beings eyes and senses awakened to magic, becoming cognizant of the flow of mana around them.
Unawakened beings could not see or feel the mana around them, preventing them from controlling it. That was me right now.
Even if I did have mana flowing inside me, I couldn sense or interact with it.
If I had to wager a guess, I actually did have mana in me. That was why I was growing so quickly.
But if I wasn Awakened, then growing big and strong was the only thing mana would do for me.
I wouldn be able to control all that juicy mana stored up in my flesh. I wouldn be able to project a Veil. I wouldn be able to become, as I hoped, a mage.
Some gifted people like my father were Awakened from birth and projected their Veils within months.
This was what I had to accomplish if I didn want to get tossed out of Ardor, the Sky City my father was lord of.
After projecting a Veil, you could go a step further and Submerge.
As your Veil was essentially your willpower made visible, you could project it out into the Swirl, entering the dimension of magic with your mind.
This happened later than basic Awakening, though on average most Orian children accomplished it by the time they were five, when their minds developed enough to have more complicated thoughts and a greater sense of self.
From here, you could access what were known as the Archives.
Mages could carve symbols in the Swirl, and these became Arcana that they could draw in the material plane to manifest pre-recorded and stable spells.
Each Arcana represented a spell or fragment of memory and emotion, and over centuries, Orias mages had created a massive archive of collected spell knowledge that had no equal throughout the entire world.
But actually getting to that point was a faraway dream for now.
I needed to Awaken first. Then project my Veil. Then learn how to Submerge.
Only then could I even begin to take the first steps to learning spells.
It was a long, long road ahead of me, one I wasn even sure I could even set foot on.
Could I even Awaken in the first place?
Or was I a Fell, destined to have my mana sealed inside me uselessly forever?
Whenever I tried asking Eyva to help me Awaken, or if there was another way other than just waiting, she said that it was impossible, that I had to wait for it to happen naturally.
No matter how much I tried questioning her about this, she did not give any different of an answer, and she was quite strict about it, driving my questioning away from the topic quickly.
Which meant that I was left with simply waiting and rolling the dice to see whether I was a Fell or not.
Whether I was going to die or not.
Well, I thought, if Eyva was right, I at least had seven years to figure it out.
By that time, with the way I was growing, I should have been big enough to survive on my own if I got kicked out of the Sky City.
I wondered if I could stop the Fell curse from mutating me by controlling the flow of mana within my body like I had controlled the flow of Qi in my past life.
It was impossible to tell unless I actually Awakened and managed to perceive the mana within me in the first place. Without perception, there was no control.
Id resort to using my martial arts too, if it really did come down to it, but I would have hoped to live a comfortable life as a noble mage if possible.
Little did I know just how delusional that hope would end up being.
When I was ten months old, I felt the time I had left to Awaken shorten considerably. It happened at dusk when I was supposed to be asleep and tucked into bed.
My mother came in for the first time in almost half a year to speak with Eyva. They talked in hushed whispers, but I knew how to focus my senses from my lifetime of martial arts training.
”He has still not Awakened? ” That was my mother. ”There must be something wrong with him. Perhaps there is a blockage in his core. And look at how he grows! He is already as large as a child of five.
I fear he shows signs of being a Fell already. Maybe we should cast him away now, before he turns feral and becomes a danger to you. ”
”Be patient, my lady, ” said Eyva. ”Your son is a sweet and intelligent child. Did you see his writings? The ones I sent you? ”
”No, I was too busy. ”
”He is a genius, my lady. Not even a year has passed, and he can read and write basic texts.
Granted, his mind and body are both developing rapidly, but even accounting for that, his grasp over language, no, not just language, but in learning any topic, is astounding.
Were he allowed to leave this room, the Scholars Guild would forth at their mouth trying to snatch him up. ”
By now, I didn care whether my mother was disappointed in me or not.
I did, however, find happiness in Eyva praising me. She stopped praising me as much while I was learning, probably to drum up her image as a strict teacher, but now I could tell it was all an act.
It was a kind of happiness I had never felt before. I had never received genuine praise before.
At best, a gruff nod of recognition from my master, often after beating another student to a pulp.
This felt infinitely better than any nod or extra piece of stale bread. I earned it myself. And I earned it without hurting someone else.
For once, now that I had months to bond with Eyva, I felt appreciated.
I felt loved.
For some awful reason, I always thought Eyva was being nice to me because it was her job. That she had to be nice in front of me to keep me soothed. But she was defending me even though she thought I was asleep, and she did so with no hesitation, only pride.
I felt myself smiling under my blankets involuntarily. I thought I would have been embarrassed smiling like this, I, a cold blooded assassin and Fighter, but it came to me naturally.
And I did not reject it.
”Just wait, my lady, ” continued Eyva. ”With that brilliant mind of his, he is destined for greatness. Once he Awakens, he will be the greatest mage this world has known. He will memorize so many Arcana that he will be without equal.
And even if by some chance he does not inherit his fathers vast mana pool, he can still apply his sharp mind as a supreme scholar. He will progress this nation by a century! ”
”But I don want a scholar, I want a heir. I want the next Magic Lord. He NEEDS to awaken, and he HAS to have talent. ” My mother whined. She sounded like a child, and I the adult at this point.
”Again, my lady, have patience. ”
”Patience? Yu-An roars at me every day, calling me a worthless, damaged womb. I cannot stand it. ” My mother started to quietly cry.
”Calm now, my lady, calm. ” I heard Eyva patting my mothers back, hugging her.
”I can …I can …, ” sniffled my mother. ”Yu-An grows wilder and wilder by the passing month. He is at his wits end already, and you want us to wait seven whole years. He has already begun to strike me.
I fear what is to come as he grows ever more desperate.
I fear what he may do to the child. ”
”Come, my lady, I will make you your fire-lily tea. That will help calm you, ” said Eyva, leading my mother out of the room by the hand, like a mother taking her child away.