Once the door was opened, the damp smell of mold assaulted his nose.
Each step he took on the wood panel floor caused it to creak loudly as if someone was screaming.
Sungchul sensed a presence standing up on the floor above him.
The presence quickly ran down the stairs without a sound and hid itself in the darkness that stretched out from the dorms.
Judging from its actions, it probably planned on secretly observing Sungchul.
Sungchul pretended not to notice and walked straight ahead.
After brushing past a few spider webs, he came across a dining room that was illuminated by candlelight.
The dining room consisted of five wooden tables large enough to seat four people, but four of the tables were covered with a white cloth as if they were no longer in use. On the contrary, the last remaining table had a vase on it, together with a freshly preserved flower.
“Who dares to disturb my rest?” It was at this moment that the presence Sungchul had noticed earlier spoke to him.
It was a feminine voice that had an eerie wail as though from a ghost.
It was probably a trick to scare Sungchul away by pretending to be a ghost, but such trivial tricks would never work on him.
Sungchul kept an expressionless face as he continued forward on his way to the stairs, eventually passing by the room where the mysterious woman hid.
“How impudent! Ignoring my warnings!”
Once again, the voice of the woman reverberated from behind.
At the same time, a strange wave passed through the entirety of the dormitory, causing objects to float and shake ominously. At the same time, a thick mist settled in the stairway to block vision, and the objects began to rattle even more violently.
The mysterious spectacle was so unsettling that an unsuspecting passerby would have been scared out of their wits and would long since have been sent running.
But Sungchul remained unfazed as he continued walking up the stairs.
By the time Sungchul had stepped on the last step of the stairway, the floating objects had settled back down, and the mist had vanished.
“You! Do you really want to die?”
The voice of a young girl rang out from behind him.
Sungchul paused to look back.
A blonde girl dressed in white was glaring up at him, full of anger. She had an appearance of a fifteen- or sixteen-year old.
She had such a beautiful appearance that, given a few years, she would be able to charm a great number of men. But there was one crucial problem.
It was impossible for a child of her age to exist in this world. The so-called ‘Final Generation’ who had narrowly escaped the Curse of Extinction were all in their twenties.
In other words, all children under the age of twenty had been afflicted by the God’s curse and suffered from an agonizingly painful, incurable disease, and for the most part, they had all already died. Even if they had somehow survived, they were stuck in a state that was between the living and the dead.
Sungchul believed that the blonde girl before him was an apparition of a child from the latter case. He soon discovered the reason.
‘This child…she is no longer alive.’
He could hear her irregular breath, but not her heartbeat. In other words, her lifespan had already ended; she was now a living corpse.
Soul Engraving – once the Eye of Truth was activated Sungchul spotted a much more severe problem that was plaguing the girl.
From the top of her head to the bottom of her feet, dozens of different types of Preservation Magic were enclosing the girl like a cocoon.
It was a spectacle that showed the Mage’s obsession to preserve the girl’s original appearance despite all circumstances.
At that moment, Sungchul felt an ache from a corner of his chest and a frown formed on his face.
In the girl, he saw the mad struggle of a man who desperately fought to keep her alive, who would do anything and everything to save the one who was dear to him.
Their methods were different, but what they sought was the same.
While Sungchul remained silent, the girl took a step closer.
The girl confirmed the frown on his face and gave a mischievous grin.
“Finally, you act surprised.”
Sungchul looked at her wordlessly.
“Now, can you get out? This is my house. I’ll be troubled if an outsider like yourself comes in brashly.”
The girl waved her hands, gesturing for him to leave.
The motion of her hands was enough to wake Sungchul from his heavy-hearted reminiscence.
‘Ah, I was spacing out.’
Sungchul quickly regained his calm while tasting a deep bitterness spreading in his mouth.
He opened his mouth while looking at the girl once again.
“Sorry, but I am not an outsider.”
“Hmm? What do you mean?”
The girl crossed her arms while spreading her feet slightly, before donning an attitude of daring him to explain himself.
Sungchul confidently explained the reason why he was here.
“I am a Freshman that was admitted today, and the Aged Jorgbart designated my dorm as the ‘House of Recollections’. Do I need any other reason?”
“Really? That ancient Jorgbart?”
There was an effect. The girl appeared surprised.
Sungchul used this momentum, adding in another statement.
“If he didn’t, why would I leave aside all those other normal dormitories and choose this eerie place?”
“Mmm…You’re not wrong…In any case, if Jorgbart designated this dorm as your own, I have no right to refuse. I can double check with the Homunculus, but that can be put off until later…”
The girl who had been dying to chase Sungchul out became quiet as she fell in deep thought.
Eventually, she let out a sigh and looked defeated.
“Mmm…I guess I can’t do anything. I am also a student of Airfruit Academy after all. I will respect the old man Jorgbart’s decision. Since that’s also part of our tradition.”
The unknown girl dropped her shoulder and turned around, but quickly turned back again looking vexed, speaking in a warning tone.
“My name is Sarasa, School of Cryomancy. I don’t recommend underestimating me because of how young I look; I am five years your senior.”
Finishing her introduction, Sarasa swiftly turned around and ran up the stairs.
“Use any empty room on the first floor. It’s a little messy, but the cleaning supplies are in the storage closet next to the dining room, so make use of that. Be sure to put it back after you’ve used it. The second floor is for female students only, so you are not allowed up to the second floor without getting my permission from the bottom of the stairs first, so don’t forget that. I am not very nice.”
Once she was done nagging like a Mother-in-law, she went up the stairs in a few light movements and disappeared into the darkness.
In the silence that returned to the surroundings, Sungchul stared in the direction Sarasa had disappeared to for a while longer.
‘An undead who hasn’t yet accepted her own death…’
Sungchul began walking around on the first floor to pick his room.
Soon, he found an empty room at the end of the hallway that he claimed as his own.
It was a messy room that was filled with dust and cobwebs as Sarasa had warned, but Sungchul didn’t mind.
At the very least, it had walls and a roof that would shelter him from the wind and rain, and also a bed he could rest on.
“I’ll do some cleaning tomorrow.”
Sungchul was led by the Residence Assistant to head to the school building for Cosmomancy.
The building for Cosmomancy was located precariously on the edge of a steep cliff on the northern region, the highest area, within the border of the rocky mountain and castle walls that surrounded Airfruit Academy.
“There used to be a Magically operated lift that would bring us up to the top, but for some reason, it isn’t operational anymore!”
Sungchul and the Residence Assistant had to carefully climb a precarious flight of stairs carved into the cliff wall.
There was even a broken segment in the stairway where visitors had to make a potentially life-threatening jump to reach the other side. The Residence Assistant barely made it across, and then shouted proudly
“Now! disciple’s turn! Time to show your courage! Humans who have longer legs and therefore superior jumping power than myself should be able to make it! Being unable to do this would mean you are a poopy human!”
Sungchul leaped over the gap lightly, making the Residence Assistant eat his own words.
The smile on Residence Assistant’s face faded as quickly as it came.
“Ah…I guess it is as expected of a Summoning Palace graduate. On a completely different level than your average resident. Well, it’s not like there is any resident left to come here anymore, though.”
After they climbed the steep set of stairs that felt like a rock wall, they finally arrived at the Cosmomancy school building located at the peak of the mountain.
The building was a stone structure of medium size, and its defining feature was the large telescope attached to its round dome on the top.
“Now, it is time to enter, disciple!”
Sungchul left behind the Residence Assistant and pushed his way through the heavy doors to enter the Cosmomancy school building.
The first thing that caught his gaze was the jade-colored interior.
Another part was that the entire interior of the building consisted of a small number of pillars, with no walls or floors separating the rooms, and an open space with the domed ceiling at its center.
So, any sound made in the building would be amplified, and anyone in the building could see each other at all times.
Within a building which resembled a Cathedral more than an academic building, Sungchul saw two men.
One was an old man whose hair and beard was almost halfway to having turned white.
The wrinkles etched by his age didn’t give off the feeling of dignity, but rather the feeling of stubbornness. His tightly shut lips had a ‘weightiness’ that didn’t look as though it wouldn’t open so easily.
The other person was an androgynous youth who looked magnanimous, in stark contrast to the old man.
He was laying in a hammock tied between two pillars and reading a thick book as if it were a magazine.
The first person to respond to Sungchul’s appearance was the youth.
“Who is this? It seems that a guest has arrived.” He stood up from the hammock and approached Sungchul.
“How did you end up here?”
Sungchul looked towards the old man behind the youth and answered briefly.
“I have come to receive tutelage.”
The youth smiled broadly.
“It’s been a while since we have had a newcomer.”
He put his hand forward and introduced himself to Sungchul.
“I am an inexperienced Mage trying to learn the Cosmomancy Magic of the great Altugius, Leonard Sanctum.”
Sungchul revealed his name as he grasped the youth’s hand.
“Oh gee, what a terrifying name. Are you a Summoning Palace graduate by any chance?”
“I see. A Summoning Palace Graduate. I thought it was strange that we would get a newcomer so suddenly, so that’s your story. Sorry for dragging things out. I believe the teacher is waiting, so let’s step inside.”
Leonard politely opened a path.
Sungchul didn’t have any opinion on Leonard.
He didn’t have anything to evaluate him with aside from his extraordinarily reputable family name.
At the very least, he wasn’t so uncouth as to repeatedly stare at any specific feature of Sungchul, nor did he mix any subtle self-praise into his words.
Sungchul approached the old man who sat on top of a stone pile arranged like a tree.
“I have come to receive tutelage.”
Sungchul was in no way inferior to that old man, but he decided to lower his head this one time.
This was the proper attitude of someone looking to learn.
The old man stared at Sungchul with stubborn eyes, after which he pointed towards the air and summoned a single book.
He had taken a book out from his Soul Storage.
The old man handed the thick book over to Sungchul and spoke in a clear and piercing voice.
“I am a retired old man with nothing left to teach. Regrettably, you have chosen wrong from many possible choices, and the result was the misfortune of meeting me. All I can give you is this book.”
The old man offered the book again.
“I have become old and my arms lack strength. Quickly take it.”
Once Sungchul had received the book, the old man turned his back towards Sungchul and lit a pipe.
“After a week, you will be given an opportunity to change your major. You shouldn’t fritter your time away, raising your basic stats by reading that book should help you in achieving the path you desire after this.”
Those were his final words.
It wasn’t a trial, nor an attempt to size him up. He no longer tried to speak with Sungchul.
And it looked as though he would no longer listen to anything he had to say…
‘Altugius Xero, was it? The old man has already isolated himself from the world.’
He had met an unexpected resistance.
Sungchul had heard from Christian that the Cosmomancy Professor Altugius Xero was a cranky and fastidious old man, but he never expected that the man had gone so far as to renounce his duty as a teacher.
Sungchul, who was still holding the book, stood at a crossroads.
Leonard resumed his spot on the hammock and watched Sungchul with a bemused smile.
Currently, the number of students that had come to seek Cosmomancy was a severe minority already, but when they met Altugius, who rejected even that small minority, they walked away without hesitation.
Using this world’s standards, the Summoned standing there would arrive to a similar decision.
How could he hope to learn anything under a teacher who refused to teach?
But something surprising occurred.
Unlike all the other newcomers before him, the black-haired youth who wore a raggedy field jacket and worn-out jeans sat down where he stood and began to read the book given to him by the Professor.
It was assumed that he would quickly grow bored and leave, but Sungchul showed no sign of moving anytime soon.
In this building where even the smallest of sounds were amplified, the sound of each page turning was clearly transmitted into everyone’s ears.
Once Sungchul had reached the thirtieth page, the old man finally turned back to take a closer look at the mysterious student who was sitting before him.