Episode 51

Midterm Test (1)
1 week ago
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Rustila, having escaped from the sparring ground, reached a playground vast like a field. There, a woman adorned with a cosmic-colored epaulet awaited her.

Swish-

Her platinum hair, caught in the artificial wind, was imbued with the fresh scent of ether. A distinctly noble aura emanated from her.

Rustila locked eyes with the sword-bearing woman whose polished emerald eyes sparkled as if bathed in sunlight.

“Hello? You’re early again today.”

“Yes.”

Naier Clark.

The guardian of the eastern front. One of only twelve ‘Great Omega’ ranked inspectors in the Federation and Isaac Clark’s wife. There are many words to describe her, but at this moment, she is defined by just one.

Rustila’s swordsmanship instructor.

Recently, upon her husband’s request, she arrived at Stellarium and has been teaching Rustila daily ever since.

“There’s a saying that the early bird catches the worm. Haha, that’s a good attitude. It’s rewarding to teach someone who takes time off to learn from me.”

Great Omega is commonly known as ‘Master’ and, being the nation’s greatest force, she is always incredibly busy. In fact, if Rustila wasn’t a Stellarium student, lacked talent in swordsmanship, or if there hadn’t been an emergency involving a breach in the ether belt—Naier would have had no reason to be here.

“Well, no need for a lengthy chat. Prepare for ionization. We’re going straight into actual combat.”

Rustila channeled ether into her sword. The ionized blade fiercely roared as it emitted photons. In response, Naier drew her rapier, poised and ready.

Multi-Star Sword Energy.

Heroes bound to constellations, rather than a single star, possess the unique ability to execute multiple sword techniques with a single blade. However, not every skilled swordsman can manifest Multi-Star Sword Energy. Those who can are usually limited to techniques similar to their training.

But Naier was an exception. She had developed a swordsmanship style known as ‘Personal Wave,’ which allowed her to wield her rapier with the precision and creativity of a painter’s brush. Her style was wild and unrestrained, making it susceptible to psychological attacks but strong in rapid responses.

It was a perfect match for Rustila’s style.

“Try blocking this.”

Naier smirked as she heated her sword, effortlessly tracing three sword paths. Each strike was genuine, which caused Rustila’s eyes to widen. She maximized the ether output and swung her sword broadly. The blades clashed, sparking flames. The radiant heat from the clash intensely heated their faces, which meant Rustila had improved her defense compared to the first day.

“Try blocking this too.”

Five attacks came in rapid succession from the sides and rear. In an instant, a diffracted ion beam targeted the back of Rustila’s head. She ducked, narrowly avoiding the beam. As she moved, a flicker of pain crossed her face.

How long would the ether shield hold? That question soon turned into an urgent reality.

Crack!

The ether shield couldn’t withstand the barrage of ions. It peeled away like a fragile soap bubble, leaving Rustila exposed. The recoil from the failing shield knocked her off her feet.

“Ugh!”

Naier sheathed her rapier and approached Rustila, extending a bottle of water to her.

“You’ve improved a lot since we started. However, you still struggle to control your emotions.”

“Emotions?”

“Yes, emotions. You and I are alike. Although the specifics are not the same, we both employ swordsmanship techniques we’ve created ourselves.”

Walking the path of a swordsman is fraught with challenges. There are no manuals and no true masters to guide you.

“You don’t need a proper stance or specific forms. Just swing your sword as it feels right in the moment.”

Rustila’s fighting style is improvisational and emotionally driven, which puts her at a disadvantage when facing Zelnya.

Zelnya knows that a single provoking word can send Rustila’s emotions spiraling, causing her to lose focus and control during their fights quickly.

“We can’t afford sudden shifts in our emotions. Anger simplifies our swordplay, and sadness brings hesitation.”

Touching the corner of her lips, Rustila asked,

“Should I just maintain a poker face?”

Naier shook her head.

“That might help, but it isn’t a proper solution.”

“Then what should I do?”

“In my case, I build walls around my emotions. Take love, for example.”

“Love?”

The word “love” caught Rustila off guard, as it seemed entirely unrelated to their discussion about fighting techniques and strategies.

“Yes, love. Whether I like it or not, I love my husband, sorta, and I often fight alongside him.”

Naier’s expression turned grim as she thought of her husband. The idea of fighting in pairs seemed to carry multiple meanings, both on and off the battlefield, but she decided not to dwell on it further.

“It’s frustrating to adjust to my husband’s pace. But because I love him, I sync our breaths.”

Love.

For seventeen-year-old Rustila, love was a new and challenging emotion. Her parents’ interference had prevented her from ever falling in love, but that didn’t mean she lacked male friends her age…

At this thought, Rustila shook her head.

“There’s no need to overthink it. I didn’t figure it out myself until I graduated from college.”

Naier patted Rustila on the shoulder and checked her watch.

“Oh, it’s time to go. See you tomorrow.”

“Ah, you don’t have to come for the next three days…”

“Why?”

“It’s midterms.”


“Did you do well on your test, Aidel?”

“Yes, Professor.”

It was the first day of the midterms, and after completing the written test, I descended to the planet where the college is located, which led to me having tea with Professor Feynman.

Sonia tried to stop me, calling me insane, but no one could stop me now. As we sipped our tea and the atmosphere grew warmer, I revealed the ‘Black Sphere’ to the professor and said, “I picked this up a while ago.”

“What is that?”

“It’s an object that the monster I faced during the reassignment test was holding onto.”

I weaved in some lies for good measure. After all, it was better that way for both of us.

“May I touch it?”

“You may, provided you have a Constellation.”

“I’ve made a modest pact myself. If it’s alright, I’d like to take a closer look.”

As I handed the Black Sphere to Feynman, I continued, “I’ve read all the review papers on material chips, but there was no mention of such a substance. It’s time for a physical approach since its properties are unknown.”

“We should probably run Elpes and SSM tests at least once.”

The primary purpose of my visit was to deliver the Black Sphere to Feynman. Having done so, I prepared to leave, assuming there was nothing more to discuss.

“Student Aidel.”

Just as I was about to rise and depart, Professor Feynman called out to me.

“How about writing a paper on this topic with me?”

“What?”

This is unbelievable. What is he proposing to a high school student? I’m not even in college yet.

“In my view, this is a valuable item. How about submitting it as your first paper to a journal with an IF over 20?”

“I’d be over the moon if you could even just mention me in the acknowledgments.”

“Ha-ha, what kind of professor would I be to do such a thing? If a student has brought the material themselves, they deserve at least to be the second author.”

My head was spinning with all this information.

Feynman patted my shoulder and suggested, “Let’s have a meeting after the midterms.”


The second day of midterms had arrived.

The written tests were complete, leaving only the practical test remaining.

Honestly, the written part was unremarkable.

Korean, math, science—those were the only subjects we had to tackle. Perhaps because they were still at a high school level, I finished them comfortably.

The real challenge was the practical test.

“The duel will take place in a virtual reality space as a mock battle. Since it’s a test, it will be conducted on a school-wide scale, so please be well-prepared,” the instructor announced.

That’s right. I have to fight again.

Damn it, I have no confidence in fighting at all.

“Every student should take five practice cards each. With these, you can freely challenge anyone you wish. The rules have been posted on the blackboard for your reference. That is all!”

As soon as the announcement ended, students swarmed around the blackboard.

Midterm Practical Test Rules
 
1. Every student receives five practice cards.
2. Each time you challenge someone, you must use one card.
3. All cards have a compulsory effect. That is, if someone presents a card to you, you must accept the challenge unconditionally.
4. However, if you wish to challenge the same person more than once, you must use two cards for each subsequent challenge.
5. Every student must engage in at least three sparring matches.
6. All five cards must be used by the end of the test.
7. Each battle should last no more than five minutes. A student who leaves the arena or whose Ether Shield is completely depleted loses the match.
8. Plasma Swords may be used as personal equipment.

As I read, the red-haired male student beside me clicked his tongue.

It was Matus Baitling, my classmate.

“Ugh, how annoying. Why is it all so rambling?”

“Just fight a lot and win. That’s what they say.”

“Huh?”

Matus snorted as he looked at me.

“Think the noble young master can handle it?”

“Honestly, I’m probably going to get thrashed.”

“…What? Such a lame answer.”

Matus, like Senior Edward, hails from the Frontier, which is why he has a strong disdain for the offspring of wealthy families in the Gold Zone. That is also the reason he was more ostracized in the class than Zelnya. The occasional harassment I received from him was likely a backlash from that disdain.

However, we haven’t had any significant conflicts so far because I managed to steer clear of them. But this time, it’s going to be a bit more difficult…

As if on cue, Matus suddenly extended a card to me.

“Let’s fight.”

“……”

I knew he was quite proficient with a sword. Winning by conventional means seemed unlikely.

Sigh.

I was about to accept the card when…

“Yah, Matus?”

Welton Yuseford, another classmate, appeared. Now that I think about it, Welton and Matus were close friends in the original novel.

“Wasn’t I supposed to be your first opponent in the practical test?”

Welton removed his sunglasses and wiped the corners of his eyes with his sleeve.

“Boo hoo, I’m so sad. You said I would be your first…”

“What the hell are you talking about?!”

“Cheating with another guy!!”

Swoosh! A golden card flew towards Matus’ face.

“What kind of messed-up concept did you come up with today?!”

“The unrequited love concept.”

Welton grinned and pointed behind him. Just then, Christine, who happened to be passing by, blushed and pulled out a card.

“I’ve never been into that kind of concept!”

Swoosh! This time, Christine’s card flew towards Welton’s face.

“Wow! This is going to be fun!”

Christine’s best friend, Merlin, thinking the scene was amusing, threw a card at Matus.

I couldn’t understand if this was a duel or a game of poker.

“Hey, you! Who said you could start a card game? Aren’t you supposed to be taking the test soon?!”

Illegal gambling got busted by a police officer who happened to be patrolling nearby, and the card game was abruptly ended. Anyway, since I received a card from Matus, I had to fight him. However, I could tentatively adjust when to fight him.

While fiddling with the received card, I sensed someone approaching me from behind.

“Hey.”

A voice tinged with annoyance.

“Eat this.”

Suddenly, Zelnya Adelwein approached me and slipped her card between my lips.

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