Episode 53

Midterm Test (3)
1 week ago
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Matus Baitling’s origins trace back to the Frontier lines, a planetary system left vulnerable without the protection of the Ether Belt. This region, perpetually under siege by monsters seizing any opportunity to invade, was a place of constant turmoil. Here, madness spread like wildfire, and children vanished with alarming regularity. The border resembled a battlefield throughout the year, making any hope for federal support seem like a distant dream.

In such a harsh environment, Matus carved out a path for himself. By day, he immersed himself in books; by night, he honed his skills in real combat, learning to shoot with precision. While he didn’t excel in everything, he also ventured into mastering the art of Ether manipulation.

Eventually, armed with proof that he and his two younger siblings—the only legacy of his parents—were of sound mind, he passed the immigration inspection and made his way into the Gold Zone. This significant life change occurred four years before Matus enrolled at Stellarium.

Since then, much has transpired for him, including the inability to secure even part-time employment—a direct consequence of his Frontier origins. His background had seen him clash with merchants who inflated the costs of essentials like food, housing, and clothing. Moreover, a visit to the hospital with a sick sibling resulted in an unjust mental illness diagnosis and a substantial medical bill.

He despised the privileged elite and yearned to upend the status quo in the Gold Zone, and the young Master Reinhardt was no exception. Despite his resentment towards the aristocracy, Matus restrained himself at Stellarium, especially since Aidel had not personally wronged him. He extended a basic level of politeness to him.

But now, presented as a midterm examination, an opportunity arose to humble the despised nobility under the pretense of a virtual reality challenge. Since the pain experienced would not translate to a real injury, Matus saw no reason to hold back against them, free from the worry of facing repercussions for his actions.

Matus burst in, fueled by a volatile mix of anger and excitement. This was the moment he intended to bring his single-edged sword crashing down upon Aidel’s head.

“Ugh!”

Suddenly, he was trapped by a force as constrictive as a serpent’s coil. His body became immobile, paralyzed as if struck by a serpent’s neurotoxic venom. This peculiar sensation seemed familiar, yet its origin eluded him.

“Sorry, friend. I can’t give up my title as the number one.”

“What, what…?”

Aidel’s left hand moved quickly, the sharp edge of a caliper pressing against Matus’ forehead, embedding itself deeply.

“Aaargh!”

Matus screamed, his voice echoing as if he had been thrown through space and time.

“Huff, huff.”

Clutching his chest, Matus slowly refocused his eyes. He found himself waking up in a hospital bed, an IV line attached to his right hand. A cool breeze wafted through the room, making the white patient gown with light blue stripes he wore flutter slightly.

“Where is this……”

“Hey, are you okay?”

Next to him, a girl with deep green hair lay in another hospital bed. She was Merlin Whiritia, a classmate of his. Notably shorter than her peers by more than 20cm, the patient gown she wore looked peculiar on her. It was, in fact, a children’s gown adapted for her small stature.

“Where are we?”

“The infirmary.”

“Why am I here?”

“The class president knocked you out.”

Merlin detailed Aidel’s actions with precision.

‘What? How did that happen? That’s fascinating!’

Merlin, intrigued by Matus’s unconscious state, volunteered as a test subject and subsequently passed out.

‘How dare you! Merlin! How dare you harm my friend!’

Christine, directing her fury at Aidel and then calling out to Merlin in concern, attempted to confront Aidel but ended up fainting as well.

‘This is no simple technique. I challenge you to a duel.’

James, a witness to the events, confronted the situation but quickly succumbed to unconsciousness.

Following this, several others tried to intervene, but all met the same fate, collapsing into unconsciousness. It was rumored that everyone was incapacitated by a single strike from something known as a Caliper or a plasma sword.

Indeed, the room was a testament to the chaos. It wasn’t just Matus and Merlin; the six-bed infirmary was at full capacity.

“What are you looking at?” Christine, previously absorbed in her book, responded with a sullen tone.

“Ah, my mistake.”

James clenched his fist, his body shaking with frustration.

“Why did everyone faint?”

“The teachers think it’s due to hologram shock.”

“Hologram shock?”

“Yes. It appears to be a condition where, if you experience an overly intense shock in virtual reality, the brain believes it’s in mortal danger and triggers a fainting response to protect the body.”

Matus replayed his battle with Aidel in his mind. It had ended with just one hit. His entire strategy had crumbled with a single strike. Despite fighting with the desperation of a starving wolf from the slums, his wild, self-taught combat skills were effortlessly overpowered by the privileged youth.

Could it truly be impossible to defeat those who have had systematic training from wealthy families with his self-taught techniques? Does success ultimately boil down to the power of one’s family and the influence of money?

“By the way, have you heard? The class rep has gotten a new nickname.”


“Mad Aidel. Crazy Aidel. The Axe Lunatic, Aidel.”

Welton couldn’t suppress his chuckle as he relayed the nicknames that had emerged for me in just a few short hours.

“This is absurd.”

To confuse calipers with an axe speaks volumes about the lamentable state of our education system.

'The God of Wisdom and Curiosity' tilts her head in confusion.

Nonetheless, as I methodically defeated each friend who dared to challenge me, using cards to increment my score, I secured my position at the top. Now, only one card remained. I planned to hold it until the end, assessing the situation before making my move. Alternatively, I could play it immediately.

“Yusford, care to try your luck against me as well?”

“Haha, that’s a good one.”

Considering Welton had witnessed several of our peers being escorted to the infirmary after encounters with me, it was understandable he had no desire to engage in a confrontation.

“Smart move. Ever thought about pursuing a graduate degree?”

In an instant, Welton put as much distance between us as possible.

“Eek, oh, stay away! You monster!”

Being labeled a monster for merely suggesting graduate school seems excessively harsh.

“I should have known better. You claimed you don’t hit women, yet you went ahead and knocked out both Merlin and Christine. You’re a madman. Honestly, even I can’t handle you. Who would have thought the world was filled with so many supreme masters? Hah!”

It’s unjust. If I hadn’t been thrust into this world, hadn’t been coerced into a pact with Cartesia, or hadn’t found myself trapped in the body of a lunatic named Aidel, I wouldn’t be enduring a life where I’m constantly branded a madman. Regardless, the critical issue now is that my ambitious plan to enlighten Welton on the intricacies of solid-state physics must, regrettably, be shelved for the moment.

Disappointing, indeed. Welton departed as though escaping from me, and then Ceti arrived.

“Brother, how did it go?”

“How did what go?”

“I heard you floored all our classmates with that bizarre axe of yours.”

“Not all of them.”

“That’s incredible. How did you end up with such a weapon? Did you acquire that axe without telling me?”

“I dropped it off at the modification shop and had it significantly enhanced.”

After all, who repurposes a tool as a weapon? I concocted a plausible story for Ceti, who was oblivious to the truth.

“And what about you, little sister? Did you exhaust all the cards?”

“Used them all up.”

While showing her score, Ceti revealed she had amassed just over 1,000 points. Her achievement took me aback.

“How did you manage that? You’re not exactly a master swordsman.”

“It’s straightforward. Start by fighting recklessly in the lower ranks and intentionally lose. Then, those who underestimate me come charging in. At that moment, I just slightly adjusted my strength in each match and secured my wins one after another.”

“So, you exploited a loophole in the system.”

“Exactly. No one but me knows my true capabilities. It’s a victory achieved by exploiting an information gap I created.”

Though it was a loophole, the Stellarium didn’t forbid its students from using such tactics. The ability to appear weak to the weak and invisible to the strong is a survival strategy, potentially more crucial than superior swordsmanship skills.

“Well done, little sister.”

I gave Ceti a pat on the shoulder, and this time, she neither pulled away nor frowned. Instead, Ceti offered a somewhat melancholy smile. Puzzled by her reaction, I decided to check her SAN parameter.

Ceti von Adelwein Reinhardt
10/1000
 
[Psychological State]
Regards you with the warmth and loyalty of an older brother.
Holds deep familial affection for you and is ready to be your pillar of strength.
Fully empathizes with the depth of your pain.

The weight of these thoughts was overwhelming for me, yet paradoxically, I also felt a sense of gratitude for them. Understanding that Ceti was willing to support me ignited a sense of duty within me to do the same for my sister. Perhaps this is what true familial bonds are all about. Amid these reflections, a particular individual suddenly came to mind.

“Rustila?”

“Sis? She vowed to confront and defeat that Zelnya girl.”

“……It’s gotten quite late now.”

The fact that Rustila had not returned by this time was a clear indicator that her endeavors had likely not gone as planned. Although this scenario was not explicitly detailed in the original novel, subsequent indirect references supported my deduction. Driven by concern, I hastened my search and eventually found Rustila, dejected, seated on a bench behind the examination hall.

Rustila Kersil
310/1500
 
[State]
Depression and Repression
These conditions frequently emerge in the aftermath of traumatic or painful events.
They are characterized by a marked decline in motivation and enthusiasm for all facets of life, coupled with relentless self-doubt.
This constant questioning of oneself and one's situation, if it takes a negative direction, can lead to an acute existential crisis, erasing any sense of purpose in life.
 
[Psychological State]
Encountering profound desolation following multiple defeats.

This situation was even more dire than when she suffered under her parents’ tyranny. Currently, Rustila was shattered, her spirit broken by Zelnya. I approached and sat beside her with care.

“Rustila.”

She became aware of me and slowly raised her head. Her jade-colored eyes, which usually sparkled like precious gems, were now clouded with sorrow and melancholy.

“…Aidel.”

Her voice trembled, teetering on the edge of tears. Throughout her life, Rustila was always quick to cry. There were moments when she displayed an almost superhuman resilience, adopting a demeanor of cold rationality, but beneath it all, she remained this fragile, delicate being. Accepting this, I knew my role was to support and nurture Rustila, the Sword Saint.

“It’s okay.”

With those simple words, I initiated our conversation.

“I, my talent…”

“…is more than enough.”

Geniuses often find themselves isolated. Their struggles, when shared, rarely elicit empathy. They navigate life branded as fundamentally different. Rustila, too, is experiencing a form of exclusion, albeit one laced with accolades.

'The God of Wisdom and Curiosity' watches your thoughts intently.

I moved closer to Rustila, ostensibly to retrieve the plasma sword she had set aside. I could sense her breathing next to me, erratic and shallow, as though a panic attack loomed on the horizon, or perhaps she had simply become indifferent to the world around her.

“About sword fighting,” I began, handing the sword back to her.

“Is it enjoyable for you?”

Rustila offered a timid nod in response.

“If you find joy in it, then pursue it. The fulfillment will follow. You never aspired to be a lawyer; your dream was to be a soldier, a hero safeguarding the citizens and territories of the Federation.”

“Yeah, I did.”

“Don’t take what Zelnya says to heart.”

“But, even with the Constellation on my side, I lost….”

I couldn’t help but smile bitterly at this.

“It’s not about losing. What matters is that she doesn’t have a constellation, and you do.”

What is a constellation, though? More precisely, what is a star that houses a constellation?

A star represents everyone’s dreams and hopes. People find their way by looking at the stars above. Thus, a constellation—revered as a god—only shines brightly when it aligns with the path humanity treads.

Whether that star is a fiercely burning main-sequence star illuminating the sky, a giant star expanding its influence, a variable star flickering like a dandelion caught in the wind, or a white dwarf star, its brilliance faded to mere remnants.

Because stars exist, people can forge ahead, never losing their sense of direction.

“If you harbor a noble dream, a luminous star will guide you. Should your dreams turn dark, a deity of the shadows will emerge. And if greed consumes you, you’ll find yourself encircled by evil spirits.”

This narrative underscores a timeless truth—those who dare to dream, both in ancient times and today, must look to the stars for guidance, choosing their path with care.

'The God of Wisdom and Curiosity' momentarily loses her zeal and falls into silence.

“Consult your constellation. What path should you take?”

“I am…”

Rustila paused, weighing her thoughts. Eventually, she met my gaze and asked,

“Is it still possible for me to wield the sword?”

“Excellence isn’t a prerequisite.”

“I aim to be unparalleled.”

“Then your journey begins with the simple act of swinging your sword.”

“Can relentless practice truly allow me to surpass her?”

Defeated by Zelnya over fifty times in the past month, each loss was a blow to Rustila’s pride, a wound that refused to heal. Her fear was palpable, yet,

“By focusing solely on your swordsmanship, surpassing her might become a reality.”

“……”

“Certainty is a luxury life seldom affords. Anyone who claims a guaranteed outcome is a charlatan. What truly matters is your desire—do you grasp my meaning?”

Reflecting on the journeys of masters in any field makes this clear. Success wasn’t guaranteed for all who endeavored, but every success story began with an attempt. Had I been deterred by the uncertainty, I would’ve abandoned my humble dream of exploring particle theory long ago.

'The God of Wisdom and Curiosity' offers her applause.
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After a moment of contemplation, Rustila rose from her seat with determination.

“…I’ll go and claim victory.”

Though she didn’t specify her target, the implication was clear. Rustila was off to confront not just Zelnya but her doubts and fears.

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