Chapter 1.1: 16th Core Synthesis Ceremony
Akira opened his eyelids in a snap. Shit, now’s not the time to be dreaming. When did I fall asleep? Panicked, he looked to the seat on his right and found his younger sister staring back at him.
As her widened brown eyes returned to their mischief-filled normal, she supported her pale cheek with one slender hand, and moved red hair out of her face with the other. Then she opened her thin rosy lips.
“We have 5 minutes left, Onii-chan. I can’t believe you fell asleep right before such a big event… don’t you feel nervous at all?”
“Well, Akane, I might have overdone the taijutsu and magic practice yesterday. Ahahaha…”
A sharp glint appeared in Akane’s eyes and a shadow fell across her face in response to his words.
“My dearest apologies,” Akira said, cutting off the lecture about to come. She’s always serious during important events, but isn’t this harsher than usual?
Exhaling in relief, he took a look at the room they were seated in.
He observed a windowless white hall lit by a multitude of glass chandeliers. More than 300 people were seated around them, yet the hall felt half empty: that’s how spacious it was. Before the seating arrangement was a feet-high wooden stage, and on it an empty podium and a microphone.
A door in the right wall opened up, and all the noise died down. Akira saw a man with graying hair enter and begin to walk towards the podium. His shoes clacked with confidence on the marble floor. His kind face was quick in helping the audience lose their tension.
The man reached the stage and stood behind the podium. After a moment, he nodded his head in a content manner while closing his eyes for the moment. When his eyelids parted, he began speaking.
“Welcome everyone. My name is Suzuki Akihiro. I am the lead researcher and head of the Speculo Management Committee,” the man said with a bow. “Of course, my most famous achievements are the discovery of the Concept Core and the development of the Speculo and the SIM. It is a pleasure to see the three hundred and fifty-nine young men and women who will become Maestros today.”
To Akira and the audience, the introduction was a formality. Who didn’t know the man responsible for stopping the Second Salem 16 years ago?
It’s a shame that I can’t talk to him when he’s so close.
“The Speculo: a weapon that can single-handedly influence the tide of any battle. You all know about Second Salem and the invention of the Core Synthesis procedure 4 years later. But between them was a long period of research. The breakthroughs began when I was interacting with the mana in one of the victim’s Concept Core. It sent an onslaught of emotions surging through my brain, but these were not born of my own heart. No, they were the last remnants of the victim’s emotions.
“It sent my team into a frenzy of experimentation. Later, in another significant event, the organ suddenly transformed into a spear! I had many questions, so many that I thought my head would explode! But there was one thing I knew for sure back then: I was looking at the crown jewel of my scientific career.
“In our team, we have a member who possesses a zealous spirit. Back then, he immediately proposed we experiment on his core. And we did. The results shocked us. The core had, indeed, turned into a weapon. However, this time it was a rapier! And that wasn’t the end! When that man picked up the rapier, all of us felt invigorated. I felt like I’d drunk all the coffee in the world, and then taken performance enhancing drugs! It felt like we could complete a week’s worth of research in a single night.
“That rapier was a perfect fit for him: a weapon that supported the user’s comrades, lighting fires in their souls. Truly, it was at that moment the perfect name for this weapon came to my mind. A reflection of the owner’s soul, and a glance into his very essence. Indeed, there was no other name that could fit it better than Speculo: The latin word for mirror.”
He took a pause, and the room took a breath. Each word of his was filled with passion.
“But this was told to you in school. So why am I repeating it all? It is because I want you to carry on my vision. And the way to do that is to take yourselves to your greatest potential.
“Today marks the 16th Core Synthesis Ceremony. Some of you will learn to fight, and some will employ their abilities elsewhere. But. All of you will wield your Speculo. Many in this world already do that, which is why I say this: my dream is already a reality! We live in the Magic Era; the world and its people are prospering!
“Today I welcome all of you to the ranks of the dreamers, the innovators driving today’s world. Welcome, young fledglings, to the ranks of the Maestros!”
Without Akira’s control, his hands moved and joined the audience in a thunderous applause. Suzuki Akihiro waited till the applause died down, and then walked to the sofa on the left of the stage.
A loud mechanical whir permeated the room.
Where the podium had been, the stage opened up like a sliding door, and a machine came out of the ground: an electro-magical wonder twice as big as a person. It was cuboidal and had blue glowing lines inlaid on its white surface. At 5 feet from its bottom was a cylindrical indentation, and to its right was a handprint sensor.
“The Speculo Incubation Machine,” murmured Akira.
An official wearing the blue suit of the SMC walked up the stage and stood behind the displaced podium.
“Please come up when your registration number is called.”
Akira glanced at the two slips of paper in his hand. Each had a name and a number: Akane Nishiyama, 358; Akira Nishiyama, 359. Sighing, he put them back into his pocket. This was going to take a while.
“What is it, Akane?”
“I feel slightly nervous. I mean, I am a full 2 years younger than the usual age for Synthesis. I’m worried that might become a barrier later on. I know I have good mana, but you know, Onii-chan…”
Seriously, so this is why you feel much sterner than usual, huh? Seeing his sister’s clenched knuckles turned white, Akira let out a chuckle and gave her a strong pat to the back.
“Ow, what was that for!”
“Stop worrying. You’re my genius little sister, after all. You’ll be fine,” Akira said, turning to face the front. “Our turn’s far away anyways. The process has just started.”
Just then, the official called, “Registrant number 1.”
“F-Furuya Hiroaki present!” announcing his name and eliciting a laugh from the crowd, a boy in the front row stumbled out his chair and stiffly walked to the front. In his hands was a black container inlaid with blue lines.
“Place your Concept Core’s container into the slot, then place your hand firmly onto the indent and send mana to the machine.”
With trembling hands, Hiroaki did as told with the container. He let out a breath and then put his sweaty palm against the indent. How the audience scrutinized his every action! Calming his screaming nerves, he willed mana to flow out of his hand.
There was no reaction. His heart skipped a beat. What if it didn’t form? Nothing was happening!
Another minute passed, but it felt longer. The only upside was the sweat trickling down kept him cool. But as if the hundreds of eyes he could feel, the machine began to whir and break his concentration… Wait, what?
He snapped open his eyes and saw the blue lines in the machine pulsing with a light that kept getting brighter. It was working!
Suddenly, Hiroaki felt a hand on his shoulder, and he looked behind him. It was the official.
“Excellent. You can let go now. With that much mana and the reaction it’s showing, it seems you’ve got a great result.”
Furuya Hiroaki let go. The machine’s light died out, and it spewed steam from the sides.
A minute passed before the machine split in two from top to bottom, opening up like a door. Inside was a 2 meter tall rectangular greatshield hovering in place. The whole shield was a seamless curved piece of glossy mahogany, and at the back was a golden bracer.
A whistle of appreciation naturally escaped from Akira’s lips as he leaned forward in his chair. Despite the flimsy nature of the shield’s material, it gave off an absolute atmosphere of impenetrability. Without even trying to hide his envy, he shifted his gaze to its owner. What great fortune he had, to be able to synthesize such an impressive piece of art! Comparing his situation to that of Hiroaki, he could only sigh as the disappointment inside of his heart inevitably grew.
The boy then walked towards his shield in a trance.
“Pretty soon the name and–Ah, there it is.”
Akira followed the pointed finger of the guard. He hadn’t noticed because of the shield, but there was a monitor on the inside of the wall. It’d just turned on, and it displayed a large letter B with some smaller words beneath it.
“ ‘Wooden Fortress–Yggdrasil’ is it?” muttered Akira, squinting a little.
On the stage he could make out Fuyura Hiroaki holding the shield. He looked as natural as natural could be. Then, Akira saw him “recall” the greatshield. It turned into a stream of mana and vanished into his body.
“B rank! A pretty good ranking straight off the bat. Congratulations. And it seems your Core Foundation is from the Norse grouping. Well done,” said the official. Akira could hear it well because the microphone was made with audio-capturing magic.
“Ah yes, you’ve probably never heard that before? It’s a term you’ll learn in advanced magic theory in whatever school you choose, doesn’t matter right now. Please go sit down. Next registrant! Number–”
As the boy was walking down the stage, Akira saw him take out his Speculo once more and gaze at the round gem in the center. It looked to him as if the boy was murmuring something to it, and he could’ve sworn he saw the shield’s gem shine brighter for a second.