The sound of my ringing alarm woke me from my sleep, and I let out a groan as I reached over to stop its insistent noise. If the damn thing didn't work so well, I might have broken it by now. Getting out of bed, I quickly dressed in my usual getup of jeans, a t-shirt, and a jacket before heading to the bathroom.
I splashed some cold water over my face to get the sleep out of my eyes and stared at my reflection in the mirror. My wild black hair was a mess and partially covered my violet eyes. Almost without thought, I focused on my inner-self, and the pool of aether swirling around in my chest. Unlike most of the people in my class, I'd yet to reach the first level of aether infusion and form my first core and absorb some essence. My aunt had assured me I would, but sometimes I wondered, not for long though, not today, I had a lesson to get to, and I had more reason today to not be late to class.
I rushed down the stairs, drank down some water, and grabbed a piece of fruit, forgoing my usual breakfast of coffee, and porridge with aether dust. At this point, my body couldn't handle any more aether and was in a sort of limbo state, at least that's what my aunt had told me. Now all I could do was wait for the aether to fully fuse with my body and mind, taking me to the first level of infusion and giving my body the ability to hold my first core. The first level of aether infusion was just the starting point and while its main purpose was to give a body the right amount of strength and power to hold a core, it also gave a person increased physical and mental abilities.
I wanted that, I needed that, but I had to wait.
It didn't take long to get to the academy with my eagerness. The academy was a pair of buildings that had survived the calamity mostly intact and had apparently been part of a larger set called a campus a long time ago, not that any of that mattered now, but history was something everyone was taught in West Vale.
I headed towards the largest building and made my way to my classroom. Aether studies was by far my favorite class, as it was all about aether, aether beasts, and anything an aspiring arcanist would need to know.
Leyton and Thomas were waiting for me at the back of the class and Thomas shot me a surprised look as I sat down beside him.
"You're usually not here this early, that excited?"
"Just eager to know what Luten's got in store for us."
While Leyton was Lanky and tanned, in contrast, Thomas was bulky and shorter than most. They'd often been compared to elves and dwarves from fiction, not that they appreciated it. The professions they were aspiring for didn't help that image.
Leyton leaned forward. "I heard we're gonna be going hunting."
"I doubt that," Thomas said. "Only about half the class has their first cores and none of us have ever fought an actual aether beast."
"Not alone," Leyton said, exasperated. "With some of the town hunters and Luten. I heard one of my da's friends talking about it."
I frowned. If that was true then not having my first core yet was even worse. What if something happened, and I was stuck defenseless, not that I couldn't fight, but a normal human wouldn't stand a chase against even the lowest level of aether beast.
Thomas must have noticed. "Still no progress?"
I shook my head. "No, Aunt Jenna says I just have to wait. Apparently the longer it takes the more solid my foundation, but I think she's just trying to make me feel better if I'm being honest."
"I think I heard something like that before," Leyton said. "But even if it's a lie it doesn't matter. You'll get your core soon. For me it happened out of nowhere, I was just sitting at home then bam, my body froze and I had to focus to make sure I formed my first core properly. Lucky for me my da was there."
"Same thing for me," Thomas said. "I was in the forge when it happened. My da was real proud of me, had essence ready for me and everything."
Thomas and Leyton were both apprentices to their fathers. Leyton was an aspiring hunter, not that his attitude would make you think so since the term skirt chaser suited him more. Thomas on the other hand wanted to become an aether smith, using his aether along with regular smith techniques to craft better than normal weapons and armor. I didn't need to guess about what type of affinity the essence he'd absorbed had. It was either fire, metal, or magma and since magma was rarer, it was probably fire or metal.
I turned to Leyton. "I never asked but what affinity is your first core?"
Leyton smiled and leaned in to whisper, "My da got lucky and got me storm essence from a bolt dove core he got last year when the caravans came in and he was saving it for me."
That was something to be careful about. Storm affinity wasn't rare everywhere, at least, that's what we'd been told, but here in West Vale, it was. I felt a pang of jealousy but quickly pushed it away, Leyton was a friend and I should be happy for him, not jealous, and even so, my eyes were set on the metal or wind affinity, despite my aunts attempt to get me to go life affinity for my first core, and follow in her footsteps as a healer.
"All right class, good to see everyone made in on time," Professor Luten said as he walked in. He was probably one of the oldest people in the town, but despite his grey hair and wrinkled face, he still had the body of an arcanist and was one of the few second-core arcanists in West Vale and was apparently at the fourth level of aether infusion.
"Oh, Aiden, even you're here on time for once," Luten noted with a smile and I gave him a blank stare as a few gazes turned to me. I Ignored most of them and grit my teeth when I glanced to my left to see Jason Hays smirking at me. I shook my head slightly, not bothering to give him a reaction. As the son of the mayor, Jason had lived a privileged life, not that I hadn't as the nephew of the town's best healer, but I didn't shove it people's faces and use the rank of my parent to get away with things, not that it worked often for him. His father had remained mayor because he stuck to the rules and if he bent them too much for his son, which most people didn't like, he'd be replaced.
Even so, Jason could use a good beat down.
"As I said yesterday, I have a surprise for all of you," He said, motioning to the door with his left hand. The door opened and in came a group of men and women in leather armor with various weapons.
So, Leyton had been right then.
"As many of you are beginning to form your first cores, you are inevitably going to be thinking about your futures, and many of you will want to venture out beyond West Vale or become hunters. Today we will be heading into wilds outside of West Vale, where you will witness battles between arcanists and aether beasts, and some of you will even get to face some, with supervision of course."
There was excited chatter as people smiled and whispered to one another. Even I had to admit I was eager to see an arcanist and aether beast fight.
"Now we will be going over a few things as we travel out of the town, but first does anyone have any questions?"
A girl in the front raised a hand. "Professor, isn't this a bit too dangerous, can four hunters really protect all of us?"
Luten chuckled. "Susan, we're only going to be going to the outskirts where the weakest beasts live, and these hunters are all peak first core and have faced greater threats than what we'll be seeing today, not to mention that you have me as well, I'm a second core arcanist. As long as you listen and do as you are told, then all will be fine, and remember there will come a time for those who wish to venture out where you will have to face these types of dangers. Today is just a taster."
He quickly got everyone into groups, paring me with Thomas, Leyton, Jeremy, a scrawny freckled teen, and Misty which was a surprise. Misty was probably the most attractive girl in the class and once upon a time we'd been quite close but things had changed and we'd gradually become distant, in fact, Misty was distant with everyone and usually kept to herself. Several attempts from Jason to hit on her had failed miserably, not that he'd stopped. He assumed the daughter of the richest merchant in West Vale and son of the town mayor were meant for each other. Not that I could really blame him for his continued attempts. Misty's platinum blond hair and emerald eyes matched well with her attractive features and her very well-endowed body drew the eyes of everyone in the class. Perhaps if I wasn't so obsessed with the arcane then maybe I would've taken a chance and asked her out.
With our groups sorted, we headed out of the academy, every two groups led by a hunter.