How to Survive at the Academy - C.142

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End-of-Semester Evaluation (6)

“So you’re that student assistant, Anis Haylan. I’ve heard rumors that you’re much more efficient than many assistant professors.”

Anis pinched her nose due to the heavy scent of alcohol that pervaded the air. It was a habitual response, but she quickly realized it was rude to act in such a way in front of a senior professor. Although Anis regretted it for a moment, Professor Krayd did not seem to care at all.

Stumbling into the office reeking of alcohol, Krayd glanced briefly at the ‘corpse-like’ assistant professor, Claire.

By now, Claire’s corpse-like state was the norm, as Anis couldn’t even remember the last time she saw Claire looking anything but exhausted. With the overwhelming workload and her own research to conduct, even ten bodies would not have been enough for Claire.

“Ah, hello, Professor Krayd.”

“There’s no need for such a grim face.”

“Did, did I make such a face?”

Professor Krayd scratched his messy hair and surveyed the room.

A week had already passed since the end-of-semester exams were completed, and the weekend would mark the start of the holiday season.

“Well… The office will soon become quiet. Are you the only student assistant who came in? It is time to start preparing for the holidays, after all.”

Professor Krayd pulled a crumpled envelope from his pocket and hurled it onto the central assistant’s table.

“What is this?”

“This morning, a letter came from the central administration. It says the end-of-semester exam grade calculations are finished.”

“Is this the grade data?”

“Yes. It includes a list of the top 20 students from each year.”

Though it was the usual policy not to disclose students’ grades publicly, as a form of motivation, the top 20 scorers from each year would be posted on the outer wall of the student union every semester.

She was there to take care of organizing that list. Usually, a senior professor would handle this, but Krayd was not one to bother with such details.

“Sort through the list decently and post it neatly at the student union.”

“Alright, understood.”

Anis had a lighter workload anyway.

As the semester wound down, so had the workload in Assistant Professor Claire’s office.

It was a rare respite. With Claire sleeping at her desk, there was no one to give any significant work orders, so Anis had been left with odd jobs like sorting out outdated documents.

“Hmmm…”

Anis picked up the envelope Krayd had tossed aside and swallowed hard.

Although she excelled in written scores thanks to her meticulous nature, her practical grades still left much to be desired.

She wanted to earn high marks and scholarships, but her grades were always just shy of the mark.

She pondered the slim hope for this semester, only to be shattered by the stark reminder.

“Ah, right, there was no mention of your name, Anis.”

Her heart sank before she could even start looking through the documents. When Anis glared at him, Krayd nonchalantly shrugged and began rolling a cigarette.

“What can you do? It will only break your heart to check it with your own eyes.”

“Ugh…”

Disheartened, Anis sighed deeply. She hadn’t held high hopes anyway.

What she was most curious about now was Ed Rothtaylor’s grades.

Ed, who had recently distinguished himself in practical exams, was rapidly advancing. His reputation went far beyond that of a hard-working student; he had achieved significant practical accomplishments.

He was the only student considered likely to replace Yenika Faelover, who had been the steadfast first place in the third year.

Anis, too, was quite curious, as among the third-years, this was a subject of considerable interest.

One of the best parts of being a student assistant was having first access to such information.

*Sigh…*

It wasn’t even her own grade, yet Anis felt nervous all over again.

She had a certain fondness for both Yenika and Ed.

Considering that one of them wouldn’t make it to the top spot, a pang of sadness settled in her heart.

Nonetheless, Anis’s internal scales tipped slightly more towards Ed.

Yenika was a dear friend, kind and diligent. The bond they shared was precious, but in Ed’s relentless effort, Anis saw her own reflection.

Anis understood the value of the life she had fought to maintain. There must be a reward for such effort.

Yenika’s efforts were not to be discounted either. Her life wasn’t easy and certainly not carefree.

However, the texture of her struggle seemed inherently different when juxtaposed with Ed’s.

“Let’s see…”

After taking a deep breath, Anis opened the envelope that Professor Krayd had handed her.

She took out the stack of papers inside, and upon glancing at the top of the front page, a rush of excitement flushed her face.

However, as she reviewed the detailed content, Anis’s gaze gradually cooled.

* * *

[Behold these wings, Master Ed! When fully spread out like this… they could even cover your entire upper body! Bwahahaha, bwahaha! BWAAHAHAHAHAHAAACK!]

Muk cackled loudly before a cough choked him mid-laughter.

Muk had just undergone a metamorphosis to become a mid-ranking spirit the previous week. Meaning, he had been at it nonstop for seven days.

[If you’re too rowdy, it might strain Master Ed’s mana.]

[Oh, is that so…! For now, I shall refrain from shooting fire. I got too carried away! Thank you for the advice, Lady Leshia…!]

[It’s about time you stopped using such formal language, we’re both mid-ranking spirits now.]

[Uh, y-yes…?]

Dusk at the academy, on a bench to one side.

Having finished all my academic duties for the day, I was sitting on the bench, enjoying a simple meal before returning to the camp.

Today marked the closing ceremony of a semester. With no more classes left, I wouldn’t need to visit the faculty building until after the holidays.

As such, I wanted to finish all of my business there today.

Traveling to and from the northern forest camp where I reside was a decent distance, and I wasn’t keen on frequent trips just for minor tasks.

[Me, middle-ranking… I guess that makes me equal to Lady Leshia!]

[That’s correct.]

[However, I just can’t switch to informal speech all of a sudden… I’m not ready. Can I slowly transition, please…?]

[……]

Muk was sitting on the back of the bench, fluttering his wings, while Leshia lay on the marble floor, licking her paws. Watching their playful exchange about honorifics reminded me of the strange tension between Belle Mayar and myself, strangely affecting my mood.

[Don’t get so worked up over nothing. Besides, Ed’s mana isn’t what it used to be. We can handle two middle-ranking spirits, so stop making a fuss.]

Amidst all of this, Merilda was flipping through a thick book in a corner of the opposite bench, snickering. Something about her smugness was irksome.

“It’s more than enough to handle two middle-ranking spirits, but you’re a bit of a burden. I wonder why you prefer sticking with me rather than Lucy.”

As I said this, Merilda, in her human form, squinted and tossed her head back.

[Lucy does have a generous reserve of mana but hardly goes out to the faculty building. I like to visit the library often. If I follow her, it’s always this uncomfortable body walking to and fro to borrow books. And the same goes for returning them.]

“Did you already finish reading all those books you borrowed last week?”

[Art history books may look bulky with many images, but the content isn’t as substantial as you’d think.]

Continuing to snap through the pages, she hummed a little tune. I thought about what more to say but decided to simply let it be.

[The sky’s turning red; looks like sunset isn’t far off, Master Ed. Shouldn’t you finish your backlog of work?]

Leshia asked in her composed manner.

“Right. I’ll tidy up after eating and get to work. I have to apply for the next semester’s academic scholarship at Triss Hall, and Professor Flurban said I could take any leftover textbooks, so I need to stop by his research room.”

[It sounds like you have a lot of tasks ahead.]

“I have plenty to do when I get back. Now that exams are over, it’s time to prepare to return home. I’ll need to arrange a carriage and confirm who’s accompanying me.”

This holiday would be an important turning point in my life, or so I firmly believed.

The more thorough the preparation, the better.

[When do you plan to meet with Miss Yenika? Aren’t you both traveling home together?]

“We agreed to meet at the student union after settling our affairs.”

I began to clear up after the meal.

“This semester’s grades were announced.”

Letting out an inadvertent sigh, it dawned on me that I too had been feeling somewhat anxious.

* * *

Student Academic Records Mid-Year Summary (Top 20)

– 1st Year Ranking –

1. Wade Callamore (top scorer)

2. Joseph Whitepeltz (second place)

3. Dennis Beniams

4. Claude Belarus

5. Tanya Rothtaylor

– 2nd Year Ranking –

1. Lucy Mayrill (top scorer)

2. Lortelle Keheln (second place)

3. Clevius Nortondale

4. Zix Effelstein

5. Taely McLore

– 3rd Year Ranking –

1. Ed Rothtaylor (top scorer)

2. Yenika Faelover (second place)

3. Drake Legers

4. Atalante

5. Ceres Kemalleron

– 4th Year Ranking –

1. Zix Elfellan (top scorer)

2. Trissiana Bloomriver (second place)

3. Dorothy Whitepeltz

4. Gluckt

5. Patricia Bloomriver

… As twilight fell on the student union building.

Against the backdrop of a sky dyed red, the majestic Nail Hall stood surrounded by students.

The list of top 20 students posted by the academy was now in plain view.

Armed with all sorts of documents and books, I entered the entrance of the student union only to find the eyes of the students already focused on me.

I could tell by the murmurs that circulated that I had somehow intuitively grasped the underlying structure of Sylvania’s grading system.

The change of the top student’s name in the rankings was a rarity. And the moment I confirmed that my name had ascended to the position of top third-year student, I closed my eyes tightly.

“Jeez, Ed Rothtaylor really snagged the top spot for third-years…!”

“Honestly, I think he could do it. He’s been working incredibly hard…”

“Since when was the top spot given out so easily to just anyone?”

“―――”

“―――”

As I closed my eyes and sought inner peace, the murmuring voices around me gradually subsided. Memories rewound in my mind. The years of gritting my teeth against an unbelievable situation, the struggles of the past, coated over the darkness of my eyelids.

The years when everywhere I went I was met with disdainful glares, when my body was frail and my talent modest, and all I could rely on were willpower and effort. Those days flickered past like a swiftly flashing light.

After enduring all those trials and overcoming them, I had finally climbed to the rank of top student in the year.

It took an extra year and seven months. During that time, I hardly ever had a proper night’s sleep.

Some would say the success was achieved in an improbably short amount of time, others might argue that the long endurance itself was unbelievable.

Whether it was long or short doesn’t matter. Either way, I endured, I produced results and now I boast the highest grades among the third-years.

An inexplicable lump formed in my throat. I had resolved to stoically accept any outcome, but when the fruits of my labor were thrust before my eyes, waves of emotion seemed to overcome me.

What can I do? I too am human. The surge of emotions is unavoidable.

Barely opening my eyes, I adjusted the load nestled in my arms and checked the document again on the wall. No matter how many times I looked, the name at the very top of the third-year list was Ed Rothtaylor.

“Hoo…”

I exhaled deeply.

Had there ever been a time after arriving in this world when I felt such profound and vast satisfaction? Perhaps only when I first completed my cabin.

With a heart filled with swelling emotions, I read the details of the announcement.

The specific grades of top students were listed beneath each name. The gap between my grade and Yenika’s was quite large. It was unexpected.

My grades were accurately tallied without error. But the moment I turned to look at Yenika’s grades… I felt a strange dissonance.

I furrowed my brow in a frown.

“Ed…! Ed took the top spot…!”

Then, from behind, Yenika emerged, pushing through the students. The gazes of those around us instantly converged on us. Lately, I seem to attract attention in a curious way.

“Euaaa~ I ended up second… Ed won after all…!”

Yenika, hopping from one foot to the other as she approached, had a look of relief somehow.

“Yenika.”

“Huh, yes?”

“I have something to tell you. Let’s go somewhere a bit more private.”

I simply grabbed Yenika’s arm and moved away from the crowd. The buzz of voices followed, but I wasn’t in the mood to pay attention.

“Ed? Hmm? Ed?”

Only after we had moved away from the crowd did I let go of Yenika’s arm.

Yenika fidgeted nervously with her fingers, giving off an air of tension.

“Why did you do it?”

There was no need for roundabout talk. I asked straightforwardly.

After reading the detailed grades, I felt a strong sensation of unease.

Yenika’s grades in subjects she was proficient in, like Elemental Studies and Monster Ecology, were suspiciously low. While it’s challenging to influence grades in practical tests that assess actual resonance ability, written exams allow for ‘adjustment’ of scores. Especially in subjects where you have extensive knowledge.

“You let me take the top spot, didn’t you?”

When asked, Yenika hiccupped softly and trembled. She was a girl who definitely couldn’t lie.

“Did it show that much…?”

“Why did you do it.”

“Well… I was ineligible for the top spot scholarship benefits due to discipline from before. I couldn’t even enter the Ophelius Hall…”

Yenika continued to fiddle with her fingers, her cheeks flushed as she spoke.

“Even though I was banned from Ophelius Hall too, at least I can receive scholarship benefits…”

“I thought I needed to do my best considering there are people back home cheering me on…”

“Well, being second is still impressive. And… I felt the weight of that expectation might be too much. After some thought lying down at the camp, I felt it would be alright to let go of the top spot.”

Speaking so, Yenika trailed off. Then she flashed a weak smile and added,

“Your grades were good enough for the top spot, Ed. It felt right that you take it for our third year.”

I took a moment to breathe in after her words.

I had thought the top spot was the result of my undivided efforts. The overwhelming elation was because I believed as much.

But the truth was I had been given it by Yenika’s concession.

If Yenika had taken the written exams properly, it was uncertain whether I could have matched her.

My grades turned out higher than expected. Though what the outcome would have been, I’ll never know.

In any case, it’s a thing of the past now.

I had so longed for the top spot, not just as proof of my efforts, but for the benefits that came with it.

Those benefits were now mine thanks to Yenika’s consideration. That’s all that mattered, really.

“Thank you,” I said quietly.

My expression, my tone were as usual. Without any apparent change, I sincerely thanked Yenika. In such times, it’s important to be more mature.

“Your kindness helped, Yenika. It wouldn’t have been an easy decision to step down from the top spot, given the judgment from others…”

“No, it wasn’t like that…! You always work the hardest, Ed…!”

“Still, I’m grateful. I won’t forget this favor.”

With my words, Yenika’s expression soured. Detecting something off, she simply titled her head quizzically.

“E-Ed…?”

As Yenika was about to ask her question,

― Swish.

“You two have been here.”

With a haughty yet smooth voice. That voice I’ve heard plenty in Professor Claire’s research office.

Anis arrived, brushing her voluminous gray hair back, appearing from behind the bench. It seemed she had been looking for us for a while.

“Anis…? What brings you here…?”

“We planned to go to Laplace Bakery today to celebrate the end of term with Claire, remember? Yenika is always so forgetful.”

“Today? Did we plan that?”

Anis strode up, passed by me, seized Yenika’s arm firmly, yet remembered to greet me.

“Hello, Ed.”

“Did you finish with the office work?”

“Yes, I did. Sorry, but I need to borrow Yenika for a bit. She seems to have forgotten our previous engagement.”

With a bemused Yenika, whom Anis was tugging along,

“Oh, right.”

Before disappearing with Yenika, Anis paused to say with the sunset behind her.

“Congratulations on becoming the top student.”

“Thanks.”

And like that, Anis… whisked Yenika away.

“……”

The sun set in the west. What was early evening felt now like true night was imminent.

Sitting on a bench nearby, I leaned back, hands resting on the bench, and looked up at the sky.

I needed to check on things I had to do upon returning to the camp. The thought of summer vacation prompted the realization that there was still plenty left to do.

Then an inexplicable sigh leaked out.

The red sky was terribly beautiful.

* * *

“Why did you do it?”

“… Huh?”

“Yenika, was it a mistake?”

Walking briskly, Anis held onto the arm tightly. The unnaturally firm grip was painful, but Yenika couldn’t bring herself to say it hurt.

Dragging Yenika along for a while, Anis finally stopped and sat her down by a flowerbed. Anis looked down and chose her words carefully.

She hadn’t known Ed Rothtaylor for very long, but somewhere along the way, she started to identify herself with him. Self-objectification was one of Anis’s specialties.

She felt his efforts had to be rewarded. Seeing the calculated grades, she realized that even if Yenika hadn’t conceded, Ed might have taken the top spot nevertheless. Though now it remains an unknown possibility.

Knowing this brought out an involuntary sigh from Anis.

“It’s not such a serious matter. What bad intentions could you possibly have, Yenika? You did it because you like Ed and want him to do well.”

“When you put it that bluntly, it makes me feel… umm…”

“But remember how Ed had his jaws clenched, striving for the top those past days?”

Anis pressed firmly on Yenika’s forehead to emphasize her point and left it at that.

Yenika, with a reddened face, could only meet Anis’s gaze.

Then, she imagined herself in Ed’s shoes.

How he spared no time, not even his sleeping hours, and made every moment count with his relentless efforts.

The shock he must have felt realizing his achievement of top spot was merely ‘conceded’ to him. The emotions Ed must have experienced at that moment.

Good intentions don’t always lead to good outcomes.

However, Ed had responded maturely with gratitude to Yenika’s blunder.

After considering this, Yenika felt as if her breath was taken away.

“…….”

“See, Yenika. You need to understand.”

With the sun setting, Anis sat beside Yenika at the flowerbed.

“Being in a high position, being endlessly pleasant doesn’t always equate to good.”

As full summer emerged, the encroaching darkness was deeper than usual.

Sitting quietly by the flowerbed, watching the sun disappear, Yenika slumped in realization.

Anis didn’t add any unnecessary words, merely sitting silently beside her.

“…….”

“…….”

Thus, the end-of-term exams drew to a close.

Top of the third year, Ed Rothtaylor.

The weight of that name felt heavier than usual… and the two girls sat side by side, just gazing at the fading sun.

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