Anfey leaned against a tree trunk with a book in his hand, appearing to be at ease. He was feeling exceptionally good. Saul had arrived at the palace to meet the emperor of Maho, Yolanthe. He had quickly returned and left a few words for Ernest, and then he left again without seeing Anfey.
The next morning at dawn, a large group of people left the Maho Empire's Sacred City, including Archmage Saul and Prince Granden. The two men lead a third of the court mages towards the northern front.
The Alisen Empire was menacing, as they frequently placed their army by the border, increasing tension. When the other major power in the Alisen military, the Dark Moon Magic Legion, appeared, the balance was shattered, and Yolanthe was forced to react. He sent his mages out first, led by Archmage Saul, to gain an advantage over the Alisen mages.
Who was the happiest about this? Anfey, of course. Saul had left, and it was unlikely he would return anytime soon. He was at the center of the conflict, and he couldn't afford to leave the front line. The Dark Moon Magic Legion had the famous Fire Mage Newyoheim. Even with Saul there, Maho was still on the weaker side; should Saul leave, he would be abandoning hundreds of thousands of soldiers to their deaths.
Anfey knew that a war between two equally powerful empires would take a long time. There would be standoffs, skirmishes, and melees, ending in full-scale battles. This was the usual routine of war. No one would sit down at a poker table just to use all of their trump cards in the first round. Maho wouldn't, nor would Alisen. Anfey could tell there were something off from Ernest's actions. He didn't leave with Saul despite his hatred for Alisen, instead staying to take care of Anfey. He was always practicing with his sword, asking Anfey about his strange ways with the sword. Anfey knew he was waiting for the finale.
Of course, the least happy person was Niya. She had tried gathering her friends to form a small squadron to follow Granden to the frontline, but was rejected. She had gone to Saul but hadn't received any favorable news. After that, she was isolated by her friends. As the daughter of an archmage, all of her friends were children of nobility as well, and no one wanted to see their children go to war. Some kids were locked in their homes, while others were sent back to their fiefdoms. In the end, Niya had lost most of her friends, and her unhappiness was evident even when she went out on her walks. On top of that, she had to face Anfey every day at home. Although Anfey had never blamed her for anything, she felt too embarrassed to face him. She was in obvious pain.
Anfey closed his book, and with a flip of his hand the book disappeared. It had only been a few days, but he had already mastered the usage of dimensional rings.
As the saying goes, hard work could make up for inadequacies. However, hard work could only take one so far, and couldn't turn inadequacies into advantages. A hard working genius was way out of the league of someone who simply worked hard.
Anfey couldn't say he was a genius, but he was a brilliant man. More importantly, he was a hard worker. As an apprentice, he only spent two days to master the art of using a dimensional ring.
He stretched out his left hand, and another book appeared out of thin air. This was how he learned. Whenever he encountered something he could not understand, he switched to a new book, hoping to find something that could help him understand the other book.
"I knew you would be here." A young woman with long, hazel hair walked into the forest.
"Doris," Anfey said, smiling. "Why aren't you in class?" Doris was the young woman that helped him picked out the books in the library. They'd met a few times, and had gotten to know each other better. They weren't exactly friends yet, but every time they saw each other they would strike up a conversation.
"I'm about to have an exam," she said. "I thought I would take a walk to distract myself a bit." Leaning against the tree, Doris said, "I really shouldn't have shown you this place. This was my land, but now you've taken it."
"Let's split it," Anfey said, drawing a groove in the ground with a branch. "This half is mine, that half is yours."
"Man," Doris said, laughing. "You're really something."
"Why don't you go to the palace and tell our emperor 'this half is mine, that half is yours'?"
"You sure I'll come back alive?"
"Who knows?" Doris smiled. "You softie. Taking my land without remorse."
"Hey, hey, who bullied you? You're a mid-level mage, and I'm just an apprentice."
Upon hearing "mid-level mage," Doris' smile disappeared. She rested her face in her hands and stared into the distance.
"The upcoming exam must be stressful," Anfey said.
"Of course it is," Doris replied. "My entire life is on the line here."
"You wanna talk about it?"
"No, it's ok. You wouldn't understand." Doris shook her head.
Anfey didn't say anything more. He wasn't that familiar with Doris; if he pressed on, he would only make the situation more awkward.
"When can I be as carefree as you?" Doris sighed and asked.
"Me? Carefree?" Anfey asked, almost laughing. He was merely good at hiding his own emotions and stress. Ever since arriving in this world, he had been building his knowledge and power. He was far from carefree.
Anfey didn't say anything else. He put the book back into his ring, straightened himself, and was planning to ask where Doris got the idea that he was carefree.
"That's your ring?" Doris asked, stunned, having noticed his ring for the first time.
"Didn't you say… you're just Headmaster Steger's servant?"
"I am, why?" Anfey asked, confused.
"Steger's ring might not be as good as yours," Doris said, frowning. "Tell me, who are you?"
"What?" Anfey stared at the ring absently. "I really am just his servant."
"You're still lying," Doris said, angered.
"I'm Archmage Saul's apprentice," Anfey said. This information was already widespread in the school, so Doris would find out sooner or later.
"Saul? Archmage Saul?" Doris gasped.
"Then… are you Headmaster Steger's servant?"
"Because I was supposed to study here, but I'm just an apprentice. If I really became a student I could unnecessarily hurt Archmage Saul's reputation, so I'm just studying with Headmaster Steger for now. I'll start studying magic in the academy after I become a real mage."
"Interesting," Doris said, her eyes filled with envy. "You're lucky!"
Anfey grinned but didn't say anything.
"Even so, you should not show off so much," Doris suddenly said.
"Don't you understand how valuable that is?" Doris asked, agitated. She held out her hand. "This is mine. You know how many things mine can hold? It can only hold up to five books that size."
"Five?" Anfey frowned. "That few?"
"Few? This cost me five years of my savings. Go around the school, at least a third of the students don't even have rings."
Anfey lowered his gaze and looked at the ring, feeling it grow heavy on his finger. Even the ring Saul bought for him at Tumen was ten times better than Doris', so how much did this one cost? How much trouble did Saul go through to acquire this?
"They know you're Archmage Saul's apprentice, and they won't do much to you, but there are people who don't know. Seeing an apprentice like you wearing a ring like that, what would they do? You're looking for trouble."
Anfey nodded. He knew what Doris meant when she pointed out how expensive his ring was. Sometimes things would be this interesting. Saul wouldn't brag about how much his gifts were worth, as he didn't like that. Ernest thought Saul was right, and Ernest had forgotten to warn Anfey. The other students were too busy being jealous, so no one told him. So there Anfey was, walking around with a gift some people could never afford. The authors of the books would never brag about how much their rings would hold, either. Anfey had thought that the rings were like cellphones in this world. He thought that, even though some people had better models, everyone had one.
"There, for you," Anfey found the ring he got in Tumen and handed it to Doris.
"I can't have this."
"Take it," Anfey said. "For some reason this one stopped working after I got the new one. There's no use keeping it."
"Of course," Doris scolded. "You can only use one ring at a time. If you could use multiple rings at the same time, your ring wouldn't be so precious."
"Good. Take it."
"No," Doris said, her face suddenly became serious. "Anfey, if you still want to be my friend, don't make me take this."
"Alright," Anfey said, shaking his head. He could tell Doris genuinely didn't want to take the ring. Maybe it was Doris' personal moral code, maybe it was not, but either way he didn't want to put Doris in a bad place.