And here's the fifth chapter of the week! I'll be doing one more release tomorrow because there is one chapter that's still left in the queue before the days I started the patron. Since I finally got some more time recently, it's about time I released it.
The span of ten years passed swiftly as the wind. Lorist slowly stepped into Dawn Academy, looking at the various familiar sights while soaking in nostalgia. For the rest of the day, Count Kenmays, Baron Felim and Baron Shazin would be bringing their female family members to shop around at Rotary Street, the most prominent shopping street in the city. The three Dinas had also tagged along, whereas Howard had been allowed leave to spend some time with his fiancee. Lorist refused the offer to join in and said that he had other affairs to deal with, leaving the guards with the three Dinas while he left alone to visit Academy Head Levins and Blademaster Claude.
What made Lorist wonder was how the academy did not change one bit from how it looked ten years ago. He recalled that the glass production method that he gave to the academy head to auction off proceeded successfully according to a newspaper he had read. The academy should have received lots of money as a result. But why did the academy not expand one bit? It had remained the same all this time.
It was then when Lorist realized that the academy that used to be crowded and busy was currently empty like a ghost town. Seeing people dressed in student attire and wearing a badge was uncommon at best. Even if there were people, they would merely pass through in a hurry, making the academy seem all the more empty than usual.
The greyish-green tower looked more worn down as time passed. Even though it was still technically complete, Lorist felt that it was barely holding on, ready to collapse at any moment.
Academy Head Levins was incredibly surprised at Lorist's visit. The 70-year-old man already had liver spots manifesting on his face, with the condition of his body gradually deteriorating. Lorist was dressed in a long-sleeved shirt in the mildly warm weather of the 7th month, but Academy Head Levins merely sat atop a chair wrapped in a fine-wool blanket.
"Little Locke, I didn't think you would come all the way here to visit me," Levins said with obvious effort as he pulled on the rope beside him, causing a chubby maidservant to show up, whom he instructed to boil some water and call for Blademaster Claude to come over.
"There's no need for such pleasantries, academy head. Why has your health degraded so quickly? I remember seeing you just two years back and you looked rather vigorous back then," said Lorist.
"Well, this is what happens when one ages. It's about time I return to the heavenly kingdom of Singwa," Academy Head Levins joked, "Little Locke, I bet you didn't expect Dawn Academy to be closing down soon..."
"What did you say?!" Lorist exclaimed with shock, "Academy head, what's going on? Is the academy lacking funds? If that's the case, I can sponsor the academy and help it persevere through this trial."
"Money? Hehe, Dawn Academy has more money than anything else. The academy has never amassed such a large fortune before in its history. The treasuries underground are filled with gold," Levins said with a chuckle that carried with it a tinge of frustration and regret, "Little Locke, the glass production method and recipe you have given us netted us almost two million gold FOrdse, enough for the development of the academy for the next decade to come. I had wanted to make Dawn Academy one of the top three academies in the whole of Morante, but the coming of the War of Glass and the implementation of the nobility system brought with them unpredictable consequences. The Forde Trade Union used to be deeply entwined with the tens of nations that neighbored it. We touted freedom, openness, and peace, that caused guests from all over to flock here and enrich us. The academy sector at Morante was the haven for scholars...
"But the implementation of the nobility system and the War of Glass destroyed everything. This is an unprecedented and historical setback. Not only did the Union betray the ideals of its founder, Duke Forde Morante, by splitting its subjects into multiple classes of citizens, it also implemented the nobility system which was nothing but divisive.
"Even though the Union has become the nation with the largest territory on the continent, even larger than what the Krissen Empire had been at its peak, the Moranites who were cheering gleefully didn't realize the significance of that which they have lost!
"Formerly, the Union was allies with its neighbors, allowing its trade routes to span nation after nation. All the other nations were welcoming to us merchants and admired our proud history of resisting the Krissen Empire for more than a century. But now, we have taken the place of the Krissen Empire and stretched our filthy hands towards the allies that had helped us out in the past! Broken relationships and trade routes soon followed with the inevitable treatment of the Union as a common enemy by the neighboring nations!
"During the last month, there was a fool at the council of the Union that pushed for even more expansion of our military power so that we can use the might of the Union forces to crush the nations that cut off our trade routes. He said that since money isn't working, we should just use our fists. To think that there would be people who actually supported his motion...
"This is the result of letting merchants run a nation. They lack foresight; their tunnel vision only see the short term profits in front of them. Even if they don the luxurious mantle of nobility, their bones still reek of the stench of vultures seeped in rot and decay. All that is reflected in their eyes are gold coins. They actually think that the Union has finally achieved superpower status without thinking about how long they can keep this situation up! Cough... cough..." Perhaps because of the intensity of his emotions, the old man broke into a coughing fit.
Lorist hurriedly gave his back some patting to ease the old man's coughing.
Academy Head Levins had Lorist push his wheelchair towards the window before he spent some effort to open it and said, "Little Locke, back during the year when you were an instructor here, our academy was so merry. Swarms of people went from one place to another, filled with the vigor of life. Do you recall how many students we had back then?"
Lorist gave it some thought and replied, "I think Charade told me before that more than nine thousand students were registered here at the academy."
"That's right, the students were that numerous back then. It was so noisy that my head would hurt. Funny how that memory is actually pleasant to me now," said Levins as he closed his eyes to reminisce on days long gone.
After a few moments, Lorist heard the old man whisper, "Little Locke, did you konw... Last year, there were only 1400 or so registered students, with only 74 of them being new entrants..."
"What?! There's no way that's possible!" said Lorist. After all, Dawn Academy was ranked number eight among the other academies. There was no way there would be so few people enrolling.
"I forgot to tell you one main thing. All 74 students are citizens of the Union, with more than half of them being Moranites. Also, the total enrollment count of all academies ranked first to third is 325. Our Dawn Academy has fared quite well relative to them. Do you remember Saint Marceau Academy? They only got eight new students last year."
"What you're saying is..." mused Lorist as he began to grasp the situation.
"Last year, of the 27 academies in the academy sector of Morante, four shut their doors for good. Eleven others followed suit during the 5th month of this year. I believe that our Dawn Academy will be joining them during the next year... Sigh..." said the academy head exasperatedly as he sat back down.
"There are no more students," mumbled Lorist.
"That's right. There are no more students, meaning that academies are no longer necessary. During the joint academy council this year, it was suggested that only the three top-ranked academies be allowed to operate, with the other academies absorbed into them. That's why, whether Dawn Academy has money or not, we won't be able to continue operating. Us shutting down next year is already certain. Without new students, there is no point for the academy to exist," said Levins with a bitter laugh.
The academy sector of Morante has always been accepting of people from all over the continent. No matter the nation, as long as one fulfilled the admission criteria, one would be allowed to enroll to further their studies. In all 27 academies of Morante, the students from the Union itself amounted to less than ten percent of the student population; most of the student body comprised of people from all over the continent. Naturally, most of them were descendants of nobles or rich families, but there were quite a number of studious commoners that worked and studied at the same time. It was because of them that the academy sector of Morante gained so much prestige as the holy land for learning.
"Would the Union actually become a new superpower with just a single War of Glass and the implementation of the nobility system? What a load of bull! All I know is that it's ruined the academy sector, all 24 academies within it! Nobody ever comes here to study again. The trade routes are no more and the various faiths are deteriorating. No one wants to come to Morante ever again. The various students we have raised are now enemies with the Union.
"Did you know, Little Locke? Back when the Union's army forcefully annexed the lands of the seven other nations, the Moranites actually cheered to no end while the citizens of the occupied nations cried and despaired. At that time, even more students within the academies from many other nations packed up and left the Union...
"With the war over, all participants received benefits. The Union organized a marvelous entitlement ceremony and handed out titles and dominions. But nobody was aware of the fact that the Union had already stood on the opposing side of the nations surrounding us. Nobody would ever consider the Union as an ally ever again. Instead, they would ally up among themselves and resist the Union like we did against the Krissen Empire so many years ago.
"I had refused the title of the baron the Union entitled to me, as well as the dominion at Callisto Hills. My greatest wish is to make this academy flourish and become one of the best the continent has to offer. However, it is all no more. What use would a title or dominion be?" complained the academy head.
"Academy head, this is all my fault. I shouldn't have gave you the two letters to auction off. If that didn't happen, the War of Glass would never have occurred. I was the one who has doomed Dawn Academy," said Lorist with deep regret. There was no worse thing he could do than to ruin the lifelong dream of a dying old man.
Back then, he had given the letters to be auctioned off to cause friction between the Union and the Teribo kingdom and turn the Union's sights away from the territory that used to belong to the Krissen Empire. That would also allow his household to develop Silowas with lesser pressure. After all, facing only the Chikdor Merchant Guild was far easier than facing the whole Union.
Never would he have expected that the two letters would cause such a huge chain reaction, resulting in an all-out war between the Union and the Teribo kingdom. Even though most of it was due to the simple-mindedness of Teribo VII, who involved seven other nations in a war of eradication that could have been settled diplomatically, that result was far beyond what Lorist had predicted. Currently, Dawn Academy was naught but an unfortunate casualty of all that had transpired.
"This has nothing to do with you," Levins said while shaking his head, "You acted with good intentions to give the academy funds it needs to develop. It's a shame that things happened beyond our imaginations. All of us didn't think that the Teribo kingdom would actually use such extreme measures, causing the whole situation to dissolve into mindless chaos beyond our control. Add to the fact that the Union wanted to start having a nobility system, which riled up the ambitions of many lying in wait, it was no surprise that things cascaded far more than we thought it would. The responsibility of the state of affairs is not yours, so don't feel burdened by it."
Lorist lightly pushed the academy head back to his office desk and made some macks with the water that had just boiled for him. He still remembered that the academy head liked it straight without milk or sugar.
A knocking could be heard before Blademaster Claude entered the room.
"Eh? Locke, when did you arrive?"
"Only just now. I had a talk with the academy head about the current state of the academy."
"You already know all about it?"
Lorist nodded and said, "Instructor Claude, how many people are left in Dawn Academy? Also, what plans do you have with Instructor Anfya?"
Claude took a deep breath before he said, "Well, what plans could we have? Both Anfya and I don't wish to leave Dawn Academy. As the academy head doesn't have any children, it is up to us to take care of him. Even if the academy closes down the next year, we will continue to remain here. Perhaps, in the future, we will have another opportunity to rebuild the academy. Most of the instructors have already left the academy, with only less than ten remaining teaching two classes that are about to graduate this year. When that happens, Dawn Academy would no longer have any students."
Lorist fell into deep thought for a good moment before he looked at Levins and said, "Academy head, did you hear this saying before? 'Rooted trees die in a fire; humans simply walk away'. Since Morante is no longer able to support Dawn Academy, why don't you just move it away to another nation?"
Blademaster Claude laughed out and said, "Locke, things are not that simple. It's not like we haven't considered our options. Not one of the neighboring nations are willing to allow an academy from Morante to move over to their lands. Saint Marceau Academy had already tried asking around and received only refusals. Starting an academy is not something that can be decided by the words of only one. We still require land, buildings, and lots of funding on an annual basis. Small nations won't be able to sustain that kind of cost, and neither are they willing to bear a burden like that."
"Then, will you be willing to head to The Northlands? Start an academy in my dominion. We can move the whole of Dawn Academy there. Leave the land, buildings, and funds all to the Norton house. Not only that, we will also give research grants so that you only have to focus on conducting lessons and research. All the academy has to provide is capable and talented researchers. Those who wish to head to The Northlands will receive beneficial treatment; I will provide those instructors with comfortable residences and not inconvenience them one bit," offered Lorist sincerely.
"Hehe, Little Locke, this has nothing to do with you. Don't put the matter of Dawn Academy on your mind and try to make it up to us," Levins said as he shook his head, "The Northlands is rural and only has a small population. How many people there would actually come enroll in our academy? We would only just be a burden on your house. I think it's best we forget it."
It was now Lorist's turn to laugh. "Academy head, you look down on The Northlands and the House of Norton far too much. Merely the population within our own dominion number around 1.2 million, all of whom live decent, prosperous and stable lives. We already have Nico Academy within our dominion, which was launched by the daughter of the famed scholar of the former empire, Lady Nico Albess. They don't take in many students given their stringent admission requirements, so the dominion still requires a more general-purpose academy. If Dawn Academy is willing to move over, I believe there will be lots of room for development.
"As for funding, that is not something you have to worry about either. You should know that my house has mobilized our troops against the Hanayabarta kingdom and successfully eradicated it. The wealth we obtained there is enough for the house to sustain development for more than two decades. Taking a small chunk out of that annually is definitely no burden to the house. Perhaps, for the first few years, the students will only number around the hundreds, but I believe that the academy will definitely grow far more as time passes.
"Of course, you don't have to take my word for it. How about this, when I head back to the dominion, you can send someone to come with us to check the situation there out for yourself. The trip back will take two months at most. Will that be alright?"
Academy Head Levins and Blademaster Claude gave each other looks before nodding. "Little Locke, since you already made your offer, do inform us when you want to head back. I will send someone to go with you. Thank you for this."
"It's my pleasure, academy head. I have always been a member of Dawn Academy after all."