Yesterday - Earth, Concordia Temporary Camp

"Are you sure, sir? Even if we're just apprentice mages, you
won't be able to hold out long under an assault from three
people. "

"I don't need to. It's a demonstration, so you don't have to
go all out. Just enough to make it seem like I'm defensive. "

The soldiers signed a flare of light as a magical salute and
hurried around with their preparations.

"Recruit!"

The magic-poor soldier, who was now stuck with the
unpleasant errand of preparing whatever Mieus told him to,
ran up, "Yes, sir?"

"Get ready that mind-bending spellbook, I'll need it by
tomorrow night after I decide who to use it on. "

"Shall I leave it at the arranged drop-off, sir?"

"That will do. Hop to it!"


Sinclair, Concordia Capital City

The towers glittered with the light of a rising spell barrage.
The magical cannons were being fired again today.

He puffed on the cigar with a scowl. The military had
estimated a 20% penetration of the Torlan shield but Kordan
was a tricky man.

"Sir!"

He didn't respond.

"Mieus has taken personal action, but he did not give the
details of his operation. "

"Did he request any spellbooks?"

"er- what... er.. No, sir!"

"I see. There are no further orders, tell the magical
department to be ready receive a transmission from Earth.
Mieus will be back in less than a week. "

The messenger bowed and left. He stared out at the points
of light rising through the cloud of white smoke, perhaps he
needed to ask the magical department to look for a spell
that would solve their tree problem, the furnaces were
always running out of wood to burn.


Sinclair, Torlan Capital City

Kordan was marched down the corridor to the Long Table.
The Central Council sniffed at his disheveled appearance.
Jail didn't make him any better looking than his normal
casual self.

"Illegal use of magic, Dangerous use of magic, Irresponsible
Conduct in the line of duty. Frankly, you put so many cadets
at risk of death that I'm surprised we didn't execute you
outright. I would certainly have. "

There was a long pause.

"Torlan is in need of your services. In view of your past
record, the Central Council hereby grant you pardon. "

He smiled as the guards let him go. "So who's the mole?
Someone's been leaking top-level information to Concordia
and it has to be a Central Council member. "

The spokesperson ignored him and the Council adjourned
from the room.

"Back to my duties just like that, eh? Fine, don't blame me
if I carry out my own investigations. "

Kordan snapped his fingers and a messenger came in the
door. "There's been another attack that got through the
shields?" he smiled and continued before the man could
answer him, "Yeah, I thought so. They would eventually
design a counter to the wires. So how many got through?
Casualties?"

"1% got through. We lost six houses and a spell cannon
tower. "

He sighed heavily, a few days in jail and they were in an
emergency situation again. Looks like my work is cut out
for me.


Present

On the rooftop of the building, there was a short silence
before Luen snapped irritably in an unrecognizable language,
without the slight stiffness she had when speaking English.
He replied in the same way and Claire watched the rapid
exchange interestedly. Luen really didn't like the guy.

"We need to get off this roof. The police are on their way,"
Woodrow interrupted, indicating the sirens rapidly
approaching down the street, "Really, you cannot expect to
have a magical battle in the sky without someone seeing it..."

Claire recalled the giant flare of lightning from Luen. That
did make quite a loud noise. "Come to my room, we have a
number of things to talk about. "


Claire scowled to herself as she shut the door to her room.
There wasn't anywhere else to go but her room was getting
rather crowded. At least Mieus had said he could find his own
lodging. She sat down on the floor beside them and said, "So
you basically say that you defected from Concordia's side and
that's why the three of them were chasing you? And that you
have important information?"

Mieus nodded. "Quite so. Although I do not agree with most
of the dogma that Torlan imposes on it's people, the loss of
life in this war has gone on too far. Some sort of ceasefire
would be ideal. "

"But how can we trust you?" Woodrow asked, pointedly,
"you already gave the implication that you won't take hostile
action only because Luen is more powerful than you. Besides,
how is a simple earth-side contact like you given so much
information? Only a strategic officer would have access to
important information concerning the very premise of this
war!"

Mieus frowned at them, "Strategic officer? Concordia has no
such position, and I can assure you I'm not from Earth. "

Luen sniffed derisively, "So you're actually from Concordia?
Well, that makes things easier, I don't see why I shouldn't
just blast you right now. "

"This is going nowhere, Luen, even if you don't want to
work with him, it doesn't matter. We just need to help you
find the..." Woodrow looked over at Mieus and changed his
words, "person. "

Mieus waved his hands, trying to clear some doubt, "You
don't have to conceal your conversations. I know about
the prophecy after all. Besides, I'm here to help, I told you
that I have some information. "

There was a pause, as if they expected something more.
"What? I can't prove that I'm not lying. Anything I say, you
can find a way to twist it," he shrugged.

Claire nodded, "that's quite true. Why don't we hear him
out first. Luen, I know you disapprove, but what harm can
he get up to by telling us things? You said that he isn't
powerful enough to defeat you, so why worry?"

Luen narrowed her eyes and was about to begin yet
another round of arguing but Adele interrupted Luen by
petting her with a finger, saying, "There, there. I'm sure
you should be tired after all that, but do you have a real
concern or are you just spitting nails because he's from
Concordia?"

Luen cocked her head and answered simply, "exactly, he's
from Concordia. That's it. We can't trust them. "

"Now then, that surely can't be fair," Mieus pleaded, "I
already betrayed my country to give you this, my help. "
He licked his lips, if he pulled this too early, Luen would be
suspicious beyond convincing but he needed something
solid evidence to demonstrate his innocence. "Name one
thing from Concordia and I'll ask my friends to help me
get it. I'm not working alone, of course, we have a
number of supporters. We want this to succeed and I
promise we will try our best. "

Luen squinted at him suspiciously, "Fine, one of Concordia's
spellbooks then. Pass me one and I'll believe you. "

Woodrow raised an eyebrow, "A book can be copied. How
are one of those worth so much? I'm sure they can be
smuggled easily. "

"A spellbook is a book containing magical knowledge. The
various symbols written in it are the same ones used in
spells. They are artifacts left from an earlier time and each
country has a few of them. Leaking these books to your
enemy is essentially giving them your magical knowledge
and is considered high treason. Concordia has some of the
most advanced books, or so we think," Mieus paused in his
explanations, "I'll ask, maybe we can smuggle one of the
copies. "

As he flipped open his handphone, Claire raised an eyebrow;
that was fast, Concordia people could use Earth technology
already.
Mieus dialed, "Hello? She wants a spellbook. Hm?
Yes. Yes. Any will do. ... ... Try not to get caught. "

Luen glared suspiciously, "That almost seemed too easy.
I won't believe you until you get the book. "

Mieus shook his head and sighed, "I wouldn't expect to
convince you so easily. They're using one of our dead-
drops, it'll be in a locker by the rail station in two days. "


Claire walked down the street beside Mieus, watching the
sky warily. It looked like it was about to rain.

"So, Luen didn't come?"

"Yeah, she still refuses to talk about you. So it looks like I'm
going to be the one to pick up that book of yours since Adele
and Woodrow have lectures. "

There was a silence, leaving Claire to listen to the creaking
of her bag as they walked. The bag always seemed to be
too heavy after she came out of a lecture.

"It was good that you could get your own accommodation,"
She yawned involuntarily, "What with Adele and Woodrow
staying with me, there's no space in my apartment. "

Mieus nodded silently and didn't reply. She looked up at his
face, trying to see his expression. I can never read people.
Hard to tell what he's thinking about.

"Exactly what was happening in the war to make Luen hate
Concordia so much?"

"Hmm?" Mieus raised an eyebrow, "I don't know much, but
I heard that Torlan's people fight like fanatics. Perhaps they
use propaganda? "

That surprised Claire. It didn't occur to her that Luen's
dislike might not be completely justified. But I'm sure
someone like Luen will not side... no, she's too gullible,
brainwashing her would be a piece of cake.
Still, she
somehow felt as if Luen was trustable... No, I trust Luen
too much, I need to remember that Luen may not hold all
the facts in this conflict.

Mieus nudged her as he opened a locker at the left baggage
counter. There was indeed a book lying on the cold metal
shelf.

Claire looked at the little thin volume, not much bigger than
two hands and around a hundred pages thick. Still, that was
alot of information one could cram into a book that size. She
reached for it but Mieus blocked her.

"I'll check if there's any protections on it. Sometimes
spellbooks are trapped, and even though my comrades
should have defused them already, simply opening one
without checking is unwise. "

He held his hand over the book for a moment and some
complicated magical symbols flashed for a while before he
nodded.

She reached out to pick it up and the world dissolved into a
cloud of technicolour bubbles.


Claire opened her eyes as Mieus shook her shoulder, "Hey,
are you all right? Hello?"

She winced as the her vision returned, with a painful bruise
at the back of her head. "What happened?"

"A trap I didn't spot went off. You just fell asleep," he looked
down at her, "Are you all right?"

Claire rubbed away the pain as she looked around to test her
muscles. They were at an outdoor seating area of a cafe
overlooking the busy street below. This is Station Road, he
must have carried me across the street from the train station.
It seemed to her that the world was just a bit brighter, as if
the colours were jumping out at her. She took a deep breath
of the cool afternoon air and looked around at the
decorations in the shop.

"I'm fine," she didn't notice the small smile on her face, as
she checked the time, "Better than before, I must have
needed that hour's sleep. "

In fact, she was feeling better than she had in a long time.
She couldn't quite put her finger on it, but she had a slight
buzz, just like the times when she just figured out the
solution to a particularly hard problem. Stretching on the
hard chair, it was as if Claire could put her worries away
and think clearly for the first time.

"Mmm..." she looked up at the waiter who had come forward,
thinking that she wanted something. Well, I could do with a
drink. "I'll have a iced coffee, Mieus? I'll pay for us. "

He paused for a moment, looking at her as if thinking about
something rather important. Then he snapped out of it and
shrugged. "I'll have one as well then. Thank you. "

As the waiter left, Claire took out her laptop and the bag of
equipment she had prepared for this. Woodrow had
organized the bag for her and she had to admit, as she took
out the high-resolution camera, gloves and tweezers, that
he did seem to think of everything beforehand.


Mieus looked on curiously as Claire snapped on the gloves
and carefully pulled the book over on the table. She gave
no sign of having being hit by the trap, which he hadn't
seen happen before. Strange, I wonder what's going on.

As she turned the pages with the tweezers, the camera
copied the pages of symbols onto her computer with the
occasional click and whirr. Mieus didn't interrupt her, her
concentration was far stronger than he had seen before.
The coffee came and she didn't even look up, simply nodding
in acknowledgement.

Must be the trap. I've no idea why she doesn't respond in
the same way, but I've got to make the best of it. It's gone
too far to fail.


"So, what do you think?" Mieus asked her as she turned the
last page and the camera clicked for the last time.

Claire shrugged, "I can't say for sure. Although Woodrow
helped me set up a program over the internet, the images
here are already on the university server where we can
access it anywhere. Adele says she can get a linguistics
student she knows to have a look at it, although with one
book, we doubt we can get much out of it. "

She looked up at Mieus and thought for a bit while fiddling
with the pages. It was a rather strange feeling, she had
done what she needed to but it didn't feel enough.

"It looks like a symbolic language though, like how Chinese
is. I recognized a few symbols from the telekinesis spell
Luen taught me but you two claim that you don't know
what the words mean. "

He nodded and drank his coffee in one gulp, "That's good,
do tell me if you find anything..."

"Ah," Claire stopped him before she knew what she was
thinking. Searching for something to say, she asked, "Do
you mind telling me more about Concordia's side? Perhaps
I could work something out from there. Unless you're
busy?"

He paused for a while and agreed, "Well, that's fine. I'll
admit that I won't be objective in this, since me and Luen
stand on opposing sides of the war.

Concordia first discovered the way to open a gate to this
world some 30 years ago, and managed to get some books.
For unknown reasons, the connection to Earth failed soon
afterward. Following the ideas of the industrial revolution,
Concordia self-styled scientists tried to make magic
compatible with the idea of automation. We partially
succeeded. Magic-fired steam engines work, at least. Torlan
objected to their use due to social disorder created by
displaced jobs and with the backing of their religious church,
war was declared. Torlan's just losing at the moment, and
it's been going on for almost twenty years by now. "

Claire pursed her lips, thinking. There would be no option
for a diplomatic solution if the war had been going for that
long and none had been reached. Besides, religiously
spurred wars could be nasty.

"Of course, it's not like I'm trying to detract from Torlan's
mages, but Concordia has conquered at least half of
Sinclair by now. Torlan is too traditional and doesn't seem
to understand how magic works. If not for High Mage
Kordan, Torlan would have been overrun ten years ago. "

Claire's phone rang, interrupting the man. She picked it up
and asked irritably, "What is it?"

"It's me, Woodrow. I got the pictures and a friend is
helping me do some cryptanalysis on it. I say, it looks like
a symbolic language to me, although it could be a cipher...
ok, code, not cipher. Geez, its not like we can tell the
difference. "

"Is that it? I'm in the middle of talking to Mieus. "

"You sound irritated, are you all right, Claire? Well, just be
careful of Mieus. I can't trust him fully. "

Claire sighed heavily, indicating apologetically to Mieus,
"He's telling me a lot about this war that we can't get out
of Luen. Things that we should have known long before.
For that matter, I can't trust Luen either. "

She snapped the phone shut in irritation. If Woodrow was
going to be like that, then she wouldn't talk to him. Mieus
frowned and bent down to get a closer look at her. "Are you
all right? It might be a side effect from the magic trap. "

Claire looked away from Mieus, staring at the coffee cup on
the table.

"I'm fine, I told you already," she said, "I think I heard
enough about the history. There's nothing I can do about
politics. "

Tapping the table irritably, she downed the coffee in the
same swift motion as Mieus. There had to be something
she could do. As a physics undergraduate. I can't decipher
dead languages, nor have the kind of skill to talk to people...
ah..
"There's nothing I can do in a deadlock situation,"
she muttered.

Mieus put a hand on her shoulder, trying to comfort her,
"I'm sure you can find something to do. Even if it's just
talking to Luen, it's better than sitting around while the
war goes on. Perhaps if you came back from another
perspective, you could think of something. Why don't you
go out and enjoy yourself for today, take a break. "

The girl closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She
looked up and smiled, "Ok, I'll do just that. Perhaps I
wasn't feeling as good as I thought. "

As she took up the equipment and went to pay the bill,
Mieus scowled to himself. He thought he knew what was
going on now and he wasn't quite sure if he liked it.


Woodrow looked up as Claire opened her room's door. "Ah,
where were you all this afternoon? We were just about to
ask Mieus some questions about the book... woah! What
happened to you?"

Adele, Luen and Mieus looked up from their examination of
the book. Claire pointedly ignored their looks and walked
over to her cupboard, opened her bag and laid out the
contents on her bed before getting to arranging her
cupboards. The stunned look on Woodrow and Adele's face
made her want to laugh. True, she had never paid attention
to appearance before; seeing her wearing new clothing,
haircut and a new pair of shoes must be like seeing the
sun go out.

"Are you feeling all right?" Woodrow asked, not a little
concerned.

She nodded cheerfully, "Yeah, better than ever before in
fact. I know what we can do now. Mieus's advice about a
new perspective really helped!"

They looked at him suspiciously. He shrugged, even he
didn't know what was going on. Claire sobered up a little
as she finished putting away the few sets of clothing, but
she retained a glow and enthusiasm that didn't exist
before. "I'm going to study magic using science," she
paused for dramatic effect, "now that I thought about it,
this is really the discovery of a lifetime. Neither of Luen or
Mieus's country has proper scientific institutions and Earth
doesn't know about magic. It's an opportunity that, if I do
it right, will change the entire world. Overnight. If we're
lucky, we can help Torlan win it's war as well. "

Woodrow frowned, "You can't be thinking about publishing
a paper on magic, can you?"

"Watch me," Claire shot back, the devilish grin on her face
dancing with excitement, "I've already got the lab booked
for tomorrow. "


Notes:

Knowing that magic follows a language or cipher is very important. It implies that there is a structure behind all the magical phenomena that could be studied and understood.

That said, I have a magic trap to add to my list of stuff to explain.