The Court Magician
An Old Story I
Perhaps I should have done this earlier, but let's talk a little about my master and teacher - Tanas Lightbringer.
He is, without a doubt, the most colorful person I know. He earned the title of 'The Seven-Sinned Magician' as an extremely talented spellcaster who used sinful emotions to power his magic, much like how I use tarot cards as a focus. It seems that because of this, he spent much of his youth engaging in all kinds of immoral and criminal acts in order to increase the strength of his magic. Well, suffice to say that even I'm not aware of what he did during that period of time, but I do know that it did not achieve the intended effect of strengthening his magic. He abandoned that behavior once he realized this, but there are still many traces of his old habits in his current personality.
In other words, many of his actions were very much influenced by the seven sins of his namesake. And yet, his behavior was not very different from that of a normal person's. On some days, he would be consumed by unexplainable lethargy; on others, he would be ready to pick a fight over any kind of small detail that offended him. Certainly he had a penchant for fine food and fine women, and he once admitted that the only reason he even took up a job as a teacher was due to the extraordinarily high pay offered to him. Of course, he was very prideful, considering how willing he was to change his entire way of life simply to acquire more power, and he grew extremely irritated whenever anyone suggested that other magicians were more capable than he was.
None of these character traits are extraordinary, but it seems that the presence of every single one of these traits in a person serve to create a character which very much stands out. On the other hand, despite these flaws, he ultimately never sought to bring overt harm to others, and he is well-known for defeating many rogue wizards who were terrorizing the common people. In his exact words, "I got pissed off because they were standing out more than me."
To put it simply, you can think of him as someone who's confused as to whether he's a bad guy or not. Or perhaps he simply assumed the typical persona of an anti-hero. Either way, it wasn't something I'd ever encountered in reality. That was the kind of personality he had ever since I first met him.
"So...What are you doing here?"
"It's perfectly normal for a teacher to visit his dear student, isn't it?" A casual enough response, but I didn't believe it for a moment.
The speaker had long and dark hair which just touched his shoulders. His bangs obscured the intense gaze of his jet-black eyes, but did little to conceal the sharp and thin face that I was so accustomed to seeing. A large, pure white cloak covered his person so comprehensively that even his footwear was not visible. Normally, such clothing would cause him to blend in with the falling snow and frost-covered grounds, but his dark head created a sharp contrast that made for a highly conspicuous figure.
As always, my master stood out no matter where he was.
"You aren't here to borrow money, are you?" I asked suspiciously.
My master laughed wildly. "A good guess, but I wouldn't come all the way down here just to borrow money from you. There are plenty of ways for me to get money, if I needed to."
I glanced over my shoulder at Nereus Castle before speaking.
"Just so you know, the Headmistress told me that she no longer intended to bail you out of jail if you were caught stealing again."
"What?! When was this?"
"Just before I left. Didn't she tell you?"
"Not at all. Curse that witch..." he muttered. It did not take him long to regain his optimistic outlook, however.
"Well, I can always escape from the jail on my own," he said, shrugging.
"I suppose so," I said with half-open eyes. I had to admit that it was quite a likely scenario.
Several seconds passed in silence as my master smiled at me. It rapidly became clear to me that me he had no intention whatsoever of continuing this conversation on his own.
"Just what are you here for, master? We both know that you're not nearly sentimental enough to travel all the way down here just because you miss me."
"Well, we're actually here to make a request of you," he said.
I raised an eyebrow. "What kind of request? Also, there's only one of you here," I could not resist in pointing out.
My master cursed in response. "Zielf was supposed to meet me here, but he's late, as you can see. Probably frolicking with that young and pretty student of his."
"Are you jealous?"
"I am absolutely jealous."
"I have to admit I can't blame you for that. Here they come now," I said, peering over his shoulder.
Two figures were ascending the hill, chatting animatedly as they did so. It was with some difficult that I identified Anne. Her dirty blonde hair had not been left to its natural devices; instead, her fringe was kept in check by a pin that she almost never used. Her usual outfit had been discarded as well. Instead of the shirt and vest that she so favored, she wore an conservative green dress that fell far past her knees.
I couldn't help but chuckle to myself. Really now...
The other figure was much more familiar to me. He was extremely fair, and gave me the feeling that he would have simply faded into the background if not for his clothing. He was dressed in a thick black fur coat that seemed characteristically far too large for his small and slender frame. This was none other than Anne's master - Zielf de Valn, well-known as one of the most knowledgeable magicians in the world. 'Wiseman' was a common nickname of his.
"Good to see you, Lathall," he said as they approached us.
"Hello, Lathall," Anne said, frowning.
"Hello, Anne," I replied, grinning. Clearly she was none too happy about having her little date interrupted.
"I guess Tanas must have told you about our agenda here?" Zielf asked, looking at me shrewdly.
"Not exactly. I still don't know any of the details."
"Right, because I was waiting for you," my master interjected. "And now that you're finally here, let's head inside the castle, shall we?"
I nodded and moved a few steps before coming to a sudden stop.
"I've only just thought of this, but is Princess Clarice aware of your arrival, master?"
He stared at me blankly. "Nope. Why would she be?"
Just as I expected. My master had never grasped the concept of 'politeness'. Well, he was probably on good terms with the royal family, judging from what I had learned during the mysterious assailant incident. Perhaps Clarice would be fine with this sudden arrangement?
"Not to worry, Lathall. The Princess should have already received my letter, notifying her of our arrival. I sent it quite awhile ago," Zielf said.
"That certainly makes things easier. Thank you very much."
"It was no trouble. I'm surprised Tanas didn't inform you of his coming."
"Really?" I asked sincerely.
Zielf closed his eyes and stroked his chin in contemplation. I sneaked a peek at my master, who was very obviously pretending not to hear us.
"I suppose that was an unaccountable error on my part," Zielf admitted.
"Wait here," I said, emphasizing my point with a strong gesture. I did not want my master to wander around the castle, which he was quite likely to do.
"I'll just make sure that Her Highness is aware of the situation first," I explained to the others. They nodded and I quickly ascended the stairway towards Clarice's room, rapping twice on the door with my knuckles.
It only took a few seconds for the door to swing open.
"Why, hello there, Lathall. And what might you require of me?"
Two months had passed since we first met each other, but Clarice's graceful and charming smile was still as arresting as ever. She wore a white, woollen one-piece dress that fit her figure very well.
"My master, Tanas Lightbringer, has arrived here along with Zielf de Valn. May I come in?"
I had quickly learned that Clarice preferred to talk to me alone whenever possible, so as to minimize the use of her façade.
"You should have told me if you knew that my master was coming," I said as I stepped into the room, shutting the door tightly behind me.
Clarice gasped loudly, putting her hand to her mouth. "Oh my~ It completely slipped my mind, Lathall. I'm so sorry!"
I averted my gaze from her completely self-satisfied grin. As usual, I had no idea how to handle this devilish princess.
"I would have appreciated it if you had at least put some effort into the act, you know. I've never seen you make such a gesture even once."
"But that was exactly the point, as I'm sure you know. Now you know what it feels like when information is withheld from you," she retorted.
She was still feeling sore about how I had chosen to sleep instead of telling her about the Bismarck murder case, I see.
"I did tell you all about the Bismarcks when I returned, did I not? Shouldn't a princess be more magnanimous?"
"Sorry, but you're the one person that I don't have to exercise my wonderful personality on, so you don't get off lightly," Clarice said.
"More's the pity," I said, sighing.
I decided that it would be best if we were to talk in my own room. My master did say that they had a request for me, after all. It did not take us long to exchange the customary pleasantries and we quickly moved on to the main topic of conversation.
"May I ask what brings such esteemed magicians to my kingdom?" Clarice asked.
"Well, this incident involves both you and Lathall, Princess, so it was only natural for us to come here," my master said.
The two of us waited patiently for him to go on, but he indicated that it was Zielf's turn to speak. My master had never been fond of giving explanations.
"I'm sure you are aware of the Arcane Abstracts, yes?"
"Of course," Clarice replied. "I suspect that there are very few people who aren't," she continued dryly.
The Arcane Abstracts were a group of extremely powerful mages, and my master was a former member. They were ostensibly a mercenary guild, but it seemed that they rarely did any actual work. When they did, however, it was a certainty that some sort of significant event would occur. There were currently ten of them, and each member had a epithet based on an abstract concept. Needless to say, my master's concept had been 'Sin'.
"You are probably unaware of this, Your Highness, but Tanas had an additional responsibility when he received the offer to leave the Arcane Abstracts and work as a teacher in the Collegium Arcana instead. This task was to monitor the movements of his former comrades. In exchange, he would be spared from having to accept any aspiring students if he was not inclined to do so," Zielf said.
"That's surprising. I had no idea at all that our school was concerned with such things, Master," Anne said.
"Well, as the world's only collective body of magicians, the Collegium Arcana is widely regarded as the public face of magic. Any disturbances created by the Arcane Abstracts would affect our image as well, so it's only natural for us to keep an eye on them," he explained, briefly digressing from his conversation with Clarice.
"Now, His Majesty, the King of Cassiopeia is currently in Corvus, is he not? He is negotiating an alliance with them, I believe," Zielf said.
"Yes, that is correct."
"I also believe that he left more than two months ago? Travelling to Corvus takes little more than three weeks' time. In other words, he has spent almost one and a half months there. Surely negotiations do not take that long. His Majesty would have given up and returned to his own kingdom under normal circumstances."
"And you have discovered the reason behind this? I may say that I was worried by this myself, but I have received a few letters over the past months that have led me to believe he was well," Clarice said.
"Well, let us not be hasty. There is nothing to suggest that His Majesty has come to harm. Tanas discovered the presence of one of the Arcane Abstracts in Corvus last month. Further magical investigation showed that the Arcane Abstract and His Majesty had come into contact at some point during his visit."
"I presume that's where I come in?" I asked.
"Indeed. We'd like you to head there personally and determine the situation. Something's bound to be up if the Arcane Abstracts are moving. That's why I called Anne along as well, of course."
"Why don't the two of you go instead?"
"There are two very good reasons for that. The first is that the Collegium Arcana is a neutral body. We aren't supposed to be prying into the affairs of kingdoms. As the Court Magician of Cassiopeia, you are perfectly justified in visiting Corvus in order to ensure that your king is safe and well. The second is due to the identity of the Arcane Abstract. I think I'd better let Tanas explain this bit."
My master took over at this point. "I don't know the relevant member personally at all. She joined after I left the guild. Now, I'd like to head over there and beat her up to get some answers, but we have to play nice since there is nothing to suggest that she has any hostile intentions. Fortunately for us, there's a certain somebody here who actually knows her fairly well."
I blinked, confused by his statement for a moment.
"Somebody I know joined the Arcane Abstracts? Who?" I asked incredulously.
"Fiona Ruith. Her concept seems to be 'Fate', and she is known as the 'Inflection of Cassandra'. Quite a fine young woman when I saw her, if you ask me," my master said.
"I don't know this girl," Anne said, frowning.
"You wouldn't. She was a student at the Collegium, but she's about five years older," Zielf said.
"How does Lathall know her, then?"
"Ah. Well, there is only one way that a young man and a young woman can truly know each other, isn't there?" My master sighed dreamily as he spoke. Don't act like a wise old man reminiscing on how his student had finally grown up, damnit! You're not even that kind of character!
"I see. I wasn't aware that Lathall had such character flaws," Clarice said icily, staring at me.
"My master's just being silly, Your Highness. I was about twelve years old," I immediately protested, scrambling to take control of the situation.
"Which puts her at seventeen then," my master added not-so-helpfully.
"Alright, hold on a minute here, Your Highness," I said, noticing that Clarice's gaze was growing steadily more intense. "Let me tell you how I met her, and you can judge for yourself. It's quite the long, old story, however."
"Hmm. Why not? It sounds like quite the interesting story. We have time, do we not?"
The others raised no objections, and thus I began my storytelling.
"This story takes place quite a long time ago, in a place quite far away. There was a young boy..."