Lights glimmered like fruits atop cascaded poles, illuminating the barren street as the moon smiled overhead. Within the empty street was a chorus of footfalls, marching towards a two-story structure constructed from reinforced alloys. The structure, mouthed with an entrance enough to accommodate two large carriages, exposed its inner structure of bronze colored beams. Within was an odd platform surrounded by fences on three sides.
“A lift?” Meiko blinked her eyes. “There’s a lift in Academia?”
Mola took Meiko’s side and said, “The outer east entrance of the Labyrinth utilizes a lift. The same is true with the outer west entrance.”
“But last time we entered we—”
“We were close to the center of Academia, so we didn’t have the chance to use the lift,” Liscia interrupted. She glanced behind as she walked side by side with Halbert. “To be honest, Academia’s layout is weird. The closer you get to the center, the more the narrow passageways increase in number. The opposite is true as you go farther from the center.”
“Hmm…” Meiko knitted her brows as she tried to guess the reason behind Academia’s structure. However, her thoughts were thrown to the side. “There it goes again, the warm light and the cold breeze awaits.”
Meiko uttered the words she read from the symbols engraved on the mouth of the structure’s entrance.
“It really reads like a warning from games.” Meiko recounted the number of times she saw the same passage.
“Ooh, so you really could read the symbols.” Glasses crossed his arms, mused. He heard the situation regarding Meiko from Mola, but seeing it with his own eyes propelled a sense of surprise. “Are there any other phrases that you’ve read around Academia.”
Meiko shook her head. “Not much. But on the map...”
Meiko recalled the surface map of Academia shown to her by Mola. At the sight of it, she immediately understood that Academia’s surface was a large magic circle inscribed using structures, resulting to a somewhat maze-like map. However, the words or phrases that made up the magic circle intrigued Meiko—for the magic circle was almost similar to the chant of Nesoi Isolation.
“What’s on the map?” Glasses knitted his brows.
“Ah, no. Nothing.”
Soon the group arrived at the lift’s platform, where on the side stood an operator guarding a lever.
The operator in blue clothes yawned. “Which area?”
“Third basement lobby,” Liscia answered as she leaned her head on Halbert’s shoulder.
“Aye. Third basement lobby it is.” The operator neared a metal tube, lifted its cover and said, “Six members, east lift to section three.”
The operator then listened to a tube beside the one he spoke into. He then moved back to the lever and said, “Please be careful and not jump off of the railing.”
As the operator turned the lever, the platform shook. Eventually, cogs clocked from the surroundings and drove the platform to sink diagonally. Gradually, the lift descended into a tunnel lined with numerous tubes of varying sizes.
“Wow...” Meiko was lost for words. Though she was not foreign to advanced technology and practices, the lift’s mechanism drew her interest. Just how did the gears turn without electricity? No, wait. It’s probably mana, right?
Mana this, mana that. Almost everything that Meiko asked from Mola was answered by mana. Though Meiko understood the basic concept of it, she could not understand what Mola was blabbering about whenever she went deeper with the details. In fact, she was amazed that Liscia could keep up with Mola.
Halbert finally broke his silence as he played with the pommel of his sheathed sword. “So, what are we up to this time? We’re not after Mimics, are we? Hell, those things are a nuisance to locate. The fight in itself is nothing to scoff at.”
“Frankly, I have no idea.” Mola broke the dam.
“Is that a joke?”
Meiko, Halbert, and Liscia responded in kind.
“...” Mola frowned. “I’m not that bad in making jokes. If there’s anyone good at being bad with it, here’s Glasses.”
“Oi. I’m not that bad. I’m just… not cut out for it.”
“Then it means your bad at it.”
“Anyway, just treat it as an investigation request.”
“Still, I don’t understand the reason why I’m here,” Glasses sighed.
“I told you, you’ll be acting as a reserve mage because Meiko can’t act the part at this moment.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll try harder...” Meiko sulked.
“Mei, it’s been on my mind lately, just how did you learn attack magic?” Liscia leaned her body forward with a questioning gaze. “You know intermediate level magic too, but still, every time you chanted, you shut your eyes. That’s a really-really dangerous practice, you know?”
“I...” Meiko squeezed her shoulders.
“Beats me.” Mola sighed. “I wonder what went into Her Highness’s mind.” Rather than protect or hide the truth about Meiko from Liscia’s suspicion, she played the unknowing underling who only obeyed her master’s orders.
Meiko shrank herself even further.
“Anyway,” Mola continued. “We’re your clients again, so let’s leave private matters for some other time.”
“Just like always.” Liscia smiled. “But! We ought to have an extra for this night shift!”
Glasses chuckled. “Liscia is desperate as always. Or should I say, stingy.”
“Sorry.” Halbert scratched his cheek.
“The reason you’re still single is the way you respond to people, Glasses.” Liscia glared.
Glasses placed his hands on his hips and declared, “Not that I needed a companion in life! Hahahaha! All I need are glasses!”
““Ugh… This guy’s hopeless...””
Lara marched towards a large door at the heart of Academia with Erina in tow. “It’s been a while.” She roamed her eyes as she reminisced the little time she spent in Academia’s pseudo-palace, Braken.
“...” Erina, on the other hand, was preoccupied with a number of thoughts.
“Erina, ease your mind. We would be meeting with them soon.”
Erina nodded. “Understood, Lady Lara.”
A moment after entering a chamber, Lara and Erina were greeted by a man named Reynald, the King of Academia. Beside him was his son, Roland.
“It has been a while, Lady Lara.” Reynald started.
“Yes, it has been.” Lara smiled as she took the seat opposite of Reynald and Roland. Erina stood diagonally behind Lara’s seat.
Reynald, sporting a brown hair with a dash of red, was a plump man. The bulge underneath his clothes professed his lavish life as a King.
Roland, however, was large in build—not too thin, not too fat. His hair, a similar shade to that of his father’s, leaned towards perm.
Done with the small talk, Reynald proceeded with the main topic.
“Excuse me for this, Lady Lara, but I feared that it was supposed to be Lady Amelia to pay her respects today. Was there an unforeseen incident that made her relent the task to others?”
“Is she well?” Roland asked.
“Unfortunately, His Majesty has summoned Amelia due to an urgent matter. Although Amelia did not wish for such, she was forced to return. So, in her stead, I’m here to relay her—no, Laurel’s gratitude and apology regarding the recent event. And yes, Roland, Amelia is well.”
“I understand.” Reynald pressed his hand on his forehead. “I too grieve the traitorous actions executed by Laurel’s Nobles. However, I fear that the loss incurred from the burnt forest would greatly affect Academia’s and Laurel’s situation for the incoming years. Should we not deploy a joint effort in the forest’s restoration? I too wish to give the people of the forest a glimmer of hope.”
“I will keep in mind the prospects and mention it to His Majesty.” Lara kept her light smile. “Rest assured that a compensation for Academia’s help would be delivered once the residents have settled comfortably in their new homes.”
Lara knew how much power Reynald held in Academia. And she knew that Reynald was not a formidable foe. If anything, Reynald was a desperate Royal. He too even pushed for the marriage between Amelia and Roland a few years earlier—which was of course refused—in order to gain a reach farther than just Academia.
Reynald might be the King of Academia, but the title of King did not hold much significance when compared to the True Scholars or Philosophers.
Academia’s hierarchy was different from the others. The overseer and protector of the land were held by the King. However, the different Philosophers held power in their respective fields—much like state governors that split Academia into small factions.
“That aside.” Reynald clasped his hands. “I heard the trade with Laurel’s friend, the Tribe, would soon increase. Was it a false rumor?”
“It is nothing but the truth.”
“Ooh. I see. Then, when will—”
“Unfortunately, the matter is still in the staging process. The materials for trade have yet to be finalized.”
Reynald frowned. “That is unfortunate, but would you give me chance to lay my eyes on a few articles?”
Lara covered her lips and chuckled. “Do not worry, Reynald. Rest assured that a few articles would be bundled along with the compensation.”
“That is good to hear.” Reynald crept a smile.
Lara and Reynald’s conversation went on until the conversation then reached a certain point.
“Lady Lara, if I may, could I hear your opinion regarding the summoned Heroes?”
“Please let us hear Laurel’s stand in this matter.” Roland gulped.
Lara set her sights towards the balcony. “Frankly, they are an unstable element. Whether they will be useful or not, an ally or not, it’s up to the current circumstances. However, right now, I believe they’ll be able to mitigate the damage of war to some extent. But this is my opinion. Laurel itself stands neutral unless provoked.”
Reynald nodded. “I see.”
“But how would you respond if you were asked by Hero for help?” Roland asked out of curiosity. For one, he too was interested in the Heroes.
Lara shook her head. “I cannot say. Not all Heroes are the same people as those in stories. In the end, it depends on their personality and motives.”
A safe answer. Erina thought as she observed Lara’s conversation with the Reynald. She doesn’t adopt a stance, but she…
“That is true.” Reynald nodded in understanding.
“Well then, thought our time is short, I fear that I must bid my farewell.” Lara stood from her seat and reached out her hand—a casual form of greeting and farewell for Demians.
“It is our pleasure, Lady Lara.”
“He doesn’t relent, does he?” Maxwell peered onto the garden from his balcony. There he saw Charles and his comrades having a chat with his little brother Marcus. Perhaps he was getting into his good side in order to get a legal pass into Laurel—or so Maxwell thought.
Just a few days ago, Maxwell bid his farewell to his sister Clarissa. Although earlier than expected, he was anxious about Charles sinking his fangs on her.
I can’t take risks, he thought.
Although Clarissa was fairly familiar with Argent, and so does the opposite end, they were not that close. However, knowing her duty, Clarissa did not refuse the marriage. Perhaps she thought she would eventually learn to like Argent as a man and not as a friend.
Still, behind the curtain of clouds that loomed over Spere, Maxwell kept a level mind.
Maxwell moved his sight to the butler waiting at a distance. “Lester, what of Niveria’s Princess? Was there any change from her?”
“The Princess took an immediate interest to Hero Charles. Perhaps she learned that Sir Charles was the first among the three remaining Heroes to finish their training in Issenheim.”
“I see.” Maxwell nodded. “Please reduce the surrounding surveillance on the Princess. Let her meet the Hero as often as possible.”
In more ways than one, Maxwell thought that Shakti, Niveria’s last Royal, would serve as a good distraction for Charles, if not a great diversion in interest.
Lester bowed. “As you wish.”
“Also, Lester, had the people knew about the Hero’s arrival?”
Lester shook his head. “Apparently not.”
The corners of Maxwell’s lips rose into a smile. “Five days from now, let’s hold a public celebration for the Hero.”
“Eaaaagh!” Mark Laurel clutched his right hand near his stomach as his wooden sword clattered across the ground. Bearing the throbbing pain, he rose to his feet and glared at his opponent. “You barbarian! Just what kind of drug did you use?!”
“Losing fair and square and resorting to a false accusation.” A lofty smile crept over Amelia’s face. “What a poor person you have, brother.”
Just recently, Amelia kept wandering around Tercel in search of a clue or hint on how she could resolve her current situation. However, when she crossed paths with Mark, the gears in her mind turned.
“Good day, Brother Mark,” Amelia cheerfully greeted. “Same to you, Miss?”
“A-ah!” The maple-haired girl beside Mark trotted away from Mark and curtsied. “Your Highness! The name is A—”
Mark raised his hand and stopped the girl. “What do you want?” Mark’s tone, in every little way, expressed scorn.
“Don’t be a stranger, brother. I just wanted to greet you and your guest as I happen to come across.” Amelia turned her heels with a clack and glanced behind. “And maybe perhaps ask from which Nobility your guest came from? Since, guessing her distance from you, she might as well become my sister soon, no? So perhaps I could, perchance, pay a little visit to her family?”
“You!” Mark rasped his teeth. He knew what entailed Amelia’s little visit. “Why are you even here! You’re supposed to be holing yourself like a rodent in your fief!”
“A surprise, I guess?” Amelia expressed a mischievous smile. “A surprise solely for you.”
Simple as Mark was, he could not take how Amelia kept toying with him. “A match! Like before! I challenge you!”
Amelia covered her lips and exhaled a surprise. “Really? Even though you have yet to win even once?”
Mark’s eyebrows twitched. “I’m not the boy I was before. Unlike you, I took my time and trained in the forest!”
“So not from a Knight, but from an Adventurer. I wonder how useful would those lessons be when you’re surrounded by Guards.”
“Shut up! Let’s take this somewhere else!”
And so Amelia was able to coerce Mark out of boredom.
The battle between Amelia and Mark fell short. All it took was a swing from Amelia that aimed for Mark’s hand.
“Y-Your Highness Mark!” The girl kneeled beside the injured Mark. “Please wait for a bit! I’ll heal your wounds!”
Amelia heaved a sigh and turned away. I guess I gave him too much? No, he deserved it, trying to sow chaos within the palace.
Ever since Amelia returned to Aves, Auguste kept a consistent distance from her. In several occasions, she noticed suspicious gazes within the hallways, and sometimes, in her bedchamber. As opposed to the strength of her surveillance, Auguste kept refusing to meet or speak with her.
The matter frustrated Amelia to no end.
So, as an experiment, Amelia told Kanna to move separately from her. It was an experiment to determine if the surveillance only focused on Amelia, or both Amelia and Kanna.
As Amelia moved away from the injured Mark, a slow clap came from the side.
“Who might you be?” Amelia asked in a bad mood.
The clap came from a black-haired man wearing a leather armor fitted like a butler’s clothes. His eyes black, gleamed in an unusual snare. “Veight, Your Highness.” Like a butler, he bowed. “Your supposed instructor in the art of rapier, Her Majesty’s string, and Hero Evelyn’s Instructor. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”