Under the crumbling starry night.
I reminisced as I sprinted down the endless ‘Corridor of Stars’ alone, of when I first arrived in this world, of my most distant memories.
…That time, I suddenly opened my eyes.
Stretched out before me was a burning madder red sky as far as the eye could see. My skin itched from the parched air as I lay atop the scorched wasteland.
I was seemingly involved in some sort of incident. My body was covered with terrible wounds, and blood soaked my skin. My clothes also lay in tatters, with too few pieces to identify its original design.
What worried me the most was that I had no recollection of past events. Who I am, what I did, why am I here… Even now, I still remembered nothing.
Amnesia. Because of some incident I was involved in, I lost all my prior memory.
Sadly, I had nothing to help me remember my identity.
As one without my memory, it can be said that I was without a refuge.
Memories were the chains that tether a person to the world they live in. Without memories, I would slow fade away from this world with the passage of time.
Just as I grew anxious at the prospect, the other me – a voice from deep within my soul – whispered to me.
“I am… Heavens (Celica)…” (1)
It was my only remaining memory, the one memory which defined my existence, the name for which I could call myself. It was, above all else, my only refuge.
The memory that proved I was connected to this world, that I did not appear spontaneous from the aether.
Yes, You… I, am Celica.
You… I, must fulfill my mission.
After receiving my own name, the time that has once stopped began to move again under the guidance of the ‘voice’.
From then on.
I, Celica Arfonia, began to wander in this endless nightmare.
…Those were the events that transpired four centuries ago.
◇ ◇ ◇
The day of the expedition has finally arrived.
Under the gray sky and shrouded in morning mist, Glenn and his expedition team departed from Fejite in a grand double-decker carriage.
“The breeze is quite nice…”
Sistine sat at the corner of the upper deck and gently held down her long hair as it blew in the wind. Beside her sat Rumia, who nodded with a smile.
After passing through Fejite’s northern gate, what greeted them was a vast expanse of farmland. The cool and fresh air gave everyone a wonderful sense of nature.
The carriage traveled down the Arugoo Highway, connecting Fejite to the imperial capital Orlando.
The meandering north-northeast highway extended all the way to the horizon. To their right were towering hills, and to their left were dense forests, with snow-capped mountain range visible far behind the sea of trees. When they lift their heads, they could see the clear blue sky, with the occasional puffy white clouds floating by.
The smell of the soil and grass tickled their noses, punctuated by the calls of an eagle soaring above. At a next bend of the road, they saw a herd of sheep grazing on the grass.
The picturesque journey soothed their souls.
“It’s nice to experience the outdoors once in a while.”
“Ah, yes. The air is so fresh…”
Wendy and Lynn, who also sat on the upper deck, remarked.
“So many… fat… sheep.”
Re=L seemed to be fascinated with the sheep herd. Sitting next to Rumia, her sleepy eyes stared attentively at the herd below.
“Hey, Sisti, if all goes according to plan, should we be arriving at the site just around sundown?”
Rumia asked Sistine as she reflected on the itinerary.
“That’s right. ‘Taum Observatory’ is surprisingly close. Until we arrive, let us fully enjoy this leisurely trip.”
Sistine replied with a smile. However, as if she suddenly remembered something unpleasant, her smile quickly vanished from her face.
“Speaking of which, despite the wonderful view up here, teacher and the others are…”
…Cooped up on the lower deck. Those sitting above could only let out a long sigh.
◇ ◇ ◇
Down below, a life and death struggle took place.
“How’s this! Heart flush!”
“Oh? Hehehe… Sorry, teacher, I got a full house. I guess it’s my win?”
“Haa?! How can it be?!”
“Really?! To have hidden such a hand! Teresa is strong!”
Glenn, Teresa, and the boys were sitting around the table, playing a game of five card stud.
“Looks like I am sweeping the pool again~”
Teresa collected the large pile of chips on the table.
“Heh… Everyone, aren’t you all glad that the bets are not with real money?”
The amicable banter of Teresa made everyone tremble.
“Darn it! How can this be…? Even I, who was known to be the legendary gambler of the Imperial Casinos, lost?!”
Being completely obliterated by Teresa, Glenn hanged his head in defeat.
Gibul, who, at the beginning of the game, confidently remarked that ‘Card games are not purely luck, it is a game of calculation and probability.’ was also…
“N-no way! S-speaking from probability and statistics, such a situation is impossible!”
His face reflected his humiliation, with sweats pouring down his head.
“There really is such a thing as ‘divine luck’… Ah, Teresa, could you lend me another ten chips.”
“D-definitely worthy of being a merchant’s daughter… Ah, I would like ten chips as well.”
Kash and Cecil, who were also completely defeated by Teresa, gave up on the senseless struggle against fate.
D-darn it! How is it that I lost?! Even after I pulled those tricks! Glenn howled in his heart.
Surprisingly, Glenn was cheating. Forced shuffling, hand mucking, false dealing – Glenn was pulling every trick to merciless crush his students, far from the adult he was supposed to be… Yet, luck did not seem to favor him…
M-my technique was perfect, so how could this be?!
For example, when Glenn was the dealer, he would purposely deal a poor hand to Teresa, but after she swap just a few cards, her hand would turn into something incredible, almost as if a superior power was guiding her from above.
Darn it! So far, I didn’t deal myself too strong a hand to avoid arousing suspicion, but as things stand, I can’t worry about that anymore! I will use my greatest technique to bury Teresa once and for all!
The next round.
Glenn happened to be the dealer and, using all his tricks in the shuffle, controlled the cards each student received.
P-perfect! Hahaha…! This time, I’m going to win for sure!
Glenn looked at his hand, and flashed a miscreant smile.
Four sevens with a wild card, under their rules, a five of a kind hand.
A secret (and cheap) technique taught to him by Bernard ‘The Hermit’ during his time in the Imperial Court Mage Corps.
Although still far from pulling off a Royal Straight Flush like master, this time I am sure to win! Die, Teresa!
The arrogant Glenn easily went all-in with his hand.
“Ah…? The hand doesn’t look very promising…”
Teresa took a glance at her hand, and then discarded all her cards without an ounce of hesitation.
“Teacher, deal me five.”
What Teresa discarded just then was a four of a kind purposely dealt by Glenn. Although it was below Glenn’s five of a kind, the hand itself was not bad at all.
A-after only a glance, to discard her entire hand?!
With a sense of foreboding, Glenn shakily dealt five new cards to Teresa…
“Oh? A Royal Straight Flush.”
“Y-you got to be kidding me!!”
Teresa let out a small chuckle as she revealed her hand: Ten, Jack, Queen, King, and Ace of Spades. Faced with the strongest hand, Glenn threw the deck of cards into the air in a fit of tantrum, and began to scream in frustration.
◇ ◇ ◇
“Seriously, what is happening down there?”
Sistine remarked and let out an angry sigh after hearing the noise from below.
“To gamble against Teresa is a fool’s errand… Her inhuman luck could easily overcome any tricks.” Wendy replied with a ‘may they rest in peace’ attitude.
“Umm, I am really sorry for all the ruckus my companions are causing…” Sistine turned and apologized to the carriage driver.
The coachman was hired together with the carriage.
Dressed in a hooded long robe that reached all the way down to the foot, the coachman only took a quick glimpse at Sistine, followed by a slight nod. The hood completely covered the eyes, so it was hard to make out his expressions. But either way, it doesn’t seem the coachman was particular about the noisy passengers.
After seeing the coachman’s accommodating response, Sistine was able to regain her usual calm. At that moment.
“Speaking of which, there does seem to be quite a lot of ancient structures in the empire… Like, what is that?” Wendy noted as she peered out from the side of the carriage and pointed at the object below.
The sides of the road were dotted by numerous stone steles, known to be remnants of the past. Not just stone steles, but also stone circles, castle ruins, and ancient tombs. Ever since the expedition has departed from Fejite, there were all over the land, in sizes large and small. Although the northern region was known for many small sites, the empire as a whole was not much different.
“From what I recall, Alzano Empire was built upon the site of a previous civilization – the one known to be incredibly advanced in sorcery.”
“Yes, I have heard of that as well.”
Wendy confirmed Lynn’s statement.
“That’s right! Let us talk about that advanced sorcerous civilization!”
Sistine hijacked the conversation with her excitement barely contained.
“Just as Wendy and Lynn said, on the site that the empire was founded, or roughly the northeastern region of the North Selford Continent, there used to be a civilization highly advanced in sorcery. From the numerous ruins, paintings, and tablets that lie all over the empire, to the verbal history and songs of the nomadic tribes in the south, and then to the numerous sorcerous relics unearthed in ruins, all point squarely to its existence! The civilization was estimated to have started from…”
Sistine began to lecture endlessly without anyone’s prompting.
“Ugh, here it comes: the archaeology geek…”
“Sorry, Wendy. Sistine is like a different person whenever this topic is brought up.”
Rumia sheepishly smiled and apologized to the somewhat annoyed Wendy.
“…And so, before the holy calendar was adopted, history was separated into the metachron, the theochron, the anachron, the early, mid, and late paleochron, and the early and late neochron. (2) From archaeological evidence, the advanced sorcerous civilization flourished between early to mid paleochron, or roughly between the eighth millennium and fourth millennium before the holy calendar. As we are currently in the year 1853 of the holy calendar, we are talking about a civilization with an understanding of magic that surpassed ours over fifty-eight hundred years ago! Isn’t that amazing?! Fifty-eight hundred years! It’s something really hard to believe.”
“Oh, I have a question.” Wendy asked while showing a tinge of annoyance.
Seemingly Sistine’s excitement finally forced others to just follow along rather than resist.
“I was always slightly baffled by this, but what exactly is an advanced sorcerous civilization? Why do we not just call it an advanced magic civilization? From purely a definition standpoint, if I remember correctly…”
Magic and Sorcery. Although the two words are synonyms, their meanings were vastly different. While both could exert an effect on the surrounding world, the ones that could not be explained by the prevailing magical and physical theories were referred to as ‘Sorcery’, and the ones that could were referred to as ‘Magic’. As an example, a sorcerous spell would be one where a cookie was spontaneously created out of thin air, while a magic spell would be one where the a cookie was created from its basic ingredients through alchemy. In short, unlike sorcery, as long as one worked hard enough to learn the prerequisite knowledge, one could easily perform magic.
“That’s right, Wendy. The dictionary’s definition is quite accurate.” Sistine proudly answered with her chest puffed. “What the ancients called magic, to our modern eyes, are no different from sorcery – an incredible power we cannot come to fathom. Their civilization was built upon spells in which our meager knowledge could not hope to understand, and, for that reason, we refer to them as a sorcerous civilization.”
“Speaking of which, if I remember correctly…” Lynn joined in on the conversation, “About the artifacts that were recovered from the civilization’s ruins – the sorcerous relics. After repeated research and experimentation, researchers were able to identify their function and could activate the sorcery as long as they follow the accepted procedure. However, as far as their construction and the theories that governed their function was concerned, such as how they activated the sorcery, or what is the underlying mechanism for its activation, all of it remained unanswered. Was that about right?”
“Precisely! Which is why archaeothaumatologists refer to the magic that we, the modern people, learn as ‘Modern magic’, while refer to the inexplicable magic used by the ancients as ‘ancient magic’.” With that said, Sistine gazed at the skies above Fejite and toward the mirage-like floating castle tucked away between the clouds. “It was postulated that the sky castle itself was among the many structures constructed by ‘ancient magic’.”
Everyone followed her gaze to the sky castle.
“I want to solve the mystery of the ancient civilization. Questions like ‘why did the ancients build a floating castle?’, ‘why did they hide it in the gap between dimensions?’, ‘what secrets lie within the castle?’, ‘what exactly is ancient magic?’, and ‘how did such an advanced civilization meet its demise?’, I hope to one day know the answers.”
One day, for sure, I will reach the sky castle and see for myself the scene that my grandfather yearned till his dying breath.
“Then, good luck with that dream!”
Wendy smiled wryly at the determined Sistine.
“Thank you, Wendy. I should also mention…”
Sistine once again restarted her lecture on archaeology. The others could only reveal a troubled expression in response, before being forced to sit through another long monologue…
“…And so it was, the wise King Crowe Primus was able to unify the neighboring land using the might of sorcery and established the sorcerous kingdom of Melgalius, a dynasty that remained in power for four millennium.”
“W-wait a moment!”
Suddenly noticing the unusual surroundings, Wendy interrupted Sistine’s discourse and asked.
“W-where… are we heading?”
“Ah…?” At Wendy’s reminder, Sistine also came to be perplexed by the change.
Looking around, they noticed the carriage was now driving in the forest originally to their left. Behind them, the hills that had flanked their journey were barely visible at the edge of the horizon. The highway they had been traveling on has long turned to a small dirt road. While busily chatting away atop the carriage, they didn’t notice when the carriage has already left the highway and now traveled toward an unfamiliar destination.
“Hey! Wait a minute, coachman! This is not the route we agreed upon!” Sistine hastily rushed to the front of the carriage and questioned the coachman.
But, the coachman remained silent as he continued to drive the carriage.
“This is the wrong way! If we leave the highway and head into the forests…”
The trip will risk danger.
Steam-powered transportation only existed in the north of the empire, within the Iteria Region. Elsewhere, geographical conditions or the lack of railroads precluded its possibility. As such, much of the transportation between cities was carried out by carriages.
The empire personally maintained the few important highways. The military would periodically send out the patrols to clear out any monsters nearby and set up anti-monster wards. As such, the imperial highways were comparatively safe, where the fields and hills bordering the highways have long been subjugated by humans.
However, conversely speaking, if one would depart from the designated highways, the surroundings would quickly grow dangerous. This was especially true for the deep forests, the natural caves, and the mountain ranges on the borderlands – places that lay untouched from human civilization, where many dangerous monsters live.
Granted, there were few monster sightings in this region, but it was still foolish to depart from the safety of highways.
“Please head back! Quickly!” Sistine, who was worried about everyone’s safety, was completely flustered.
However, the coachman continued to ignore Sistine’s pleas and silently led the carriage forward.
“W-wait, why are you…?! Stop!”
By now, to not elicit a single response from the coachman, something was clearly abnormal.
“W-what is going on?! W-who exactly are you?!”
Sistine grew more and more flustered.
At the same time, in the undergrowth of the forest, to the left of the carriage…
Plop plop plop…
Sistine caught sight of numerous shadows approaching.
“Huh? What?! Could it be…?!” Sistine frustratedly cried.
Countless silhouettes leapt out from the bushes and quickly enveloped the carriage from the front and behind. With their swift movement, the carriage was soon completely surrounded.
Neeeigh! The horse, startled by the sudden appearance, came to an abrupt halt and began to whine loudly.
The true identity of the attacker was…
The carriage was fully encircled by ten or so shadow wolves.
Shadow wolves were known to have knife-like teeth and claws, with eyes that struck fear deep into the heart of their pray. Covered from head to toe in jet black fur, they were commonly sighted in forests, but it did lessen the danger they represent.
Beyond the razor-sharp teeth and claws, the shadow wolf exhibited an almost unparalleled agility. No matter if it was with weapons or spells, unless the user was a battle-tested veteran, landing a solid hit was nearly impossible.
“I have never known such dangerous monsters could appear around here… Coachman, what exactly is your intention in bringing us here…?!”
Yet, the coachman, without a single motion, remained silent and held tightly onto the reins to prevent the horse from running wild.
Sistine clenched her teeth in anger, but now was not the time to interrogate the coachman. They needed to first ensure everyone’s safety.
Shadow Wolves. The only reason they are categorized as monsters and not beasts is because of their unique ability.
The ability of ‘Fear Detection’. The shadow wolf could intuitively know whether its target was in fear of it and, by extension, know whether the prey was an easy target.
“Everyone, do not fear! If you fear, then…” Sistine tried to warn everyone, but it was already too late.
“Ahh… M-monsters…. T-there are so many…”
“Uuu… W-why must this happen to me…!!”
Lynn and Wendy were shaking uncontrollably, with the colors drained from their faces.
Their reaction was rather expected. Despite being magicians, we have always lived sheltered lives, away from the dangers of the world. To be suddenly thrusted into a circle of ferocious monsters, everyone would find it hard to stay calm. Even I am utterly terrified before such a sight.
Sistine took deep breathes to try to calm her racing heart, biting down hard on her teeth to hide her fear.
The situation was quickly turning from bad to worse. Once the shadow wolves were set on a target, they would become highly aggressive, borderline suicidal. They would completely shrug off any injuries and devote all their attention to launching a barrage of attacks.
Possibly smelling the fear that emanated from the girls, the wolf directly before them lowered its body and entered into an attack stance. The wolves seemingly recognized the group before them as easy prey and have begun to search for the opportunity to pounce. No matter how many magic bolts were shot at them, the wolves would dodge them with their incredible agility and go straight for the girls’ neck.
“Sisti, are you alright?”
“I-I am good. But, speaking of which, what happened to Re=L?”
“Not good. I tried to wake her earlier, but it seems that she is completely asleep.”
At such a critical moment, the most reliable person was comfortably napping on Rumia’s lap.
“She wasn’t able to sleep at all last night because of her excitement for the expedition.”
“Haa… And I had to pick topics that were confusing for her…” Sistine could not help but let out a sigh.
While she was a veteran soldier and the bodyguard for Rumia, at her very core she was just a young girl. Everyone wished she would act more her age, so it was hard for anyone to fault her this time.
“I doubt they will risk coming after us on top the carriage, but we will be stuck here if they attack the horse. So at the very least, we need to defend the horse.” Sistine stared bitterly at the shadow wolf, “Coachman, while I still have many questions for your inexplicable actions, the situation is becoming dangerous. It would be best if you come up to the upper deck so that we can protect you…”
“Stop! You bastards!”
Bam! The window of the carriage was violently swung open. Glenn, who has finally noticed that something was amiss, peered out from below.
“You bastards! How dare you lay a hand on my students?!” Glenn declared with his arms crossed over his chest, “Let me send you all to your makers! Now!”
With one foot on the windowsill, he leapt out of the carriage. “Hmph!”
Just as Glenn landed after performing a triple somersault…
His right foot made a weird sound.
For a few seconds, Glenn remained in his prideful pose, “Uuu… Ouuuch!! Ahhh!!” but the pose quickly collapsed with him holding his feet in agony, rolling back and forth on the ground.
“Ahhh!! The pain, the pain!!”
“Hey! W-what exactly are you trying to pull?! To attempt such a stunt on a ground as uneven as this, are you an idiot?!” Sistine held her head in disbelief.
The teacher was really useless in an emergency.
“Sisti! Not good! The teacher…!”
“Ah, right! Darn it!”
Rumia’s worried cry brought Sistine back to reality. Sistine and the others were safe, because they stayed inside the carriage. But for the idiotic Glenn who leapt out and injured himself, the shadow wolves would not let such an opportunity pass by.
Three shadow wolves turned their focus to the defenseless Glenn and pounced.
“Ugh! ‹Pierce, lance of light›!” Sistine hastily chanted an offensive spell to intercept the approaching shadow wolf.
However, the wolf easily dodged Sistine’s attack with a slight hop and continued its charge at Glenn, with its sharp teeth and claws mere inches away from Glenn’s flesh.
“T-Teacher?!” Sistine shouted frantically at what was about to unfold.
“‹Thy crimes match mine•At the crossroad of dusk•Methinks of thee.›”
Suddenly, an unfamiliar chant sounded next to Sistine, which was soon followed by a gust of wind.
Uuu! Kyuu! Kyaa!
The three wolves targeting Glenn were torn asunder.
“…Ah?!” Sistine could only gasp in surprise. “…Hmm?”
Before anyone noticed, the coachman had moved to protect Glenn.
Standing before Glenn, who was planning to pull out a pistol in defense, the coachman carried a sword at the ready. Likely, the coachman drew the sword from under the large hooded robe.
The sword was a longsword, one commonly favored by knights on horseback from a time long past. It boasted a strong first strike but was known to be quite unwieldy. In a modern age, where the emphasis had shifted to slender blades that were light and agile, the antiquated longsword was somewhat of a rare sight on the battlefield.
T-that coachman was a swordsman? No, just earlier…
Sistine was absorbed by the sword’s beautiful craftsmanship. Even Sistine, who was unfamiliar with swords, could tell at a single glance that the longsword was a masterpiece. It was a sword, made not of the prized wootzsteel of the empire, but of a material far, far superior – the sorcerous metal, mithril. The sword was made by the repeated honing a material whose strength and sharpness lie far above mere iron.
At a glance, the length of the sword gave a slight sense of unwieldiness, but at the same time, the sharpness of the blade was second to none, with a faint bluish glow emitting from the surface. The mirror-like smoothness showed no sign of wear, with a crossguard richly decorated by precious metal. As a weapon, it was lethal beyond compare, and, as a work of art, it was captivating to all who see. The sword was the perfect mixture of practicality and beauty – the undeniable magnum opus of its swordsmith.
The coachman clenched the sword tightly and glared at the wolves.
“How… To think you were here.” After seeing the sword, Glenn slowly stood up while shaking his head in disbelief, “I guess I could just leave the rest to you?”
Glenn holstered his pistol and slowly made his way back to the carriage.
The coachmen’s head slightly turned and glanced at Glenn. Although both eyes were obscured by the hood, one could see the corners of the mouth upturned, revealing a slight smile.
At that moment, the coachman suddenly vanished from sight, leaving a few blades of grass fluttering in the wind.
Two shadow wolves collapsed onto the ground, letting out a final cry as they fell. The coachman stood nearby, seemingly at the end of a sword swing, but even that was a mere afterimage.
At the blink of an eye, a pained cry followed the collapse of another wolf.
The attacks were incredibly fast, so much so that even the sound of the swing could barely be heard.
“W-what exactly is happening?!”
The shadow wolves that stood in a circle were cut down one after another in a counterclockwise fashion – a scene that could only be described as a one-sided slaughter. The coachman would seemingly vanish from one corner of the eye only to reappear at the other. Sistina could barely keep up with the coachman’s movements and occasional flash of reflected light from the sword. Even the monsters barely had enough time to comprehend the events that unfolded.
One by one they fell.
The spectacle was as if Death had descended upon the battlefield, striking down all who dared to stand against it with lightning precision. Yet, this time, Death took on the appearance of a lowly coachman.
After losing two-thirds of their number, the shadow wolves have finally realized how terrifying of an opponent stood before them. They took advantage their superior teamwork and surrounded the coachman, launching an attack from all sides. As their claws and teeth approached, the coachmen turned slightly, raised the sword… and unleashed a flash of light.
Four streaks of silver flew through the air at the same time, and the four wolves were cut into pieces.
“I-Incredible! W-what amazing skill!”
The coachman’s swordsmanship was strong, fast, and ferocious. The concise strikes that delivered the maximum damage were exemplary of the swordsmanship practiced by knights of the previous era. While the footwork and sword skills were frequently disparaged as being simplistic, inflexible, and lacking in diversity in the modern era, the coachman was able to use those sword skills to their maximum potential. It was a clear reflection of the tens upon tens of thousands of hours that went into its polish, turning a simplistic move into a terrifying weapon. Before the raw power, all the skills of all the styles could be seen as naught but child’s play.
“I have never seen such strong sword skills in my life…” Sistine could not help but become entranced by the coachman’s movements.
“Silly, that isn’t a sword skill. That is magic.” Glenn said while leaning on the carriage with his hands behind his head.
“Modified White Magic [Load•Experience]… A spell that taps into the accumulated memories of an object and lend it to its user.” Glenn calmly explained as he watched the coachman clear out the monsters, “That sword was once the beloved partner of the strongest swordswoman in imperial history. That person is reading the memory that lay dormant within the sword and, through which, temporarily borrowing the experience that belonged to the sword’s original owner.”
“What are you talking about?”
“At the current moment, that person cannot be defeated, at least not with the sword in hand. Unless, perhaps, the person was matched against the original owner of the sword.”
Sistine was rendered speechless by the explanation.
Certainly, white magic that lets a person tap into the experience of another does exist.
But that was basically ‘white ritualistic magic’ – a form of ritual magic. It was a highly difficult spell that required complicated preparations and extraordinary efforts to activate.
What Glenn said earlier was ‘Modified White Magic [Load•Experience]’. If my guess is correct, the three-phrase chant I have heard earlier was probably the incantation to the spell.
It was hard to believe that the coachman used merely three phrases to activate the equivalent of a spell that required others extensive rituals to perform. The magic was likely known as a modified spell because, despite knowing the theories, no other can replicate it – a magic no different in essence from sorcery.
“Umm… Who exactly is that coachman?!”
“Ah? You still haven’t figured it out yet? There is only one who can pull off a stunt as absurd as that.”
The coachman blew by the final shadow wolf like a bolt of lightning and unhesitantly skewered the monster with the sword. Not sure if it was the final display of the monster’s strong will, or a mere coincidence, the claw of the last shadow wolf tore through the hood of the coachman before it collapsed in its own pool of blood.
At the other end of the exchange, the tattered hood was blown away by the breeze, revealing a dazzling golden hair. The hair that shone like the golden wheat fields at dusk entranced the spectators and deeply ingrained the image deep in their minds.
“Ah…” Sistine could not help but gasp as her eyes opened wide at the sight.
Under the robe was a long jet black gothic dress, the beautiful figure was surprisingly familiar.
“Oops, I have been found out. What a blunder, and here I hoped to keep you all guessing for a while longer.” The coachman muttered as she sheathed her longsword.
“P-Professor Arfonia?! W-why are you here?!”
The coachman – no coachwoman, Celica Arfonia turned to greet everyone with a smile.
For some reason, Celica swapped herself with the hired coachman.
“Sorry, I did not intentionally bring you all here to scare you. It is just that cutting through here will allow us to arrive at the Taum Observatory sooner. Even I didn’t think there would be monsters nearby. Again, sorry everyone, I have brought unnecessary trouble to you all.” Celica got all the apologies out of the way and then turned to Glenn, “Just a head’s up, Glenn, I also want to go check the Observatory out, so let me tag along, alright?”
Not sure why, Celica also wanted to go along with the group.
“But of course, I won’t get in your way. You are the leader of the team, so just think me as one of the members.” Celica let out a mischievous smile, no one could understand her intentions. “Either way, I am a renowned seventh-ranked magician, so be sure to take advantage of my abilities~”
However, there was no reason to refuse. When one considered the dangers of the trip, having the continent’s strongest magician nearby was never a bad idea. One thing led to another, and Celica soon joined the expedition.
“Really, what is she really up to? What is she plotting?” Glenn mumbled as he took over for Celica as the carriage driver, “I bet she definitely has something nasty planned.”
“D-don’t need to be so suspicious of others, you know~!” Rumia, who sat next to Glenn in the driver’s seat, let out a wry smile, “I’m sure it is because Professor Arfonia was worried about you.”
“Hmph, fat chance!” Glenn irritatedly looked at Rumia, “That person is even more quirky than me, both in terms of selfishness and impulsiveness. If something doesn’t pique her interest, she probably won’t bother with it even if the world is to end.”
“I-is that so…?”
“Mm.” Glenn shuddered at the thought, “That person didn’t think twice to taking out the memento of her best friend, and her only wish is to tag along? D-definitely not! I bet she have some terrible secret she cannot share with us!”
“Hahaha…” As Rumia laughed, Glenn took a glimpse at the back.
And the problem doesn’t just end there…
Glenn looked through the small glass window to see the situation within the carriage. He was correct, Celica’s participation brought about other issues as well.
Within the carriage, an awkward scene was unfolding.
Dear father, mother, are you both well? Right now, the atmosphere in the carriage is really terrible.
Sistine let out a sigh.
At the height of noon, the bright light made sitting on the upper deck exhausting, so all of the students were tucked away in the lower deck. Of course, Sistine was sitting at one corner of the carriage.
W-why is someone as famous as Professor Arfonia with us?
T-that living legend… Is currently traveling with us? Are you kidding?!
All the students were sitting as far away from Celica as possible, appearing petrified at the sight of her. Sadly, this wasn’t anything unusual. After all, the students knew that the empire’s strongest magician, Celica Arfonia, was a professor at the Alzano Imperial Magic Academy. They had all seen her around the academy and were well aware of her relationship with her only pupil, Glenn.
However, beyond the confines of the academy, there were many rumors regarding Celica, both good and bad. Within their history books alone, Celica’s name was mentioned more than once, but all of the stories sounded more like fantasy than reality. According to one story, she was the hero who participated in the Great Magic War two hundred years ago and wiped out the demon-worshipping cultists. In another story, she was a mass murderer that cleansed an entire city of life. On the other hand, she was treated as the imperial army’s strategic weapon, the ‘Ashen Witch’. While in another, she was told to be the reincarnation of an ancient Demon Lord. Countless such rumors and stories circulated around Celica.
Additionally, despite being a professor, Celica had no teaching duties at the academy and rarely interacted with students. Her beautiful yet cool visage could only be described as flawless, but at the same time gave off a sense of chill, making her difficult to approach.
For such an awe-inspiring figure to be suddenly thrusted into their midst and now traveling with them, it was to no one’s surprise that the students would act so mindful of her. Kash and Gibul pretended to be calm in front of the girls, Wendy and the other girls were trying to sit as far away as possible, while Lynn was so frightened that she took to hiding behind Teresa. Unlike their encounter with the emotionless Re=L, the powerful presence of Celica has drawn an impassible chasm between the students and her. Other than Rumia, Sistine, and Re=L who had connections to Celica through Glenn, the other students were completely frozen by her presence.
Hey, Celica, they are completely petrified. You really need to do something about it!
Glenn surveyed the room nervously through the small window.
Celica, however, just continued to casually flip through her book, completely oblivious to the fearful stares around her.
“Umm… P-Professor Arfonia?” Sistine tried to strike up a conversation with Celica, attempting to clear up the stagnant air. “So, Professor. W-what brings you to the ruins this time?”
Celica withdrew her vision from the book at hand and looked to the front, where her eyes met with those of Glenn.
U-ugh! Glenn quickly shrunk back.
Celica let out a small chuckle at Glenn’s antics, “Nothing much~ Just a bit of willful thinking, I guess.” And returned her focus to the book.
“Yes, just willful thinking.” Celica was clearly evasive in her answer, tinged with a hint of ‘refusal’.
“Ah, I see…” To have the conversation suddenly cut short, Sistine was left in a quandary.
“O-oh right! Professor, I have a question for you!”
“When you defeated the monsters earlier, why did you decide to use a sword? If I were in Professor’s shoes, I would believe it to be easier to take them out with magic.”
“…? No, that is… If I were to use an attack spell then, won’t all of you be blown away as well? Not to mention the changes that would have been made on the geography and ley lines.” Celica answered in a sober tone.
Uncertain of how much exaggeration was involved in the answer, the visibly shaken Sistine kept the conversation going.
“B-but still, for a single person to be able to defeat so many, Professor Arfonia really is amazing! We were completely awestruck!”
“Hahaha~ Fibel, have you not heard the rumors about me?”
“If I remember correctly, the story went that Celica Arfonia single-handedly wiped out tens of thousands of imperial army. Compared to that time, the wolves this time were all small fries… Hehehe~”
“Huh? Ah? T-those rumors are real?!”
“…Who knows~ What do you think?” Celica gave a vague response, followed by a mischievous laugh.
Uwa… The plan backfired…
Sistine held her head and let out a deep sigh.
Celica’s elusive demeanor was nothing unusual and was simply a normal facet of her being. However, her casual remarks earlier made the students fear her even more. No matter how outlandish the ‘rumors’ were, they always gained an air of authenticity around Celica, and some were even later identified as ‘truths’… Such was her unfathomable strength. Of course, Celica knew this full well and used it to tease the students.
“Hehehe…” Celica revealed a devious smile as she looked around the students.
T-this woman, seriously!
Like teacher like pupil. No matter what anyone said on the contrary, Celica was indeed very similar to Glenn.
W-what to do now…?
While Sistine was searching deep in her mind for a countermeasure…
“Hmm? Celica?” Re=L broke the silence that enveloped the carriage.
Re=L, who was huddled at the corner of the carriage, rose from her slumber and rubbed her sleepy eyes. She has finally awoken and took note of Celica’s presence.
“Oh? You are coming along?” Re=L effortlessly leapt across to Celica’s side and drew close to her face.
Re=L had always held an interest in Celica, a somewhat of a mystery to many. By the time Re=L joined the Imperial Court Mage Corps, Celica had already left. As such, the two never met each other face to face. However, after meeting her through Glenn, Re=L became weirdly attached to Celica. When asked, Re=L’s answer was always, “For some reason, Celica doesn’t feel like a stranger… Not sure why.”
“Ah, I’ll be tagging along. Please take care of me.” Celica smiled as she rubbed Re=L’s head.
Re=L doesn’t seem to dislike the pat and just meekly received it with her head.
“Is that so… What are you reading?”
Re=L’s interest has quickly shifted to the book in Celica’s hand.
“This book? It is a fairy tale called the ‘Sorcerer of Melgalius’.”
The vivid colors that once illustrated the printed page have long since become dull, while the letters that recounted the tales was blurred at places. Although just a fairy tale, the binding of the book looked ornate, and the large number of pages gave it a weighty feel. Given the ample amount of illustrations within, one could perfectly refer to it as a picture book.
“Hmm? With his left hand wielding red magic that negate all magic, and his right hand wielding black magic that consume souls, he completed the thirteen trials of Lady Midnight and obtained thirteen lives – Lord Al Khan of the Shimmering Blades.” Re=L squinted her eyes and read from the book.”In the end, even the Demon Lord could not avoid the exchange of blows…, what is this about?”
“That is the climax of the prologue to the ‘Sorcerer of Melgalius’.” Sistine passionately cut into the conversation. “The protagonist of the story, the ‘Sorcerer of Justice’, doesn’t appear until the second chapter. Prior to the second chapter, the story detailed how the Demon Lord gathered his lieutenants and built the Sky Castle. Of his lieutenants, Al Khan of the Shimmering Blades was the major character in the prologue.”
“Oh, you seem to be strangely well informed.” Celica gazed upon Sistine with impressed eyes.
“Huh? Ah, yes. For us Sky Castle geeks, the book is a very important source of reference.”
The fairy tale ‘Sorcerer of Melgalius’. Atop the Sky Castle, the sorcerer of justice would come to defeat the Demon Lord who tormented the people, rescue an imprisoned princess, and bring happiness to all. It was clearly a story written for children, but the narrative contained many fantastical and mysterious elements, as well as detailed description of the protagonist’s emotions and thoughts. Furthermore, no details were spared for even for the Demon Lord and his subordinates. With its ensemble cast, even adults could find appreciation for the story within.
“This is not a simple fairy tale. Its author, Rolan Eltoria, went to great lengths to collect the folk tales and songs from all over the empire, and using his own insight, compiled the greatest collection of ancient myths.” Celica let out a laugh and raised the book up, “This was Glenn’s favorite book from when he was a child. I originally thought about bringing a book along for the journey to kill some time, and after searching through the bookshelves, I saw this book. Feeling nostalgic, I…”
“Ah?” Sistine was startled by Celica’s words, “T-that was really a surprise. I didn’t think the teacher would enjoy this story of all things. And here I thought teacher who shouted ‘magic is but a tool for killing’ at the top of his lungs would find a story like this childish.”
“Well, he did encounter some trauma in his life. It is not wrong to say that magic is a tool for killing, but that is not all magic is good for. He knows it in his hearts.” Celica wryly smiled with a shrug. “When he was young, he used to love magic. He would read this book and proudly declare ‘When I grow up, I want to also be a Sorcerer of Justice!’ Despite how he is now, there was a time when he was cute like that.”
Before, Glenn mentioned he always wanted to become a ‘Sorcerer of Justice’.
“Speaking of which, isn’t Professor Arfonia our Teacher’s mentor and foster mother? What was teacher like when he was a child?” Sistine spontaneously asked, “I-I do not mean anything by that question. J-just a little bit curious, that is all! Aah, why is it becoming so awkward!!”
Sistine did not know why she was feeling envious toward Celica for her knowledge about the unfamiliar side of Glenn. Sistine was still too naïve and did not recognize her jealousy.
“Hmm… Let me think…” Celica took a quick glance at the surrounding students.
The students were as nervous as always, but they all seemed to have an interest in Glenn’s childhood and were secretly peeking at Celica. Celica kindly gazed at the students and closed her book with a plop.
“He was an innocent and sincere child, so much so that he frequently made me feel that I was not good enough to be his mother…” With eyes full of nostalgia, Celica spoke as she watched the scenery through the window.
Celica began recounting the old days, although her story felt quite fragmented. Ten years ago, while still serving as a magician of the Imperial Court Mage Corps, Celica adopted the homeless Glenn purely on a whim and have lived together with him since. To care for Glenn, Celica left the Mage Corps and, because she was unfamiliar with normal life, ended up frequently being cared by Glenn in reverse. The time when Celica decided to cook for Glenn and, when Glenn cried ‘It doesn’t taste good’ while on the verge of tears, would vow to improve her own cooking. The time when Celica believed a man should be strong and taught Glenn martial arts and magic. While Glenn showed promise in martial arts, he would be troubled by his lack of talent in magic and caused Celica much worry in return. There was also the time when Glenn would perform magic experiments, and the sparkle seen in his eye as he eagerly awaited the results.
They were long and peaceful days.
Yet, the two would frequently bicker because of misunderstandings.
“But despite it all, that kind of mundane life… was very precious to me.”
On a certain day, Glenn suddenly decided to give Celica a gift, calling it her birthday present. Because Celica did not know her own birthday and never held a particular interest, Glenn unilaterally decided upon her birthday, reflective of his innocent self.
“And, this was the present from that time.” Celica took out a pendent with an unshapely red stone seated within, “It was a red magic crystal created through the alchemy that I had just taught him, and, after making a few random cuts, he had it hanged on a string and turned it into a pendant. The crystal’s purity was very low and lacked any magical value, a complete piece of junk.”
And yet, Celica carried the supposed piece of junk close to her like a treasure.
“Really, it is quite troubling to receive a gift like this, as I couldn’t really wear it openly. All in all, that bastard’s way of interacting with females really needs improvement. But, not sure why… at that time… I…”
Celica shut her eyes and tightly clenching the stone.
Whenever Celica would talk about Glenn, her tone was calm and her words would just naturally flow out. However, this also showed how much she cared for Glenn as a mother and as a mentor.
“…Mm. Actually, let’s leave it at that.” Celica abruptly ended her thought at that point.
Like the glittering gem, the story of his joyful childhood came to an end.
After that, Glenn used ‘graduation’ as an excuse and left the magic academy to join the Imperial Court Mage Corps.
“As what came after concerns his dignity, I won’t go into too much detail. In summary, Glenn experienced all sorts of misfortune during his times in the Mage Corps and soon fell deep into depression. One can even say that he lost the will to live…” Celica had a complicated expression and was conflicted for what to say, “So, I would really like to thank you all.”
Celica suddenly revealed a smile at the listening students, almost as if a ray of warm sunlight illuminating a field of golden what, a complete change from her usual cold demeanor. So much so that it was hard to believe the person sitting before them was the one who was the subject of all sorts of terrifying rumors – a legend with countless achievements. Celica’s action made the students forget to breathe momentarily, only blinking blankly at the sight.
“It was thanks to you all that Glenn could once again be in a good enough spirit to do all those foolish things. Before, it was always just me by his side, and no matter what I did to nurture and protect him, I was unable to help him recover. Therefore, thank you.”
And so Celica finished retelling the life of Glenn and opened her book to read once again. As indicated by her actions, no words came out from her since. The gentle breeze blowing through the half-opened window lifted Celica’s beautiful hair.
Now that they had warmed up to Celica, the students, including Sistine, Wendy, Lynn and the others came to realize: That demon-like, rumored, feared, and terrifying Celica was at her core, the same as the students – a simple human being.
“Ah? A-although I am not sure how it happened, the atmosphere has improved a lot!” Glenn, who was peeking through the driver’s window, commented.
The tense air that had enveloped the entire carriage has now dissipated. Lynn and Cecil have also relaxed. Kash and Wendy still isn’t their usual self, but at least began to have some small talk with Celica. Whenever a question was asked, Celica would close her book and patiently reply.
It seemed all of this happened after Celica made that long talk. Sadly, with how loud the horse and the carriage were, I wasn’t able to clearly hear the details from the driver’s seat…
“But that is just fine… I-I do not care about the topic one bit!” Glenn held a complicated expression as he turned to face the front.
“I bet it is because everyone realized Professor Arfonia isn’t a scary person at all after hearing all she had to say.”
“…Really, the students are too easily scared!”
After hearing Rumia’s assessment, Glenn let out a grunt.
“Certainly, she is always aloof, and foolish, and willful, and foolish, and mischievous, and foolish, and hard to understand, and foolish, and have all those weird rumors, and then using all those rumors to prank people, and impossibly foolish… I think that summarized her up well.” Glenn suddenly blurted out. “But, how to say this… Sometimes she is really kind and took me in to raise me into the man I am today… Additionally, while I hate to admit, as a magician, she is incredibly powerful…”
But the more Glenn said, the less the words flowed, and soon it devolved into a tangled mess.
“Either way, if it weren’t for her, I would have ditched that tiny house a long time ago…” Glenn shrugged his shoulders and mercilessly remarked.
“Hehehe…” Glenn’s words elicited a slight chuckle from Rumia.
“W-what is so funny?”
“N-no, it’s just that… I feel that teacher really treasures Professor Arfonia.”
Rumia’s sincere words made Glenn unable to retort.
“For your important person to be treated so distantly by others, it must have been quite sad.”
“Teacher is really worried about the Professor, so…”
“W-what are you talking about? Don’t be absurd! She would never care about some pointless matter like this! And…” Glenn was like a little kid, tossing out excuses after excuses in denial of his feelings.
Rumia continued to look at Glenn with her caring eyes.
The carriage traveled west on the rolling grasslands.
◇ ◇ ◇
At the point when the sun was at the distant horizon, the travelers have finally seen silhouette of the ruins. As the sun slowly set, above them was a beautiful pomegranate-colored sky, and at a distance were the crimson peaks of the mountain range, with the shimmering lake at the foot of the mountains. Underneath their feet was a vast grassland dyed red by the setting sun.
Situated on a pedestal closest to the sky and surrounded on all sides by imposing cliffs, the observatory stood.
“So that’s the ‘Taum Observatory’.” Sistine stared intently at the observatory, seemingly overcame with emotions.
And it was not limited to just Sistine, all the students who glimpsed upon the observatory found themselves being pressured by the mysterious yet awe-inspiring sight.
“Hey, what are you all zoning out for?” Glenn clapped his hand, snapped the students out of their trance, and began to give orders.
“The official investigation will begin tomorrow, and we will need to establish camp. The boys will be in charge of setting up the tents. Lynn and Teresa will take care of dinner. Celica, please set up wards on the perimeter of the camp, just in case. White Cat and Wendy will also help Celica with the wards. Rumia will tend to the horse. Re=L will be tasked with sentry duty. Please check if there are any dangerous monsters nearby and feel free to kill any that you find. Is everyone clear about their duties? If so, then I…” After his exemplary display of leadership, Glenn laid down flat on the ground, “will take a nap… So sleepy… Be sure to wake me once dinner is ready. Good night everyone.”
Sistine spontaneously chanted the Modified Black Magic [Gale•Blow] and blew Glenn away.
“‹Why are you making•Everyone else do all the work•Seriously›!”
“I’m sorry! It’s my fault! I’m really sorry! I won’t do it again…Uwaaa!! Please, not electri-… Gah!!”
A huge spectacle took place.
Celica’s caring gaze followed Glenn. She revealed a gentle smile before turning to the observatory.
“…’Taum Observatory’, if it’s here, then maybe…” Celica quietly muttered to herself.
Her face showed an unusually stern look.
At the same time, in a certain place.
“You have come, Celica…”
In the darkness, a certain presence also muttered to itself.
(1) Celica means heavenly or celestial, from the Latin word caelicus (f. caelica).
(2) To give the same sense of technical mumbo-jumbo Sistine is spewing, I decided to convert all the ages into scientific terms, I think the Greek roots I’ve used are quite self-explanatory… Metachron = Age of Change, Theochron = Age of Gods, Anachron = Age of Chaos, Palaeochron = Age of Old Ancients, Neochron = Age of New Ancients. Thought about using Latin roots instead, but mutaeval just sounds weird.