It only took a few hours for the commotion to die down. Stein finally got the chance to talk to Tom and Sally, but the only words that could leave his mouth were superficial “are you doing fine?” Everything was hard for him. Suddenly, he couldn’t not say it.

He was very happy to be a knight. If he ended up saving even one life, he’d gladly take the aftereffects of the darklings’ fear radiation. However, that was only cause for confusion. Stein had a hard time deciding whether he was fighting for the preservation of life or the self-satisfaction of having importance in strangers’ lives.
This made his heart throb. What was the purpose of strength if you could never use it fully altruistically? He could now understand why Sally and Tom had thought him foolish. All this time he had the resolve and will but he never thought about how the end result would feel.
To add to this insecurity he wondered and eventually doubted whether any other knights had felt the same way and ever went through the same thoughts.

It wasn’t characteristic for Stein to be so silent, so Tom and Sally did their best to restore the idle chat that was so soon ago during the early morning.

Stein felt stunned. Rather than feeling like doing nothing, he imagined that he suddenly lost all capability to act on his own. The others were also sensitive to this and it spread contagiously, but quietly.

Surely, now living the capital, they had the chance to absorb the urban life before it became impossible for them. In fact, within a few weeks their absence would grow suspicious to the siblings’ father, and they would be forced to either lie or disappear from him.

Instead, the collectively felt obliged to stay at their new home, and while the veterans indulged on much needed sleep, they simply sat awake, the television buzzing.

The very next morning went the same way. Lawrence showcased his brilliant spring omelet. Even after the Great Reverse, omelets were the epitome of generalness. However, this one deviated from normality. There was only one and it sat in middle of the breakfast table.

Lawrence explained, “Once, a great conqueror returned back to native kingdom for holiday. With some of his highest generals, he had no choice but to rest in a small village inn, whose cook tried his best to please the national hero. The emperor was so pleased with the omelet he ordered the surrounding villagers to gather all of the eggs for the next day.”
Stein could be heard whispering, “Everything started somehow.”

Lawrence continued, “From that point on, the tradition faded away and instead people tried to make larger and larger ones just out of making records.”

For a moment Tom and then Sally took turns at thinking, everything turns into abundance eventually. But, from this point their thoughts diverged, and for a split second they became as involved as Stein. Luna could visibly see Tom and him think of with great difficulty. Maybe their worries were also in great abundance, she thought.

His mind was saturated by visions of the warrior he learned the Blank method from, and for a most sincere and poignant moment he imagined her being almost consumed by it, and all at once he knew Sally’s and Steins’ warnings were also sincere. He did not know why the story made it flash in his head, but he did seem like A. Schwarz did seem cautionary.
Sally, however, had a broader, vaguer image. Her thoughts had been so tumultuous, and she sought to limit the amount of times she returned to the same prophecy. Oh, how endless their pain was, she thought, we must always change to deal with all the change!

The languished feelings only lasted for milliseconds, and soon the two’s minds were relieved by idle chatter. Flowerily, Nick inquired, “Have you heard of the Tinker? Today I think we should go and meet him.”

She made some sound indicating a reply when Ella entered a room in a new fashion, on a wheelchair. At this time, she smiled emptily, carrying on without some obvious piece of her, perhaps something she had left in her office. Instead, she was in a wheelchair. It was electric and plain, but behind it was Luna, who was nearly sparkling with a dedicated smile. She stopped very suddenly and looked, like Ella, very surprised.

Making more sounds Sally stuttered confusedly, while Nick and the rest forgot about the Tinker. Ella finally spoke losing the cordiality she had when entering, “You did not know I am paraplegic? Until now?”

Yes, said she and Tom and Stein. They asked how she walked before. She told them, it was magic. Also, she weighed whether she needed to tell them why the sky was blue first. She did not consciously decide however, to grab her arm.
“Imagine some power that is barely measurable, that dissipates from all of you. It is as logical as a darkling. As someone who wields this power of illogic, it would not be so outwardly to force this energy into any mold, right? Imagine tiny strings of magic.”

She continued, “I must sometimes practice this ability, since for a knight the handicap can be dead-“

Luna interrupted her, but the way she talked was not her own and they seemed like one fused unit, “You don’t have to say all that. I apologize, but please don’t treat her any different.”

She knew that Ella always had the same tact as a child despite some intelligence. Taken aback, no one was to talk about it.

“So, the Tinker,” the shining prince whispered later, barely showing uneasiness, “is the one who designs weapons for prominent knights. We should really go and meet him.”

They all followed, save for Pierre Lawrence, through the corridors they entered from, and into a dazzlingly unornate level pathway. Nick said it was directly below the museum, not unlike their little base. Arriving at a cherry smelling door, they discovered an older man and his young, blonde-haired apprentice.

The latter treated them like lords and ladies and vanished behind, and then towards where he’d gone, there could be heard a low clang. It was nearly romantic, thought independently Sally and Stein that perhaps some lowly assistant labored, aided by the best to make the best weapons against darklings. It was not of enough importance, only dreamlike, to give more than a passing thought.

The Tinker introduced himself and seated them, gum in mouth. He was more scientist than smith, and his didactic manner was apparent in all his talk, “Your highness. I have something very much like your brother’s. Would you like to see?”

The complex was much bigger than the two rooms, and in a wide gallery full of half-finished contraptions and worn targets he handed Nick a bloated lance, that seemed nearly his length. It was an aesthetic disaster; some complex and heavy mechanism with a half dozen moving parts that did not seem right together, including a small microphone and even a screen near the opposite edge from the point. It even required a compressed gas canister and a safety trigger.
But he simply smiled, “I know what this is.”

After being invited to, he released the safety and was nearly shot backward as he pressed a very well hidden button. The tip of the spear flew straight outward like a bullet, ahead of a heavy chain that allowed him to easily retract it without ever touching the heavy blade. He forgot himself and repeated several times before saying, “This is very good work, but I do think it’s too heavy.”

“This one isn’t yours. We’ll get you sized before anything else,” the Tinker received a grunt of approval from behind a wall.

Seeing their wide mouths, he turned to the baronets and Stein and explained, “Knights need very specialized weapons if they choose something besides a saber. It has to do with a darkling’s outer shell.”

He walked around and stooped until he found a model. It was a small dark screen of thin material. Taking his index finger, he futilely tested his strength with both slight and serious force to try to pop it. However, he could do it if his finger followed through. He even brought multiple sets and set one upon his knees and tried with his thumbs. The three were even handed some to try for themselves. They did not notice that Ella, Nick, and Luna were not there.

“Enough, but I think I have some hypothesis. They have some kind of reactive armor, like on tanks,” He said very bluntly, “So maybe impact causes that inky material to move towards the location of the force. But darklings normally aim to keep a form, and maybe that’s why they can’t sustain constant contact. Just maybe.”

It was not something they taught at Oakwood. Tom felt himself fall away, and asked with chilling monotony, “I plan on using a pistol as a weapon. Does that mean it won’t work?”

“I can take a look.”

Tom felt fairly confident he could go both ways. After all, there were only a few paths in that walkway.
The Tinker asked for the others, “I will need to get you fitted for armor. Would you like new weapons?”

Sally memorized her size, but the asked him why all of his creations had the birthstones of their users.

“Hold on,” He said rudely while turning to Stein. A polearm, it would be, to which he said unexpectedly, “I don’t see many of those. However, come with me.”

Sally followed, feeling slightly forgotten, as Stein did not choose a moving mess like Nick’s gift, but the longest halberd he deemed he could maneuver. The Tinker was now further removed from a scholar and like a merchant happy to get rid of his least popular item.

And after sizing them, he had them on his way until Sally reminded him.

“Superstition, Baronet. For the longest time, people thought that darklings were invincible except to certain weapons because,” he seemed to forget in the middle, “that you needed a human’s soul to piece their mercurial form, since that a sword and lance worked where a gun didn’t. You needed a gem to hold the wielder’s soul in his weapon. Tradition, Baronet.”

She found him to be slightly offensive, but tolerated him on the fact that he presented a prince of Lodestone with a harpoon gun. She bowed like a little girl and excused herself, meeting Tom on the way. Stein followed, quite satisfied with his pick.

When Tom returned, he felt that the Tinker loosened somewhat. Tom was only more concerned at that, “I wish to use a magnum pistol. Would it be effective?”

“No,” he did not care for politeness even slightly now.

“I’m almost professionally good at shooting it.”

“I believe you.”

At this point the Tinker took it apart, “Normal guns have all the power to make a darkling disperse, but they don’t have enough interaction time. If you’re so handy, carry one just to distract them. They might flinch.”

“One more, sometimes this gun overheats.”

“Pistols don’t overheat.”

“I’ll show you.”

Tom very murderously had him put it back together, and prepared to shoot at the targets. He fired until he felt too warm to handle safely. The Tinker admitted he wasn’t sure why it happened, but it was never going to be too hot to carry.
Tom decided to leave very promptly. The Tinker did not ask about any weapon for him. When he returned, he saw Sally at her wit’s end. It was sure that they were not treated very professionally, and she had learned that beside Stein, the others had just stayed with the apprentice. Luna was watching the morning news, and hearing of morning Sally claimed that she was tired and went to her room, but Tom thought that she was signaling him.

The TV blared, “New allegations come forward as an admissions officer for Oakwood Academy is accused from taking bribes. At the highly selective Knights’ school, the window for which it could’ve happened included acceptances for dozens of trainees for the previous year, officials say.”

Lawrence was making pleasant smells and hard noises come from the kitchen, and Ella was probably working. Nick has a game of chess working with Stein, who was many things, but was not good at chess, and had asked Tom then to play with him next.

Luna was with him, but she was listless and could only say, “Oakwood really isn’t as good as the ones abroad.”
She realized what she had implied and immediately sat up.

“Have you been to Oakwood?” asked Tom as if he had to know.

“No. I’m self-trained. So is Ella.”

“Excuse me. Are you also a court magician?”

She might have been flattered, but the great darkness in her eyes receded and showed some other emotions. Tom had just met her and was somewhat startled in seeing so much of the white in her eyes. But then Tom was not smiling with her and now she felt offended.

She quickly cleared her mind. It might’ve really been the case that he had still not known, and it would be hypocritical to treat him differently than Sally. Maybe the common public did not know about the Umbrae? However, maybe not in number, but it should’ve been the same for gangsters and homeless; they are there but not well considered. They could hide well before their mercurial forms became persistent, the defining mark for the accursed.

“I am an umbra, a human with a mercurial form like a darkling.”

Tom had seen magicians. He faltered so she continued, “I’m tired, but maybe tomorrow I’ll show you the mercurial form. We’re going to exercise our powers tomorrow.”

“Is it like a curse,” Some other being within Tom said those words.

“I remember using those exact words. Everyone in the Zero Squad so far has proven to have a curse of some sort. Say, Baronet. I think I’ll excuse myself. It’s too late,” She did not want to talk about it.

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