Chapter 19 – Isn't this enough?
The matter of disappearing magi and people was swept under the rug, but it didn't stop some of the information to leak to the public. Everyone agreed that something strange was going on, and as the public learned about the disappearance of even magi, more unrest began to grow. Someone out there wanted to harm the academy, and from the looks of it, the academy seemed powerless. Investigations were going on across the country and beyond to look for any possible signs of outside influences, but there had yet to be any remarkable results.
During these turbulent times, the students of the academy were naturally filled with unease as well. It was the teachers' job to ease their worries, but they too needed a break sometimes.
The bell had just rung eight o'clock in the evening as two people walked out of an alley in the Outer District that was close to the Magus District. It didn't take long until they attracted many stares and onlookers, not because of their status as magi, but only from their appearances alone.
The two didn't wear the famous uniform. Aien had convinced Lea long ago that it was better not to walk around in her magus robe if they didn't want to be treated special. That didn't hinder the men from staring her up and down as she walked in her tight-skinned dress. No matter how often she wore it, the faint tint of red on her face didn't disappear, and it only made her more attractive. Her navy-blue dress hung loosely around her shoulders, the sleeveless dress revealing her slender arms. Her legs were half-hidden behind the lower-part that lightly flattered in the wind. A sight to behold for any man, arousing their jealousy towards her companion.
But that didn't last long either as her graceful figure was accompanied by a man that was deserving of her. A fine-cut suit, tailored perfectly to his body that accentuated his lean stature. With unmatched dignity and confidence, Aien led his date into the most elegant restaurant they'd been frequenting lately.
“I'll never get used to this,” Lea mumbled as she held onto Aien's arm. She was used to being stared at because she was a magus and not because she was a woman. At least that's what she had always thought.
“Who can blame them?” Aien chuckled slightly and flashed her a loving smile. She quickly averted his gaze as her blush flared up even more. This was something she wasn't ever getting used to either it seemed.
The two sat down at the table they reserved beforehand, and Aien mentioned to the waiter to come back for their orders later.
“You were right...” Lea said, carefully adjusting her dress after sitting down.
“We have doubled the number of sentries, and yet... there are still blind spots. I can't believe how many we've been missing...” She muttered thoughtfully, mostly disappointed in herself. She was one of the few in charge of sentry duty, and it seemed that she had been severely lacking.
“Don't blame yourself too much about this, Lea.” Aien comforted her. “In such a peaceful city, it is a good sign for security to be lax when there've been barely any incidents over the years.”
He said a few more words to cheer her up before providing her some advice regarding the matter.
“The problem isn't the number of sentries being used, it's the sentries themselves. It doesn't take much to realize their limited vision capabilities.”
“I still can't believe you figured that out just by looking at them from the outside...” Lea said with some astonishment.
“It's easy to pick up on during the night,” Aien explained. “I suppose, the red light they emit is necessary to record footage, and you can see that the brightness drops as it transcends their cone-like focus. Despite them illuminating everything in a circular area around them, their focus becomes apparent if you know what to look out for. It's very similar to a construct I've seen before coming to this city."
“You really pick up on the strangest things, Aien.” She pointed out but didn't dwell on it for much longer. “Regardless, I'm glad you mentioned it. It might take up a lot of resources to fix the problem, but we owe it to the people to keep the city safe.”
After finishing their work-related conversation, Aien called over the waiter to make their orders. At least that's what Lea had thought until she heard Aien whisper something into his ears. Thanks to her natural alignment with the wind element since birth, the words were carried directly into her ears.
“Don't forget to put the ring in...”
In response, all of the previous flushes paled in comparison to the tomato-red her face turned into. She quickly used her hands to fan herself, trying to somehow calm down, but to no avail. Various thoughts quickly filled her fantasy, causing her to space out from reality.
'Ring? What ring? No... No... This is too early, isn't it? We haven't even... But what should I? He is... It's not like I don't...'
“..-a, ...-ea, Lea!!” Aien shouted until he finally brought her back to reality.
“Everything alright? I ordered the usual for you, I hope that's fine?”
“Yes! Yes... Everything's perfect! Yes! The usual is fine! It's just a little warm in here, that's all...” She wanted to bury her face somewhere that flared up even more as she was unable to properly respond to him. She needed a distraction, or else she felt like she'd go crazy.
“More people have been reported missing...” She eventually succeeded in saying something coherent, but immediately regretted it.
“Yes...” Aien answered her with a saddened expression. Great, why did she have to mention this to him? It was clear that the matter hit him very hard. Ever since Yasim and Serak disappeared, Aien had spent more and more time in the forest. Scavenging the woods to finance his recent research, he'd buried himself in. She guessed that it was his way of coping and didn't bother him, thinking that he needed some alone time. That's why she gave him a lot of privacy to handle it since the lack of news on her part didn't help.
“Look, our food is here!” Lea quickly changed the topic as she always did. The waiter brought what the two of them would always order - Roasted beef with mashed potatoes as a side dish, cooked within a Magecraft Construct. Instead of complaining about why Aien had brought her to a high-class establishment again, she immediately dug in, not waiting for Aien to start. It was her way of trying to deal with the embarrassment and forcing out the matter of the ring from her mind. At least she tried to do so as she desperately ignored the glass of wine next to her.
“Don't worry, Aien!” She gave him a sort-of thumbs up with a mouth stuffed with food, ignoring her unlady-like appearance.
“Whoever is responsible will be judged by Ryeka and meet their appropriate punishment. It's only a matter of time until we know what's going on.”
However, Aien was unusually quiet. She wondered if her mentioning of the topic was worse than she'd initially thought and tried to lessen the sudden tension in the air. That's when he spoke up in a voice that was in complete contrast to his usual self - A voice that she hadn't heard before.
“...Lea, do you believe justice exists in this world?”
That wasn't a question she'd expected him to bring up either.
“That doing good deeds will lead to being rewarded? That karma exists?”
“I do,” Lea said without a doubt in her mind. While she didn't know the concept of this 'karma,' she understood his meaning. The conversation had unexpectedly turned severe, but she knew she had to give him an honest answer.
“Of course you do...” Aien gave a slight chuckle that made her feel very uncomfortable.
“The weak need justice.”
“That's why the strong have the responsibility to enforce it,” Lea answered. “We, who have the power, have to make sure that the world remains fair for everyone. It's the right thing to do.”
“But that's not the truth.” Aien was no longer talking to her. Instead, he looked outside the window where the increase of snowfall created a small storm together with the sentient wind that kept the streets clean. Looking at his own reflection, he continued.
“You believe in justice because you are weak. The strong have none of the responsibility you speak of. They can do whatever they want. Because they are strong. Justice is merely a concept created by the weak to deal with this. No one can truly accept that their very own life is out of their control. One can't accept the fact to be only at the mercy of the strong - of those at the top that rule them. That's why people delude themselves and cry out for justice. It's a simple coping mechanism.”
“...What's wrong with you, Aien?” Lea asked, taken aback even more at his sudden change in behavior. She knew about his past, or at least about what Aien had told her. There had been some doubt about his background in her mind. How was a young man able to move to Levestein, when his situation should have left him... 'working.' Everyone knew of the fate that befell orphans who were unable to become magi, and Lea wasn't an exception. After learning of his life in the orphanage, she evidently asked about the rest of his past. After some careful probing on her part, Aien had eventually told her his story.
He'd told her about his life in the mines. The dangerous escape that had led him into the hands of an evil magus. Only after laying out a trap to escape his grasps was Aien able to find his luck in this city. A tragic story that left her forlorn.
But she didn't even know the half of it.
“Wouldn't you believe that after all you have gone through that this world can be fair? Even if it isn't naturally so, we have to change it ourselves! You have endured so much until you got to where you are today. What more do you want? Isn't this enough? I mean, you also have... me...”
Aien took a moment to let her words sink in. His recent life had no doubt turned for the better. If it continued like this, the memories of the past would melt like the snow in the spring as time would mend all wounds.
For a moment, he no longer lingered on the past as he imagined how his future could shape out.
If he played his cards right, his arduous and turbulent life would turn into a peaceful one. He would marry a well-respected magus. With his new status and putting some serious effort to solidify his position in the academy, he could return to Teralis with enormous backing. Together with Lea, who would surely follow him anywhere, he could help out at the orphanage.
Help out Mother Catherine and truly... return home.
“But you see, that's the problem, Lea...”
The image of this possible future was devastated by a raging fire, emerging from unknown causes. With a strength that exceeded his own, it engulfed everything in its surroundings, leaving only a familiar scene of loss behind.
Aien turned to look back at her, but she could no longer respond or listen to the words he said. A weakness overwhelmed her as her senses turned numb, cutting her off from the world. With her last strength, she wanted to call out to him, but the words wouldn't leave her lips. Before she fell into darkness, various thoughts flashed through her mind. The numerous warning signs she had never noticed or chose to ignore suddenly became glaringly obvious.
There were too many for her to pay attention to all of them, but as she fell unconscious, that one last, coherent thought stood out from the rest.
When was the last time she'd seen him eating during their 'dates'?
As her struggling eyelids gave up resisting, the emotionless visage of a man she'd never seen before was branded into her mind as he stared at her like a stranger.
“It is never enough.”