“Milly, do you know why we’ve been called to the guild?” Rowen asked. Earlier that morning, a messenger had arrived from the guild with a letter. It was from Mary, guild-master of the Adventurer’s Guild, and she had asked them to visit her as soon as possible.
Milly shrugged cutely and said, “I’m not sure Rowen. However, I overheard from the builders last night that the rescue team returned last night with the survivors from Duren. They were talking about how the Tent Quarter we live in was going to become crowded again with all the refugees. I think father is going to have to hire more workers again to keep up with the new customers.”
“That would be good,” Rowen said brightly, “that’d mean I’d have more time to practice my magic.”
Milly casually punched Rowen’s arms. “Oh, is that the first thing that comes to your head? What about playing or practicing with me?” she asked.
“You’re too valuable to the customers to stop working,” Rowen said solemnly, “sacrifice your time and body for the sake of the tavern why I get stronger.”
Milly smiled at Rowen as she began to flip her magic throwing knife with her hand. Rowen’s face twitched as he watched the red knife jump into the air.
“I mean,” he corrected himself, “you’re a very special person and I would gladly share any free time your father gives me.”
“Really? Thanks Rowen, you’re so sweet,” Milly gushed happily. The knife disappeared into her shirt and she grabbed Rowen’s hand. “Let’s hurry!”
Dragged by Milly, the two ran through the busy streets of the Iron Quarter to the Adventurer’s Guild. They nodded to the guards at the entrance and hurried to the receptionist counter.
“We have a letter from Master Mary,” Milly announced as she handed over the parchment to one of the receptionists.
The receptionist smiled as she accepted the letter and read through it.
“I have verified the authenticity of this letter,” she announced, “if you could follow me to a classroom while I inform the Master.” Milly and Rowen followed her to the newly repaired corridor and into a classroom.
“Please, take a seat. Master Mary will be here soon,” the receptionist informed them before leaving. The two young teens fidgeted in the wooden chairs in a futile effort to find comfort. They gave up after a few minutes and ended up leaning forward onto the table in front of them.
Without warning, the classroom door opened and caused them to jump in their seats. Mary entered with a soft smile as she beheld the two children.
“I am pleased you both appear to be well,” she said softly, “I haven’t had an opportunity to check up on either of you since the attack. Have you both recovered?”
Rowen stretched his arms and nodded, “Yes ma’am. We only received slight scratches from the fight.”
“I’m glad,” Mary nodded, “due to your identities, I was unable to officially acknowledge your help with the flesh dragon attack. Your anonymous report on what you encountered and heard was met with a bit of skepticism when I shared it with the rest of the council, but it has been accepted as the truth. To think, Lord Rotch was so filled with hate and greed he agreed to become such a monstrosity.”
Rowen and Milly said nothing as they remembered their encounter with the misshapen mound of flesh. In the end, the former lord could barely remember his own name and was filled with mindless aggression and hatred.
“Continuing on,” Mary said, “I have called you both here today to introduce you to your new magic teacher. By fate, he was able to escape Duren and has agreed to teach you. My I introduce Mage Ganus, former guild-master of the Mage Guild of Duren.”
At her introduction, an older man entered the room. His face was aged, but not old enough to inspire the worry of others. He moved calmly with his back straight and his hair down his head. He possessed an impressive beard and mustache, which he stroked while examining the two teens before him. He wore a red gown laced with gold symbols and lines.
“As Master Mary has said, I am Ganus. You two may address me as Teacher, Master Ganus, Mage Ganus, or Sir,” he informed the two, “My rank within the hierarchy of magic is Grandmaster Mage. I am primarily a fire magic user, though I also dabble with as many schools of magic as possible. As such, I can only guarantee that I’ll be able to teach the both of you up to the level of Adept Mage as I do not know of high ranking spells outside of fire. Would you care to be taught by me, knowing this?”
Rowen had mastered the art of the straight face as he was pelted by Doc and Claire’s shouts of affirmation. He noted that Claire didn’t sound well and opted to check on her condition later.
“I seek to master magic and thus will accept you, Master Ganus, as my teacher,” Rowen stood and bowed.
“I, Milly, greet my new teacher,” Milly also bowed.
Mary nodded with a smile, “Then I will leave it to you Mage Ganus. Please, take as much time as you need in this class now and anytime in the future.” With that said, she left the room.
Ganus smiled softly at his two new students, “Now, would either of you care to ask me a question before we begin?”
“Why are you a Grandmaster Mage?” Milly asked, “is that like being a Magus?”
Ganus chuckled, “I assume you are thinking of Magus Falcon, correct? To answer that, are you both familiar with the adventurer rankings?”
Milly and Rowen nodded affirmatively.
“Magic users use a similar method to rank an individual’s strength. Every magic user employs the same system no matter their focus or discipline. Rather than using the alphabet to rank ourselves, mages are classified according to the following system: Apprentice Mage, Adept Mage, Journeyman Mage, Master Mage, Grandmaster Mage, Magus, and Saint. Every magic group uses this system: witches are ranked Apprentice witch, Adept Witch, Journeyman Witch, etc. Anyone who has reached the Grandmaster is considered elite within a country while Magi are among the strongest beings of the continent. The very, VERY few who have reached Saint level have already departed this world to join the ranks of the gods or demons. Now, are there any other questions?”
“So, how can you help us to reach the adept level if you don’t know high level spells outside the fire family?” Milly asked.
“All magic users require the same type of foundation training in order to use magic,” Ganus explained, “anyone who can use magic without being taught are novice magic users. They gain the rank of apprentice once they adopt a teacher. Adepts are magic users who possess a strong foundation in chanting, magical knowledge, mastery over one basic spell each from five different magic families, and finally a specific level of mana within their body. I can assist with this foundation setting for the both of you and I can share my insights into whatever magic families you are more inclined to.”
He turned to face Milly, “I’ve heard of your more . . . special circumstances from Master Mary. Chosen ones like you are more inclined toward the same type of training the clergy undergo. Your training will be of the same basic exercises up to the level of Journeyman. Their system of rating is broken up into friar and nun, priest and priestess, Father and Mother, and finally Holy Father and Holy Mother. Training you into an adept would place you at the high end of being a nun.”
Milly scratched her head, “This is a lot of information to process.”
Ganus chuckled, “True, I am overloading you both right now. However, this is common knowledge within the adult world so it is important you both know it. Being aware of the difference of power between you and an enemy could be the difference between life and death, especially now.”
“I’ve heard that Mary has provided you both with a basic meditation technique. Please, show it to me. Use the standing pose.”
Milly and Rowen nodded and stood up. Folding their hands in front of their chests, the two began channeling their mana from their chests through their arms in a circular fashion. A slight, magical mist arose from their bodies.
Ganus observed them for a moment before calling out, “That’s enough.”
When the two had stopped, he continued, “Your technique isn’t bad, but the low level of magic coming off your bodies tell me you both are far from your potential. Rowen, you still are lacking in the necessary control you need to move the vast amount of mana in your body. Milly, you have control but lack the force of will to fully access your mana. Ironically, each of you possesses the solution to the other.”
“Now,” he said as he pulled his sleeves up, “Copy my movements exactly. I’ll be showing you both the best of way to solve your individual weaknesses . . .”
The reunion of the royal family was warm and tearful. Upon setting their eyes on their eldest brother, both Helen and Shiva broke into tears and tackled James in a heart-felt hug. Even Ken couldn’t help but shed a few tears himself as he took his brother’s hand and pulled him into a hug. While Prince James did not cry, his gaunt and tired face broke into a warm smile that reflected a joy he had not felt for a long time.
Fiora quietly dismissed herself from the family reunion and closed the door behind her. Sighing, she exited James’s estate with a reluctant feeling of sympathetic joy.
“Thank-you,” Alfred said as he walked over to Flora, “Prince James hasn’t been this happy since before Marcus perished. The royal family has lost half their members; it is good they did not lose more.”
Fiora fixed Alfred with a glare, “I did my duty, nothing more and nothing less. I, as a loyal citizen of Duren, hold the royal family in the highest esteem no matter what feud I may have with an individual member.”
Alfred sighed and offered his arm, “Fiora, may I request you to accompany me for a moment?”
Fiora frowned, but took his arm and allowed Alfred to lead her into the courtyard. Due to the rushed construction, the gardens in the courtyard still possessed the look of a freshly planted garden. Alfred bent down and smelled one of the daisies.
“Beautiful is it not?” Alfred asked calmly as he fingered the flower, “no matter where this flower goes, so long as it remains alive it will be beautiful.”
“Please get to the point Alfred,” Fiora demanded with her arms crossed, “You did not ask for me to discuss gardening.”
Alfred sighed again, “With the fall of Duren, the royal family has fallen into a state of imminent distress. Tell me, have you ever heard of a king without a throne? Could a prince ascend into his inheritance if he possesses no one to crown him and no throne to sit upon?”
Fiora said nothing, but her eyes did waver for a moment. Alfred noted it and continued.
“With the current situation, it can be said that there is little left to lose. We’ve all lost almost everything: our homes, livelihood, safety, and even our country. We are surrounded on all sides by enemies and our resources are stretched thin as it is. The people need someone to guide them, to keep them feeling safe, to keep them calm. Do you not agree that our prince can provide this sense of security.”
“He does, does he not?” Fiora pointed out to Alfred with a raised eyebrow, “wouldn’t the knowledge of ‘our’ prince’s safety be enough?”
“Prince James is indeed a shining light in the dark,” Alfred assessed, “his mere presence shines the light of hope on all the peasants who live here. However, light can go dark, and my prince is so limited in what he can accomplish right now.”
“Does ‘your prince’ know that he’s limited?” Fiora asked sarcastically, “is he aware of your current views of his abilities?”
Alfred chuckled, “I would never trouble the prince with my thoughts. I was born unworthy, like you, and it was only by his grace that I was raised up from the gutter. I am not like you; you who has risen due to your own ability and luck. My very existence is devoted to repaying the prince for his kindness and generosity.”
“Really,” Fiora’s voice dripped with anger, “to say we were both born to be unworthy; I never would have imagined to hear those word from Alfred the Brain. When you led our group, weren’t you the one who said we were destined for greater things? Isn’t that what you and the others said to me when you abandoned me? You claim that your goal is to ‘raise’ up the prince, but doesn’t that also better your own position?”
“Come now Fiora,” Alfred chuckled, “surely you don’t hold the same enmity for me as you do the Empire? I, and the others, were forced to choose between backing you or siding with the prince. It was a petty children’s squabble.”
“Petty for you perhaps,” Fiora countered, “but while all of you were adopted to serve James in the castle, I was kicked out of the orphanage and forced to live on the streets until I could join the army. All for a stupid ‘children’s squabble,’ as you call it, over a stolen piece of gold I never touched.”
Alfred shook his head, “Prince James regrets that poor decision more than you realize Fiora. Fine, I won’t try to change your mind anymore.”
He cleared his throat, “As you are aware, Duren has fallen and as such my future king no longer holds the proper authority to be named as such. This land was granted to the adventurer’s guild by the former king, but it remains under the ownership of the royal family. Naturally, declaring this truth would be terribly awkward for my prince. However, you are close to the guild-master and hold much fame within the town; so if you offered your support for Prince James’s ascension and subsequent acquisition of this territory. . .”
Fiora didn’t hesitate as she drew her sword at lightning speed and held it to Alfred’s throat.
Alfred pleasantly smiled at her, not bothering to look down at the sword at his throat. “Careful,” he said softly, “I wouldn’t do anything else, otherwise it may become . . . unpleasant for you.”
Fiora casually moved her eyes to examine the two bodyguards who had materialized out of thin air and were currently holding their swords at her throat.
“Shadow guards of the king?” she reasoned, “I see the surviving members of the king’s guard have arrived from the convoy. Or maybe they have been here longer?” She withdrew her sword, and the guards disappeared.
“You want me to help organize a coup to place James as the ruling leader of this town,” Fiora stated bluntly, “a coup, now of all times? Are you insane? We can’t afford a blasted civil war while in the middle of an invasion!”
Alfred frowned and rubbed his throat, “That sounds rather unpleasant. I merely wish to enlist your aid in establishing the true ruler of this territory. Think about it; there are no other royal families in Nehatra. If we survive this challenge, then Prince - - - King James could become the de facto leader of the entire country! He would be incredibly grateful to everyone who helped him.”
“And if he became king, you would be the king’s top adviser, right?” Fiora snarled, “whispering your every wish into his ears. Well, with full intention to ruin your plan, the legal agreement between the guild and the kingdom was the sale of this land to the adventurer’s guild on the condition of taxes being paid to the city of Duren. With its destruction, this land is now the rightful property of the guild, not your Prince.”
Alfred narrowed his eyes, “I see; you have no intention to offer your help with this.”
Fiora quickly braced as she took a stance as she noticed growing shadows from the flowers, “Going to silence me now Alfred? I dare you try.”
Alfred glared for a moment before smiling and bowing.
“Why Fiora,” he said graciously, “I would never dream of harming one of the heroes! How very preposterous! Now, if you excuse me, I must meet with the gardeners. A few weeds seem to have been mixed in with the flowers.”
Alfred waved his hand, dismissing her. Fiora, her eyes still on the shadows, gave a two-fingered salute and left the courtyard.
When she was gone, Alfred’s face turned sour as he crushed the flower he was holding in his hand.
From the shadows, a smiling Annabelle and a frowning Josh emerged.
“That didn’t go according to plan,” Josh observed, “I already told you I tried to persuade her when we were together in the convoy and she refused.”
His mouth twitching, Alfred released the crushed flower from his fist and watched it fall to the ground. “I had thought she’d be wise enough to see what the future will be, what HER future success could be. She appears to be as stubborn as ever, curse her.”
Annabelle giggled as she wound her arms around Alfred, “My love, you shouldn’t get yourself so worked up. It’s bad for your health. Don’t let the fiery-haired demon succubus anger you so. Isn’t she nothing in your eyes?”
Alfred visibly relaxed at Annabelle’s words, “Thank-you my dear for reminding me. You’re right; she was nothing then and nothing now. While my plan would have been easier with her help, it won’t be hurt by her opposition. Josh, do you understand what you have to do.”
His face full of reluctance, Josh nodded, “Yeah, I understand. I’ll have the shadow guard keep an eye on her. Now, if you’ll excuse me.”
Alfred waited until Josh was gone before pulling Annabelle off of his shoulder, “Alright, you my dear need to keep an eye on Josh. Make sure his guilt and small conscience don’t interfere. I have a plan for this country, and no one will get in my way.”