Published at 19th of November 2020 04:56:47 PM
Lynn couldn’t bring himself to attend Elios’s funeral .
He wasn’t even sure if a funeral had actually taken place .
Apparently, Lynn had heard, it was customary practice within the tower for any wizard who meets their end above the 99th floor to be buried by wizards who belong to the same floor .
In the tower, no one was able to go to a floor above their ranking- no matter what reason they might have . This was one principle which was, even more so than any other law, never compromised and absolutely always enforced .
As far as anything Lynn himself could have done, well that would be limited to praying and wishing that someone, somewhere above, had ensured that Elios’s funeral was carried out properly, and that his remains were treated with respect .
Elios’s personal belongings were given to those he left in his will . The wizard’s association oversaw this process .
His possessions would be distributed to Shila and Agul, but Lynn and- on this day it seemed- Theo, would accompany them on their trip to the association to collect them .
His belongings were nothing much to speak of- it was just a collection of simple everyday necessities and other various fixtures, such as clothing, furniture, pens and documents .
They were things which could be found anywhere . There wasn’t a single object left over which encapsulated who Elios was .
“So”, the wizard association staff member said, gesturing to the pile of assorted items, “this was all that was left in his room” .
It transpired that Elios had been living in a room that belonged to the association .
Initially he had been able to keep up with his rent payments, but from about 3 weeks prior he had begun to default on his rent .
Out of necessity, the association had moved to take action, and they entered his residence, but all they found inside was an empty husk with the measly possessions that the four wizards were looking at now .
Because Elios hadn’t informed the association about his leave, and because his whereabouts were unknown, they began a missing person search for him .
However they weren’t able to find him, and so they considered him dead .
Other than the items that were left in his room- in other words, what he had on his person at the time of his death- well on one knew where those items had gone .
It was possible, likely even, that he was attacked and robbed by thugs, the staff member informed them .
It can’t be… Lynn thought to himself . Yuin had told him something similar, but to think of Elios meeting such an end made him feel sick .
He stared at the small pile of measly belongings gathered before them, but still he didn’t quite feel the reality of his death .
“Honestly, what was he thinking”, Shadiff remarked in exasperation .
Lynn was talking to Shadiff about Elios’s death in Magic Contrivance class . He thought he needed someone to talk to about it, in order to come to terms with it .
However much to his dismay, talking to Shadiff only served to bring his mood even lower .
“That Elios you’re talking about, there are people like him every now and then . People who buy into the academy’s bullshit about equality, and then they go and get carried away with their ability . There’s a term for these people- naive . Hmmph!”
As he spoke, Shadiff scratched at his head vigorously, and Lynn even thought he could see the odd lice falling from his scalp and greasy hair . It must have been days since he had showered, Lynn thought to himself .
“In the end, a simple commoner can’t quite compete with the nobility, then…”
He elaborated in a disinterested, lazy tone .
“Isn’t that obvious to you yet? Think about it . Those who are lucky enough to win the birth lottery and are born into a noble family, they receive special education for gifted children from a very young age, all with the intent of raising them to become successful wizards . By the time they arrive here at the academy, there’s already too big of a gap between them and us commoners . How can that gap be lost on anyone? It’s simply too hard to ignore .
“Really though”, he continued, “from the association and academy’s point of view, they may as well just take noble students . It’s hardly realistic to expect commoners and slaves to be able to rival the elite . Taking students of all classes, without getting hung up on background- pfft . It’s nothing more than a front they put on . In reality they’ve designed the system so that the elite takes a different curricular path through the academy from the rest of us, by making the key classes financially unfeasible for us, and the effect of that is that us commoners don’t have a chance in hell of making it to the upper floors . This class too is just another cog in the wheel, designed with that in mind” .
“Well if that’s the case then, why do the association bother to take people from the common and slave classes, as if to make out they’re fair and equal? Is it just to source a cheap work force in people like us, who take this class and work for such low wages?”
“That’s one reason . Cheap work force, and especially a cheap work force who can also use magic- such workers are in short supply every . But the main objective is actually something else” .
“Their main objective?”
“There are sometimes… Certain individuals . Individuals who, despite their circumstances and in the face of all adversity, can even crawl up and out of the pits of society, and who go on to make their mark on the world . True geniuses, Lynn . The tower is seeking those kind of people” .
Lynn was in Fairy Magic class .
In the classroom, as always, Keiron Sensei’s plain yet refined voice was reverberating off the walls .
Lynn had come to regard his teacher differently from before .
Before, he had respected him simply due to the fact that he was a teacher, but now he found he was unable to look at people in such simple terms .
He looked around him at the classroom .
Everyone was sitting quietly at their desks, listening attentively, as if it were the most natural thing in the world .
They did so in order to get their credits, of course, so they could graduate from the academy, and in turn climb higher up the tower .
Suddenly the classroom, which was until recently such a familiar environment for him, struck him as a rather bizarre sight .
It had always seemed normal to him, but now things felt different .
What is this, anyway! Why is everyone able to sit there like that, and accept this as the natural order of things so simply? Don’t they think this is odd? Don’t they have any doubts or deeper questions about what they’re actually doing?
He was frustrated and irritated .
One day soon after, Lynn skipped his classes and, together with Theo, they forgo their duties for their joint enterprise and went outside the tower .
They had no particular goal in mind for their small trip . So long as they got out of the tower for the day they were happy .
He took Rein with him, who hid in his clothes . As he and Theo bundled into the elevator they saw Shila .
“Shila san”, he said in greeting .
“Are you ok, Lynn? It’s unusual to see you here . Don’t you have a class right about this time?”
“Well actually, I got the itch to get out of the tower for a little while…”
“I see”, she said, and said nothing more about the matter .
Just from that small exchange, she seemed to be able to sense his mood .
This was one of her positive traits . She was sharp, and she could read other’s feelings readily . Lynn appreciated her kindness .
“Take it easy today, enjoy yourself and come back safe . Skipping class every once in a while never landed anyone in much trouble” .
“I’ll be careful . Thank you, Shila san” .
Suddenly Lynn noticed that she was carrying books for paid classes . Among them was a book about material generation .
“Shila san, if I may ask”, he said, pointing to her books .
“Ah, these books . I suppose I realized that I won’t be able to get past floor 99 if I only take the free classes…”
“So you are aiming for the 100th floor, after all” .
“Yes, I am . Don’t think for a moment that I’m not . I can’t quite get my head around how Elios died . I guess I still haven’t entirely accepted it . At the very least, I want to visit his grave, and I won’t stop until I can . I’ll get there, even if I have to claw my way up, inch by inch” .
As if to illustrate her conviction, she looked upwards as she finished speaking, almost as if she was seeking the place where her dearest friend had met his end .
“Shila san… I’m sorry . I wish there was something I could do to help, but today my head’s all over the place . Otherwise I would have studied with you, or something…”
She simply smiled at him, understandingly .
“Go, get out of here for today . Breathe the air of the outside world, it will be good for you . You’ll be able to gather your thoughts, too” .
He had hoped for fine weather, but it looked like it had just rained . The sky was a dark, brooding grey, and either side of the roads were dotted with puddles . It appeared as though it might start raining again at any second .
Guingard’s main road was, as usual, packed with people . For a while Lynn resigned himself to the congestion, and did his best to battle through all the people, but after a while he became dizzy from the heat- So many bodies packed so closely together tended to generate a lot of heat, even on a cloudy, rainy day such as this .
Reluctantly he decided to stray from the main road into a quieter, side street, in order to catch his breath and cool down .
The street was small but empty . No one was there but him .
He sat down on the floor, and for a while he remained there, and he felt himself settling into the moment . He already felt far better than he had just minutes before .
When he at last looked up, he noticed a stone statue . It was a statue of Gaerias .
Wait, I’m sure I’ve been here before . Yes… That day, when I first arrived here in Guingard!
He remembered the short time he had spent here in this quiet, deserted street, and the person he had met there . It seemed like an age ago, so much had transpired since he had entered the academy .
While Lynn sat there, the same person in essence yet at the same time very different indeed from the boy he had been before, the state stared back at him, its grave expression unchanged, as though its destiny was to chant whatever incantation its pursed lips were spelling out for eternity .
He studied it for a while, taking in every small crack and every fine detail . A wondrous feeling came over him .
He decided he would talk to the statue . Of course he didn’t expect a reply, but he did so anyway . He spoke in a flat, defeated tone .
“Hey, Gaerias . What drove you to found that tower? Isn’t it your fault, then, that Elios had to die? If there’s anyone responsible, wouldn’t that be you?”
Silence . As expected, there was no reply .
Lynn felt an emptiness spreading inside of him . He felt hollow .
I should go home . There’s no use loitering around here any longer . It doesn’t matter how quiet and peaceful this place is, I have only the tower to return to .
He let out a deep sigh, and he made to stand up, but as he did, a bright, sprightly voice suddenly called out to him .
“Oh my- how unusual . I didn’t expect anyone else would bother to visit this place, besides myself of course” .
He looked around for whoever it was who had spoken to him . When his eyes landed on them, he saw it was a young lady dressed in a white robe .
She spoke again .
“You… You’re Lynn, aren’t you? What are you doing at a place like this?”
Lynn was silent for a few moments before he replied .
Lynn watched as Atorea prayed .
As he watched her, he felt his heart settle, and his various worries and fears disappear . It was a strange feeling .
Just by watching her deep in prayer, the flow of time almost seemed to slow down . The moments stretched, cradling him in time and space, allowing him respite from his troubles .
This peace was like a desert oasis, marked in time as only a brief slice of his life- which had been so hectic and troubling as of late .
When Atorea finished praying, she turned to face him .
“I’m sorry for keeping you waiting . Thank you for waiting for me while I prayed” .
“No, please don’t apologize . It was my own decision after all- to stay here and wait” .
“So then, may I ask what it is you’re doing here? Unless you had some kind of business and errand related to this statue, I can’t think of any reason why you would stop by here” .
“Well… I guess that would be because I kind of wanted to get away from the tower for even just a little while . What about you? Why are you here?”
“You could say I’ve made it a kind of habit to always stop by here after my business trips” .
“Business trips?”, Lynn asked, curious .
“Yes . Up until just yesterday I was on a trip to the Kingdom of Wingald . There’s a magical stone there, which can be found nowhere else . It’s called the Talgoni Stone . Have you heard of it?”
“No”, Lynn said, “I don’t believe I have” .
“You must brush up on your study then, if the name really means nothing to you at all”, she chided, clearly disapproving of Lynn’s lack of knowledge- much like she had done before .
“Now, the Talgoni Stone”, she continued, happy to tell him about the stone despite his ignorance .
Without realizing it, Lynn felt the corners of his mouth curl ever so slightly . He was happy that she treated him the same as she did before . When she talked to him, it only served to preserve the tranquility he had gained from watching her pray .
She really is devoted to magic, he thought to himself as she spoke .
“Are you ok?”
Apparently his smile had been more obvious than he had thought, for now she looked at him with an expression that lay somewhere between confused and concerned .
“Oh, sorry . It’s just that you’re exactly the way I remember you” .
“Is that so? Well you’ve certainly changed a little bit”, she said .
“I wonder” .
“At the very least, you’ve become a wizard of the tower”, she said, and pointed to his crimson robe .
“Ah”, he said, looking down at his robe, “I guess I have changed a little bit after all- compared to when I knew no magic at all, at least” .
“And despite that”, she pressed, “you look really quite sad” .
Lynn, unsure how to respond, gave a troubled laugh . After a moment of deliberation, he decided to be direct .
“Actually, someone I knew died”, he explained, and looked downward .
Atorea remained politely quiet, waiting for him to continue .
“It was someone who really did a lot for me, who watched over me . I looked up to him… Despite how much of a role model he was, when he graduated and ascended to the hundredth floor, things didn’t go well for him- at all . This whole time I’ve always thought if I do as he said, and lived the way he did, I would do well . But now that he’s dead, there’s so many things I realize I don’t understand . Like, what should I do now? And should I really try to climb the tower as high as I can? I mean, is there really any meaning in climbing it, at all?”
He paused for breath . Even he was surprised at how he was opening up about his feelings so much .
He knew that talking in such a way, and about such things, wasn’t appropriate considering the fact that he didn’t really know Atorea at all- this was just their second meeting after all- but for some reason he found he could talk openly with her .
Perhaps it was precisely because he hardly knew her that it was easy to talk to her . Or maybe it had something to do with the mysterious aura she had . He didn’t really know .
He continued talking .
“I left my hometown . I thought that anywhere would do . But now I’m starting to wonder- whether coming to this place was really a good thing . I don’t know what’s right anymore . But having said that, there’s nowhere else I could go anyway . For starters, I can’t get away from this place until I pay back the scholarship loan I took out . So there’s nothing for it but to carry on taking classes the same way I have until now, and do my best to graduate . Just that thought, however, really gets me down” .
She spoke slowly, gently, as she uttered an incantation quietly .
“Clock, appear” .
The markings of a clock face appeared and etched themselves into her skin, and gave off a soft glow .
“Atorea?” Lynn asked questioningly .
“Before my meeting I have some free time left” .
She appeared to consider something for several moments, then spoke again .
“Lynn, what do you say to the idea of playing a game with me?”
“That’s right . A game that is played using magic” .
She stood up .
“You want to know what meaning there is in the endeavour of climbing the tower, don’t you? I’ll show you . I’ll show you the kind of magic a wizard of the tower’s higher echelon can wield” .
Next time… Chapter 48, Part 2 .