Transportation magic isn’t really as convenient as society makes it out to be. Connecting two distant places by spell veins through a magic procedure, opening up a sort of pseudo physical hallway, and moving ‘luggage’ through. The process of delivering resources or people to faraway places where they might originally have taken a few months to reach can be greatly shortened — okay, well if you just hear that much it does indeed seem like the stuff of dreams. You might even feel like it could be called the peak of humanity’s technological advancement.
But of course, the world is not that lenient. You have to change where the ceremony takes place based on the positions of the sun and moon, the magicians performing the ceremony all have to conjure magic up to their uppermost limits or else nothing happens, and if you transport a living being an extreme burden is placed on it. Anyway, in the shadows behind this dream technology lurks ugly, harsh reality.
Because of all that, only two kinds of people in this land can have the pleasure of experiencing transportation magic: messengers who need to relay vital information as fast as possible, and the utmost elite soldiers or adventurers who can change the tides of battle.
— An abandoned mountain hut, on the outskirts of the Tifuana District, near the borders of the empire’s territory.
“Weren’t we supposed to meet at noon?”
Inside of the hut, three men and women are gathered. One of those three, Willem, looked around the room with a tired face. No matter how many times he checked, there were still only three people, including him. The number of faces he could count was about four short of what it should be.
“The others showing up late? Slackers…”
“Whoa whoa wait a second. You don’t get to go around saying that! You yourself didn’t even get here until the sun started to set!”
“Well, if you two keep quiet about that, the other four will never know.”
“And why the hell do you think we would do that!? Even if we cover for you, the truth doesn’t change, and in the first place we don’t have any reason to do that!”
“Alright alright whatever but don’t shout so loud, Suwon. I’ve still got a headache from crossing the entire continent with that transport magic.”
“And who’s fault do you think that is!?” After raising his voice one more time, the young thaumaturgist, Suwon, sagged his shoulders.
Sporting fluffy blond hair with light blue eyes and a rather pretty face on a lean figure, he would probably get a fair amount of attention from the ladies with his appearance, but, well, no matter the time nor place, he can always be found wearing his oversized pure white cloak. It’s so long that the bottom drags on the ground behind him and, well anyway, a lot’s going to waste there.
“It always ends up like this when I talk to you. No one else rubs me the wrong way as much as you do — ‘Black Agate Swordmaster’.”
“I keep telling you to stop calling me that.”
“Again with the nonsense. It sounds cool, what’s not to like? Well, although it’s cool, it doesn’t even come close to my name, ‘Magus of the Polar Star’. But I’m just that much better than you, so it really can’t be helped.”
“Okay, I think it’s about time for you to shut up. My headache’s getting worse for a whole different reason now.”
“Hey, what are you trying to say!?”
Suwon continued his complaining, but not paying attention any longer, Willem turned to the other person in the room.
“So you ended up coming, huh? Leila.”
“Hm? Wha — hmhmmhm — mean?” While chewing a biscuit, the girl raised her eyes up from the book she was reading and mumbled an incoherent mess. Her red hair, which had the color of a burned brick, shook slightly.
“I said it was okay to run away, remember?”
“Ah, talki — hmhmhm — that again?” Munching up the last bits left in her mouth, she continued, “It’s not like there’s any other way… if I don’t do it, who will?”
“Here you go again. You know you can’t.”
Willem fell silent. Being hit with the plain and simple truth, no sugar coating whatsoever, he had nothing to say in return.
“Well my bad, going out on the battlefield so casually. It’s just, you know, I’m a prodigy overflowing with unprecedented talent,” Leila said sarcastically, then broke out in a cackle.
With no words but still a bitter taste in his mouth, Willem groaned. “As usual, you–”
“You? While the country is in ruins, I still happen to be of proper royal blood, you know? Show some respect.”
“Fine, fine. As usual, it seems Your Highness’ personality today is rotten to the core.”
“Aw, well it must be that your rottenness is spreading to me. I guess you really do need to choose your friends wisely.”
“Hmm, is that so? Well I guess you won’t be needing these then,” Willem said as he took a bag of cookies out of his pocket and waved them in front of Leila’s face. “Almaria said ‘share them with everyone’ and made me bring them, but I have no obligation to share it with non-friends.”
“Ally’s cookies!?” Leila sprung forward. “We’re best friends for life, right Willem?”
“From personality to just about everything else, you really have nothing about you to praise, but I respect how fast you can change your attitude.”
“Well if you respect me enough, maybe you can give me that daughter of yours, father?”
“Can’t give my kid away to someone as dangerous as a Brave.”
“Hmph, well I guess it can’t be helped then.”
Right as she finished her sentence, Leila snatched the bag and dumped all the cookies out into a container.
“It’s for everyone, so leave some for Emi and the others.”
“I know, I know,” Leila replied mindlessly, then started stuffing her face with cookies. A split second later, Suwon shouted ‘not fair!’ and promptly joined in.
“You guys…” The usual meaningless banter with friends. “… so…”
“Why do you fight, Leila?”
“That question again? It doesn’t really matter, does it? Humans can stand on a battlefield without any particular reason and, with some talent, fight well enough. That’s good enough for me.”
“Well if you’re being honest, then of course that’s good enough. I don’t agree, but I can accept it. From the way you say it, though–”
“It seems like I’m lying? About what?”
If Willem knew the answer to that question, he wouldn’t have had any problems in the first place.
“See?” Leila said smugly as he failed to respond. “All you need to do is be quiet and follow behind me. Also, you could take care of Seniolis’ maintenance and give me those massages. Your existence isn’t worth much more than that anyways, so just keep your head down and do the things you’re actually capable of.” She gave another smug little hmph as she finished her rant.
Willem could say nothing in return, despite having many things he wanted to say. For example, Leila’s always smiling face looked like it was about to start crying — but he didn’t know why, so he couldn’t point that out. No matter how much time they spent together fighting or just goofing off like now, he could never tell what Leila was thinking.
“Hm? What is it this time?”
“I really don’t like you much after all.”
“Ah.” A wide smile spread across Leila’s face. “I know!” she exclaimed in an oddly proud voice.
What Leila was thinking about, or what she was hiding, Willem never got a chance to find out.