With a mere month left until the graduation ceremony, I find myself spending my days in utter normalcy.
“Even in assassination, magic alone doesn’t hold much sway,” Merlin lectured, delving into the intricate relationship between magic and assassination.
It was almost a private lesson; only Leo and I attended.
I requested to be taught these arcane subjects, arguing that the knowledge was necessary for criminal investigation. To my delight, Merlin agreed without hesitation.
“Magic takes time to cast, and its range isn’t all that great. Hence, one might think, why not use it for assassinations? The idea has been around for ages. If you can chant without being noticed at close range, you could launch a one-sided attack, nullifying the disadvantages of magic. It sounds straightforward enough.”
“Sounds straightforward, but it’s wrong, isn’t it?” Leo playfully interjected.
“Correct. Firstly, there’s the issue of instantaneous firepower necessary for assassination. Only a handful of individuals who have mastered magic can instantly kill a target. From this point of view, magic is not suited for assassination. If you aim to master something for such an act, you’d be better off carrying a hidden knife.”
“What about situations where, even at close range, a knife wouldn’t suffice for an assassination?”
At my query, Merlin responded, “Hmm, are you talking about assassinations through walls? Well, if there’s a peephole or a window, you could just throw a knife. It’s far easier to master the art of throwing knives than to master magic to such an extent that you could kill in that situation.”
“And if there are no peepholes or windows?” Leo pressed further.
“That’s out of the question. Are you suggesting to assassinate using magic without knowing the situation on the other side of the wall? Impossible. For one simple reason: the magic wouldn’t activate. This ties back to its short range. If you don’t have a clear understanding of the surroundings where the magic is to be used, it won’t work.”
“Really?! I didn’t know that,” I exclaimed, as I had never tested it.
Leo, on the other hand, just nodded silently. It seems he has tried it before.
“There are two reasons for this. First, magic is all about imagination. If you can’t visualize the surroundings where you’re casting the spell, you have to imagine that as well, which makes the amount you need to visualize enormously large. Second, magic won’t take shape if the imagination is too far removed from reality.”
“Ah, I see.”
That made sense.
I nodded in understanding.
That’s something I’ve tried before.
Trying desperately to imagine a cold flame or a block of hot ice, I realized such things just couldn’t be created.
Similarly, in this world, a certain level of anatomical knowledge has developed, and unless you imagine the true structure of the human body, recovery and enhancement spells don’t work well. Incidentally, the structure of the human body seemed to be the same as in my world.
Anyway, although science isn’t very advanced, scientific laws still firmly exist in the background, and attempting to create phenomena that go against these laws with magic is bound to fail.
“In short, even if I imagine the scene on the other side of the wall and try to use magic, if it doesn’t match the reality, the spell won’t activate.”
“The more I hear, the more inconvenient magic seems.”
Leo couldn’t help but murmur.
“Of course. That’s what makes researching it so fascinating.”
Merlin declared, his raspy voice filled with enthusiasm, and with that, the lesson ended.
Exiting the classroom after the lesson, we ran into Kyrio, who seemed to have finished her class as well.
“Ah, Van, Leo.”
Kyrio, her demeanor mellower than before, hurried over to us.
“You done with class, too?”
I asked, to which she responded with a nod.
“Yeah, sort of.”
Kyrio had been specializing in studying medicine and anatomy.
Influenced by our papers, she had taken it upon herself to revolutionize the field of medical treatment and recovery magic, which up until now had relied heavily on intuition and lacked systematization.
“I’m going to save a lot of people with this,” she’d passionately declare.
“You’re like a puppy.”
Leo commented from behind me, his words laced with amusement.
“What was that?”
Kyrio shot Leo a sharp look, her usual fierceness making a brief comeback.
Unfazed, Leo simply grinned even wider.
“Speaking of which, Van, that book is quite the talk of the town.”
“Ah, yeah, that.”
I couldn’t help but feel bashful, scratching my cheek awkwardly.
“That book” referred to the joint work between Leo and me.
Since the day we exchanged our draft papers, we have been pushing each other to refine our theses.
Eventually, we decided to share our work with others. I took our papers to Merlin, who I knew would appreciate them, while Leo, utilizing his position as the head of the Baal family, introduced our work to several influential nobles.
However, the result was a disaster.
While the noble families praised Leo’s work as befitting the Baal family’s young master, they essentially ignored it in practice.
On the other hand, Merlin had taken a great liking to our papers, calling them “texts that could change the world.” But even with his endorsement, the court showed no interest in discussing our work.
“They must be scared,” Leo had commented.
The old, conservative systems that dominated the country were challenged by the radical new ideas presented in our papers.
But Leo didn’t stop there.
He obtained Merlin’s permission to publish our papers as a general book under both of our names, utilizing the full influence of the Baal family to do so.
Just days ago, it had lined the shelves of ordinary bookshops.
The book, “Investigations and Trials are Dead,” swiftly became the talk of the town. Moreover, Leo had obsessively argued throughout more than half of its pages that his new proposal was in accordance with the divine teachings, fortifying his claims with a thoroughly armored theory.
This effort bore fruit, as even within the church, whispers about the book began to spread.
The nobles, for sure, could not ignore a book that was stirring conversations among the commoners and the church alike.
Seriously, Leo had a knack not only for power but for, perhaps, engaging in a good brawl.
“That’s the hot topic? It’s quite flattering.”
“Now, it will be quite the spectacle to see how the rotten nobility reacts,” Leo said with a sly grin, closing his eyes.
He was likely simulating his next moves—what strategies they would employ and how he would counter to get his paper acknowledged.
But the news delivered that night was something not even Leo’s simulations had accounted for.
During supper in the dormitory dining hall, Leo, Kyrio, and I—the usual trio—were joined by an unusual visitor. Merlin strode into the hall.
I was the first to notice and couldn’t help but call out, prompting Merlin, his black robe trailing behind him, to make his way over to our table.
“There you are. I’ve been looking for you.”
“Why is the headmaster here?” asked Kyrio, surprised.
“Ah, good timing. Van, Leo, you must be aware of how your published thesis has become quite the sensation?”
“Oh, well, of course,” I admitted, uncertainty creeping into my voice.
“It seems to have drawn some unexpected attention. Kyrio, you’re involved in this too.”
“Me? Why, sir?”
Kyrio blinked in confusion.
And understandably so.
“You’re all aware of the awards ceremony a week before graduation for the top students?”
“Of course. This year, it’s me, Leo, Kyrio, and…”
“That idiot son of Mehsin. Bob just barely made the cut, I hear.”
Leo chuckled with an air of amusement.
It seemed that Bob’s predicament had struck a funny chord with him.
Apparently unable to stomach being outdone by us, Bob had indeed become an amusing spectacle in his desperate scramble to catch up academically at the last moment.
“He didn’t just barely make it; he actually surpassed me in the overall scores at the last minute. I have to give him credit for his persistence,” Kyrio sighed.
Still, Bob’s inclusion was a surprise to me.
Though he had the attitude and the inflated ego of a proud noble, he also possessed talent and a willingness to work hard. An odd chap, indeed.
“Yes, you four. And this year, we will have a guest at the ceremony.”
Leo raised an eyebrow.
I guess this was news to him, too.
“The king has expressed a desire to meet the authors of such a renowned book. The King of Shaark himself, along with the Queen and the princess regarded as the saint’s reincarnation.”
I was stunned.
My reaction was expected, but the responses of my companions, Leo and Kyrio, were truly a sight to behold.
Kyrio turned pale, freezing on the spot. Rather, upon closer inspection, one could see her trembling in fine, uncontrollable shivers.
Leo, usually bold and composed, simply stared at Merlin, eyes wide with disbelief.
“Trying to involve the church might have backfired. Or perhaps it has worked in your favor,” Merlin mused, watching our astonished expressions with evident amusement.
Without waiting for a reply, he left the dining hall, his laughter trailing behind him.
Shock had rooted us to the spot, and we silently watched his departing figure.
We were not the only ones frozen.
The other students dining around us, who must have overheard our conversation, also ceased their movements.
And then, an uproar ensued.
Dragging the still-dazed Leo and Kyrio, I made a hasty retreat from the dining hall.
“I can’t believe it… To have an audience with the King, the Queen, a-and even Princess Victy,” Kyrio murmured as she stumbled into my room, seeking temporary refuge.
Her cheeks flushed a rosy hue, and her eyes drifted absently into the void.
For a noble, it seems the chance to meet with royalty is of such significance.
I found myself realizing this anew.
“It seems trying to involve the Church, as Merlin advised, backfired on us,” Leo remarked, reclaiming his usual composure as he stroked his chin thoughtfully.
“What do you mean?”
“It’s about Princess Victy. She’s a member of the royal family, yet also heralded as the reincarnation of the saint. The Church sees her as vital. Get it? Likely, the royal family’s participation in the upcoming ceremony, princess included, results from a tug-of-war between the power-hungry nobles and the equally covetous clergy. It’s a testament to the attention our paper has garnered. Both factions are using it to try and pull each other down.”
The sordid power struggle between the world’s secular rulers and the Church’s clergy while maintaining a facade of mutual respect was a well-known fact.
So, that’s it. The paper has become a battleground for influence between the Crown and the Church. As a result, Princess Victy, key to both parties, has also been drawn in.
“Some of the nobility will probably attend, and I expect the Church’s lot to join under the pretense of safeguarding the princess, a reincarnation of the saint. You’d do well to stay alert,” said Leo, his forehead creased with intense concentration.
His mind was surely racing through the possibilities of how to leverage the controversial thesis to gain the favor of the royal and ecclesiastical elite.
“Hah, who cares about that? It’s Princess Victy, the reincarnation of Saint Fatia. It’s an honor beyond compare,” Kyrio cooed, twirling about the room with a giggle unfit for her stature.
Leo glanced at Kyrio with a look that bordered on disdain.
“You find it that honorable to meet Princess Victy? I’ve known her since childhood; she’s not that impressive. If anything, I pity her.”
His gaze shifted to something distant.
Perhaps it was the solemnity in his voice, but Kyrio stopped her frivolous dance and asked, “Pity? What do you mean?”
“Exactly what I said. She’s been deprived of freedom since birth because she’s the spitting image of Fatia. Enclosed by the Church as a saint and used by her parents as a conduit to the clergy. A pitiable woman. For the mere reason that she shares the saint’s visage, she’s not allowed to reveal her face to anyone but a select few.”
Oh, I see. The Church forbids idolatry; therefore, neither the likeness of God nor Saint Fatia can be seen or depicted.
And by extension, this applies to the princess, hailed as the living portrait of the saint.
But wait… something’s amiss.
At the same time, Kyrio tilted her head in confusion.
“When you think about it, it’s strange. How can they say Princess Victy is the spitting image of the saint when no one knows what the saint looked like?”
Until now, it wasn’t a tale that had touched me personally, so I hadn’t questioned it, but now that I considered it, it was peculiar.
“That’s weird. Van aside, I thought you would’ve known, Kyrio.”
Leo responded with an expression of disbelief to Kyrio’s query.
“I would have thought that even a noble from a house on the brink of obscurity would have caught wind of the rumors.”
With that, Leo abruptly stopped speaking and closed his eyes.
It seemed he was deep in his thoughts again.
“Hey,” I called out, but he didn’t respond.
After a while, he muttered, eyes opening again.
“Okay, that’s what I’ll do.”
“Wh-What are you talking about?”
With a twitch betraying his unease at Leo’s ominous mannerisms, Kyrio posed her question, yet—
“Just talking to myself. Anyway, Kyrio.”
Suddenly, Leo narrowed his eyes, curling just one side of his mouth in a semblance of a smile.
It was an unusual, almost malicious smirk.
“I suggest you drop the eager-to-meet-the-royalty-and-princess act. Do you plan on being shackled by your noble status forever? If that’s the case, you won’t be able to assert your own will. If you care too much about your house, pushing through unreasonable demands will be tough.”
“Huh? Wh-What? I don’t understand. Are you stupid or something?”
Kyrio’s eyes were red with anger; she was trembling from head to toe, her face flushed. And with that, she stormed out of the room.
Left in stunned silence by Kyrio’s sudden change of attitude and exit, I was brought back to my senses when…
“I might have been too cruel with my words. Well, I should be going, too.”
Leo left the room next.
Then, there was just me, standing there, dumbfounded.