Day 159

Oct 30th, 2017
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  1. Day 159
  3. The young man walks in with a stack of folders that almost reaches his face. “Sir?”
  4. “Just set them on the desk.”
  5. He does so, and then returns to attention. “That will be all.” He salutes smartly, then turns and leaves. I wonder briefly whether the discipline of this hall is better than it looks, or if it's simply known that I care about and enforce such standards.
  7. I pick the first of the folders off the top, and begin my search. I doubt I'll need more than a cursory glance in order to find what I'm looking for.
  8. Or rather, I thought that when I started. The first page is so obtuse that it took me three minutes to be sure that the squire hadn't brought in something completely unrelated.
  10. I sit back, looking around the barren office. Slatted blinds cover the windows and keep me from getting distracted by the rest of the branch hall. The desk itself is the simplest, most barren one in the hall – used only by scribes when they need to go over old files. Or by me, if I'm feeling as masochistic as I seem to be. I'm more frustrated trying to digest anything in any of this information than I am by the monsters outside this hall, and I can't tell whether or not that that's another sign that I need a visit from the indoctrinators.
  12. I'm three pages into the third folder, and barely remembering a single thing that I'm reading, when I hear loud, rhythmic clacking coming from outside the office. It stops outside my office, and I don't bother looking up as the door opens.
  13. “You could've just sent a,” I pause for a moment, “Do you call them novices or squires?” I return to my work, barely interested enough to focus on anything that it says.
  14. “Rookies,” the horse answers.
  15. “Rookies, then. You could have sent one. No need to come here yourself.”
  17. “You're investigating the deaths of mamono.”
  18. “Yes.”
  19. “Why?” Its name was Samantha, wasn't it? I should probably remember that.
  20. “Because they were citizens of Megalos.” After that I'm rewarded with silence. I look back up after a moment to find it staring down at me. “What?”
  21. “I didn't think that mattered to you.”
  22. “Of course it matters. We paladins might be an extranational order, but we are granted dispensation to function within each country of the west, and in return we aid them in upholding their laws.” It's funny; that spiel had been drilled into my head for so long that whether or not I ever repeated it, it comes right back to me.
  23. Its shoulders fall as its expression hardens. “Oh. That's all, then?”
  24. “That's all.”
  26. “Well, then I'll leave you to your work, paladin. I trust you'll get to the bottom of this.” I glance up after a moment, and only then does it turn to leave.
  27. Something about that was unsettling, but I can't say what. I turn back to my work, trying to distract myself with the awful tedium that this promises to be.
  29. I turn to the last page, and that's where I see it.
  31. _________________________________________
  33. -----------------------------------------
  35. ---
  37. “You're the mage?”
  39. I tried to ask the question flatly, but I doubt that anyone could've missed the incredulity in my voice. While it's possible, I'm sure, I just can't see him as being my age – his features are soft, and not just from youth. I heard that mages are thin for the exertion that magic puts on the body, but this one is on the borderline of simply being fat. He wears no glasses, and his face is shaved as clean as my own, assuming he can grow facial hair at all.
  40. “Yes, I'm Isaac, Maledictor for the Tower College.”
  41. “That's a title.”
  42. “So it is. I volunteered for this task – after all, curses are my specialty.” He barely pauses before tipping his head to the paper on the corner of the desk. “Is that it, then?” I nod. He advances, lifts it to his face, and without a second's thought sighs. “This was designed to kill mamono.”
  44. I furrow my brow. I hadn't told him what it had been used for. “Did you hear about the incident?”
  45. “Mm?” He glances back to me for a moment, and adds “Oh, well then you already know it kills mamono. You wish to know who made it, then?”
  46. “That I would.”
  47. “Well, anyone with a proper knowledge of scrollcraft, the school of enchantment, and a mote of magic in their veins could do this. It is, I'll grant it, rather clever. The worst it would do to someone on the street is cause them to fall over, and the size of the glyph is small enough that only someone with excellent visual acuity could discern it at all. For a flying mamono, though, especially a harpy, it would be deadly. Someone moving quickly in the air, suddenly unable to discern up or down, with hollow bones?” He shakes his head once, though his expression barely changes at all. “Poor thing wouldn't stand a chance.”
  49. “Then, it makes you fall?”
  50. He looks back to me for a moment. “That's one way of putting it, I suppose. Did you actually look this over, yourself?”
  51. “Sparingly.” After a moment I note “We're trained to avoid direct dealings with things that seem magical. Our artificers handle those.”
  52. He leans slightly, placing it on the desk in front of me. “It's harmless for you right now – go ahead and see what it does. All practical magic is teleological in nature, so understanding is often best gained from experience.”
  53. I didn't quite catch that, but I look down at the seemingly meaningless spiral of spidery text and circles inscribed with runes.
  55. For a moment, I am beset by an overwhelming dizziness. Were it not for the chair I'm sitting in, I'd have fallen to the ground, and even planted in it I clutch the armrests for the sense of support. The world, without moving at all, feels as though it had just upended itself. Like the branch hall itself had decided to start rolling down the road, and everything else except me had completely failed to notice.
  57. And then I'm fine, if winded from the mindless panic of the experience. “Why do I listen to what mages say?”
  58. “I ask myself that sometimes,” Isaac states helpfully.
  59. I lean forward in my chair, catching my breath, and hoping that my stomach will settle soon. “So someone's actively hunting monsters. Now I just need to figure out why.”
  60. “A reasonable question. People have been doing it for so long that usually I assume that it's just habit at this point.”
  61. “A person didn't do it, this time.”
  62. “Mamono killing mamono. My, that's rare,” he notes. “Though it does happen. I don't suppose you can just ask.”
  63. “I can. I just doubt I'll understand.”
  65. He watches me for a moment, before filling his lungs. “Mamono are extraordinarily simple to understand, in my experience.” He pauses at that, apparently due to the incredulous stare I'd fixed him with. “It's true. Have you heard of something called the Hedgehog's Dilemma?”
  66. “Possibly.”
  67. “It's simple, really. It's a metaphor for all socialization. Their environment is cold, so hedgehogs group together. If they get too close, though, they poke each other with their spines, so they must juggle the need for warmth and the need to avoid pain. I trust you can see how this reflects human relationships.” I nod after a moment, when it becomes clear that he's paused for my benefit. “Well, imagine a hedgehog who can't be harmed by the spines of others.”
  69. “Hardly a dilemma, then,” I state after a moment.
  70. “Exactly. That's all it takes to understand them. From there it's almost more difficult to avoid extrapolating the various differences in culture, worldview, etcetera.”
  71. For you, maybe, I don't tell him. Instead I nod. “Well, be all that as it may, I just wish they'd put on something decent.”
  72. “Ah, yes.” He pauses, still for a moment, before lifting a hand to gesture vaguely at the air. “I think that has something to do with mamono mana, and gods only know how that all works.”
  74. I raise my brow slightly in surprise.
  75. “Hey,” he starts, defensively, “I deal in curses. Reasonable magic. Leave me out of all that mess.”
  77. ---
  79. “Open the gate,” I call out, just loudly enough to startle the dozing guardsman on watch.
  80. As the fence opens, he questions “when can we expect you back, sir.”
  81. “When I'm done.”
  83. I march out into the forest that begins encroaching on the land bare feet from the fence. Every now and then I feel a pang of worry that it limits our defenses, but then I remind myself how little we actually rely on those anymore. A trail leads out, and into the shade of the trees as the filter out the most of the setting sun's light. I lift the heavy, ungainly box in my hands, and, following the instructions written on the back, flip it on and insert the number I'd memorized onto the keypad. The screen flickers, and dull green light separates into a conical shape. It releases a tinny beep, and a small square appears beyond the 1 KM mark, and so I walk.
  85. As I continue, the occasional beep shifts in speed, growing the tiniest bit more frequent as I see it enter the 1 KM range, and the direction of it clearly leaves the trail. Through brush and beneath increasingly larger, older trees I can see something of a shanty town in the middle distance. I'm not heading there, though – apparently the thing doesn't want to be among its own kind, either. Castoffs from a civilization that offered them everything they could have asked for, for free, and who had betrayed that trust in return. I can't really blame them, though. It's just their nature.
  87. I turn the detector off as I see the dragon curled into the side of a hill. If memory serves, I'd seen this one before at the gates. It's turned away from me, and I catch a piece of conversation: “You have to eat.” Then the sound of my boots crushing twigs and leaves causes it to turn.
  88. “Hail,” I call out.
  89. It turns with a surprising degree of speed and bares its claws. “Stay back!”
  90. I pause for a moment. “Or what, you'll kill me?” As the confusion begins working its way across its face, I continue.
  91. “Wait, stop!”
  92. “You can't read; you're not going to find a way to outsmart me.”
  94. “I can read,” it shouts, and that's startling enough a fact that I stop.
  95. “Horse hockey. How many times did you fail the entry exam before you gave up?”
  96. “I know the answers.” It pauses, and its willful expression fades. “I just don't know which button is which.”
  97. I stare at it for a long moment, before the wheels in my head finally turn. “What can you read?”
  98. “Draconic, of course. I learned it before I'd even grown the claws to write it, myself,” it answers, proudly.
  100. I stare at it. I look up and stare at the pastel light of the evening sky as I take a deep breath and wonder what the hells is wrong with this place. I look back down toward it.
  102. I wonder what the hells is wrong with me.
  104. “Go back to the exam hall, and tell them that under the Cursed and Disabled Citizens Act that you are claiming the right to have a spoken word test administered.” It blinks. “Now step aside and let me to talk to the werewolf.” It doesn't move quickly enough, so I step around it, and see the thing I came here for.
  105. It sits there, curled up in the fetal position.
  107. I pull the small device from my pocket, and press the button. “My name is Victor, Reclaimant of the Paladins of Megalos, currently posted in the city of Min. I have some questions that I would like to ask you. Do I have your consent to record this conversation?”
  108. It turns, slowly, and looks up toward me.
  110. ---
  112. “I tried activating the other one. It didn't kill me, though. I just kept falling over. I couldn't feel which way was up or down.”
  113. “You tried to die?” I stare down at the little machine producing my own incredulous voice.
  114. “After what I did? After what he made me do?”
  115. I rewind the tape.
  116. “James. He gave me the pieces of paper – the scrolls. Said I should lay them down, facing up that night.”
  118. “He said that he'd love me,” she spoke, before a five minute pause from the weeping.
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