On an early Autumn morning, my master called for me.
It was the first time he had called for me since I came to London two months ago, so I was a little surprised. Informing the dorm supervisor Krishna, I left the dormitory behind. I expected him, who was obsessed with helping people, to come along, but in the end he declined with an apology.
Leaving the grounds, I was suddenly beset by dizziness.
Crowds of people, walking on the pavement outside.
Or maybe it was the greasy smell of fish and chips, or even the exhaust of the famous double-decker busses.
Gentlemen, walking by garbed in trench coats,
Women, wrapped up in scarves and shawls,
Children, noisily chatting as they got on the bus...
There was just too many people.
The population of London was about eight million, but I already had problems understanding what it meant to have more than a hundred. Trying to comprehend that unimaginable number of people just depressed me. If I had to make the comparison, I'd say it reminded me of a cemetary.
Rows and rows of the dead, collected since the distant past...in some small way,I made this heavy comparison.
This city itself is like a cemetary, isn't it?
It's not that it made me think of death. But with the great crowds of people, all gathering in and spending the majority of their time in the brown and grey coloured buildings, it was like they were all heading to their final destination. With what I learned from theology about Hell and Purgatory, it somehow reminded me of the Hades of myth.
-Ah, of course.
This is what they called the sentiment of a "country bumpkin."
In any place where many people gathered, this is the obvious scenery one would expect. Even if I understood the theory, I still felt a little sad that the decades
of common sense learned
in the countryside still shackled my way of thinking.
The past and present mind can't be so easily divided, so even now when I let my mind wander, I would worry about the chicken coop, or who was going to clean the church, and I would become restless. If it weren't for my master's call, I likely would have spent the rest of my days in that place.
Whether that would be considered happiness or not is another story, though.
Despite thinking deeply on these things, my feet still moved. Looking down at the River Thames, I stepped onto London Bridge.
Crossing to the southern side of the current Bridge, built by Queen Elizabeth II, the atmosphere of the city changed drastically. The number of sight-seers seemed to decrease, and in their place people of all races mixed together to create a distinct downtown feel - to say it like that makes it sound good, but to sum it up, it was more like the public order began to break down. Like the well known anecdote of Bermondsey Market being a place for thieves to sell their goods.
But, that was a thing of the past.
From under the arches built of dirty bricks, I turned on to Druid Street, and after turning down a nearby side road, the presence of other people abruptly vanished. A Bounded Field, my master had called it. According to my master, magecraft wasn't needed to set up a Bounded Field. A place that naturally repelled people, without the need for external, mysterious powers, functioned best as a Bounded Field, or something like that. Well, the term originally came from Buddhism anyways, and the Concept that repels people is something much more basic than magecraft, a fundamental function of the brain, and many other related things came out in the discussion, but I don't remember much more than that.
(It's probably something really important to remember, though.)
Unfortunately, I'm not that smart of a person.
This is another thing that I had become painfully aware of since I arrived in London two months ago. Thanks to my master's recommendation, I was able to enter as a student into the Clock Tower, but I couldn't understand anything from well over half of the classes there. In the very heart of that place of study, if someone were to look at me, I'm sure I'd have a stupid expression like I had just had a mountain of gold dumped on me.
It was a little frustrating, but if I was to add one more comment, I would say that my master wasn't all that skilled to begin with. If he tried to just make a Bounded Field using his own ability, he would be capable of only the lowest of the lowest grade of results, so he probably picked this place specifically so he wouldn't have to. Or at least so I secretly thought.
As I thought this, the reddish brown building that was home to my master's apartment came into view. On this Autumn morning, it stood there, looking just as unhappy as always.
For the most part, living spaces like this were called Flats in England. I called it an apartment anyways, out of simply copying my master's habit, but I have no idea why he called it as such. Anyways, my master's apartment building was as awful as always. The ivy coiling around the building, and the weeds poking up through the cracks gave a kind of pleasant charm, but the reddish brown brick walls and chimney were so riddled with cracks, that even small gusts of wind would send chips and pieces raining down. There were a lot of very old homes in Europe, but this place was on a different level. A quick estimate would put it at easily over a hundred years old. To the point that, if one were to say it had been built during the Industrial Revolution it would sound believable.
Because of that, it looked weak enough that if you were to just push on the side of the building a little bit, it would start a chain reaction that would cause the whole thing to collapse. Unable to suppress these thoughts, I gave a small prayer in hopes of preventing such an event from occuring as I gingerly pushed open the front door.
Entering into the comparatively spacious lobby, my shoulders instinctively tensed up at the echoes of someone shouting angrily.
"Don't screw with me!"
The voice resounded throughout the lobby.
The middle of the lobby was dominated by a large, spiral staircase. Reaching up three levels, doors leading to differing apartments were visible. They were close enough that the owners of these apartments should easily have been able to hear the angry voice, but not one of them seemed to be about to react to it. It seemed unlikely that they had sound-proofed their rooms, so did that mean they were already accustomed to this kind of noise? Beside the lobby was a small space for the building manager, but through the small window I could only see a lone old woman, nodding off in her rocking chair.
The cat sitting on the old woman's lap gave a small meow before once again closing its eyes and returning to sleep. Seeing this, I suddenly wanted to do the same.
But, it would not be acceptable for me to ignore my master's orders, so instead I made my way to the second floor.
As I continued up the stairs, the voices speaking became clearer and clearer.
"You know as well as I how much of a nuisance that castle is! And as a Testament? Why would you volunteer for something like that?!"
The irritated voice was blunt and confrontational. More and more, my desire to avoid it was increasing. Thinking of my master's complaints, all I wanted to do was take a right turn and run away.
"That was also the result of considering it seriously," his companion said. The voice was that of a young woman. Though it was a gentle voice, it had an undeniable air of mischief to it. She seemed unable to hide the fact that she was enjoying the situation, or maybe she had no intention to hide it in the first place.
"If you thought about it seriously, how on Earth did you get to that conclusion?"
"Naturally, it was in response to my great brother's wishes."
In response to my master's suspicious-sounding voice, I could sense a mischievously grinning presence.
If this door hadn't been there, for sure I would have seen a victor's self-satisfied smile.
"For example. If you are able to clean up this incident nicely, then if you were to suddenly say something like 'I want to go to the Far East,' you might still make it in time, don't you think? The Clock Tower has yet to decide who's going to participate in that War or whatever, right? If you want to do something to put yourself in the running, there isn't much time left."
As if he had received a brilliant counter, the man's voice turned into a groan.
With the sound of grinding teeth, something like a curse slipped out.
"What kind of demon are you?"
"Oh, just your beloved, beloved
It was as if I could see the voice of an expert storyteller.
I sensed a nod, and as if consoling her opponent, the girl dropped her tone and whispered.
"Now now, my esteemed brother. I've tried to take your feelings into consideration here, too."
"And how is that?"
"For instance, how I've overlooked the fact that you've decided to live here in an apartment of your own instead of at the El-Melloi mansion. The very fact you are here paying rent at a building owned by our own family is absurd in and of itself."
"It's the opposite of absurd. The rent I pay goes into paying off my debt to the El-Melloi family. There is no more efficient way of handling it."
In response to his immediate reply, the girl's gave a sarcastic laugh.
"Hah. That's a nice thought, but if you do nothing but take a handful of sand out of the desert each month, isn't saying you're trying to get rid of the desert a bit of an overstatement?"
"That's just an issue of feelings. Either way, I have no desire to rely on the assets of the El-Melloi family."
"For not having any interest in the El-Melloi's fortune, isn't trying paying back your debt to said fortune a bit contrarian?"
Something in the banter that came across through the closed door seemed cheerful. It reminded me of a mean-spirited owner taking pleasure in watching their pet cat bristling and glaring. It seemed undeniable that the determining factor in the hierarchy of this relationship was not the age of its participants, but something that they had been born with.
Sure enough, after a long groan, the conversation continued.
"I have conditions."
"For starters, I will take care of this case entirely myself. My Lady, I will not permit you to have a hand in it."
With a resolve like there was nothing more he could pray for, his obstinate voice laid out that declaration.
"Is that a problem?"
His companion gave a bitter laugh. As if acknowledging she had outstayed her welcome, I could sense the girl stand up.
"Alright, alright. Well then, dearest brother, I'll leave the rest to you."
I quickly distanced myself from the door, so I could at least avoid the appearance of eavesdropping. In truth I wanted to find somewhere to hide, but the approaching presence from beyond the door wasn't moving so leisurely as to allow that.
A few seconds later, the door opened to reveal brilliant blonde hair. Shortly after, pale white skin reminiscent of a Bisque Doll, and both clothes and grace that were similarly picturesque. But, the most impressive feature about her was definitely her eyes - blazing like fire, overflowing with strength and determination. As they turned to me, they remained unchanged. I couldn't help but wonder, for a girl who seemed no older than fifteen, what kind of life had she lead to have eyes like that?
Reines El-Melloi Archisorte.
My master's step sister, and the girl who sealed his place as a Lord. Behind her, a somewhat strange looking maid followed her.
What was strange was the colour of her skin. She was not caucasian, nor black, nor East Asian in appearance. No, her skin was a colour completely unsuited to human beings - a shining silver. The maid, given the name Trimmau I had been told, was apparently the leading design in the field of Automata. It's been said that even though the field of magecraft which deals with creating artificial humans has already started its decline, this particular Automata was of a completely different essence, and so avoided the problem, but that was something a person like me couldn't really get their head around.
Reines' gaze quickly snapped in my direction.
"Oh? So you are here as well?"
Troubled about how I should respond, I dropped my gaze, prompting a cute little laugh from her. With a teasing smile, the golden-haired girl opened her mouth again.
"How is life as an apprentice? Has your wily master been picking on you at all?"
"...umm...compared to living in the countryside, it's much more comfortable."
As if she was peering inside me, the girl nodded several times.
"Well, that is certainly good to hear. After all, for someone like my brother to take in a disciple, it's not for something simple like taking care of the housework. In a way, you are like the last line of defense. Do you understand? It's an important responsibility, you know?"
"...I'll do my best."
Not knowing how to respond, I meekly lowered my gaze. As I did so, Reines extended a single white finger.
"You'd be much cuter if you just took that hood off, you know."
With a swift clap on my hooded cloak, she made her way past me and began descending the spiral staircase. In truth, I kind of admired her. They weren't connected by blood, but they were still siblings, so I couldn't help but think that it would be nice if my master inherited some of the same character.
But, the real world is a heartless thing.
Breathing a sigh in my heart, I steeled myself,
...and opened the door.
A sudden cloud of dust sent me straight into a coughing fit.
The interior was exactly what one would expect of a cheap apartment. As far as size, it was nothing spectacular, but as if ignoring the restrictions on space, things were scattered about haphazardly. Without any sense of order, things ranging from an inordinate amount of books, to an antique-looking desk, various pieces of mouldy bread, and for some reason even a number of well-worn family game consoles were all packed into the tight space of the apartment.
If asked, he would say that all of them were very important things, but he was truly a master with no sense of his own state of affairs. Though from the way that he struggled looking for things, always complaining about "not being able to find this" or "not being able to find that," it may be less that he didn't understand his situation, and more that he was just incapable of keeping it clean. Previously, I had offered to help clean the place up a bit, but my offer had been instantly rejected. He had said that he wanted to be left alone on his holidays, but truth be told I couldn't really see what he would do alone in a room like this, even on a holiday.
Careful not to step on the bits of bread and books scattered across the floor - while simultaneously wondering how Reines and her maid had managed to navigate the place - I made my way to a large table in the center of the room, near to the sofa that my master was now lying on.
"Excuse me, Master."
Lying on the sofa as if unconscious, his closed eyelids hinted at his current mood of trying to reject reality. If his pride had allowed it, I feel like he would have been covering his ears and shouting too. He may have been my master, but he was still pretty easily upset when it came to these things.
"It's your apprentice, Gray."
Just to be sure, I spoke up once again, but as expected there was no response. Giving up, I shifted my gaze to the table. In the middle of the various bits of clutter was a single space that looked like it had been cleared up. Sitting there was a cup of lukewarm tea, in addition to a handful of photographs. I didn't have much desire to look into them, but even so one of the photographs caught my attention.
It just looked too...strange.
It looked like a part of some sort of religious painting. The picture, depicting a scene in the sky, overflowed with a sense of holiness and austerity. The point the picture focused on seemed far too out of place - a blazing wheel. Floating imposingly in mid-air, it was like a gatekeeper of the heavens, the wheel's outer rim lined with eyes whose gazes all seemed to fixate on me.
"...some sort of wheel monster...?"
"...I won't ask you to try and be poetic or anything, but isn't there maybe a slightly more suitable description?"
As I inspected the picture with head tilted to the side, a voice ripe with exhaustion called out to me.
As if it was a nuisance to bother doing so, my master lifted the upper half of his body off the sofa, scratching his head. From outward appearances, he seemed to be around 30 years old. How he managed to keep his long hair with his lifestyle was a mystery, but it was kept nicely enough that his eccentricity wouldn't seem like shabbiness. Likely, that was thanks to his being brought up in a well-off family.
"It may just be on a temporary basis, but even so, as a Magus' apprentice, please don't throw around the word 'monster' so cheaply. This is one of the Angels of Law."
Speaking up again, my master tapped on the photograph on the table.
"An angel? What about this is like an angel?"
"The image of angels as human-like with wings has become pretty popular, but it was really influenced primarily by the images of the goddess of victory, Nike, of 4th Century Greek mythology. Angels can actually be divided into a number of lineages. In this case, it might best serve to start with an explanation of what angels really are."
Stroking his chin, my master continued to speak in a grumbling tone.
"The first are those living things which exist above and beyond myths, which have been reclassified as angels. The second are beings born from the authority of a previous master, that became angels in the process of becoming independent. There are any number of hypotheses, but the
you are looking at is probably closer to the former. Taking its master's Power into itself, it is an angel whose primary purpose is just to carry it."
"So it's a wheel, because it's being used to carry that Power?"
"The current interpretation is the opposite, actually. It seems likely that this angel is used to carry Power because
its a wheel. Take a look at the Bible. In the writings of the prophet Ezekiel, where there is a description of his 'eyes captured by the face of a wheel shining like beryl.' To digress a little bit, there are even theories that these are what people are seeing when they claim to see UFOs."
The astoundingly abrupt change in conversation left me blinking in confusion. Seeing this, my master began to laugh. Considering how suddenly his mood had improved, it seemed we had struck upon a topic of particular interest to him.
"There was a group in the 20th century that called anything and everything a UFO, I suppose. Everything from the baptism of Christ to the frescos of Egypt were all, 'without a doubt,' caused by UFOs. There isn't any particularly deep meaning to it, but wheels flying through the sky do seem to stir up the imagination. For starters, a lot of those reports were caused by hippies, who were just using drugs to the point it was their own minds that were flying away...what's that look for, all of the sudden?"
"Oh, I was just thinking, there sure are a lot of people like Master in the world, aren't there?"
"Don't group me together with people like that. Sometimes rather overbearing reasoning is required, but magecraft can't proceed just from cobbling together a bunch of subjective, personal theories. Besides, that's not a problem for a disciple of magecraft, it's a matter of general education."
Despite saying something like "even if you're a temporary disciple" earlier, he cleanly retracted his previous words while laughing through his nose. Somewhere in his face that looked somehow triumphant, childishness and mean-spiritedness made their unhappy peace with eachother.
His name, El-Melloi II.
Of the 12 Great Families in the Clock Tower, conferred upon him was the title of Lord of the Noble House of El-Melloi.