Four years after Thio entered the Mage Division of the Army, Caroline received this letter:
I am once again doubting the purpose of ranking Mages.
As you know, last year I got promoted to Scholar rank because I helped complete a particularly hairy mission. Skipping the Master rank all together was less loathsome because that time the Prince gave me a medal for my efforts. If royalty says you’ve done well, you can’t really argue, you know?
But this time! THIS TIME! Was I doing anything amazing to get promoted? NO. I was promoted via committee! Without any knowledge it was happening!
I just want to cry.
In what world am I on par with an Archmage? I am not! I am very much not on par with an Archmage!
Well, you might think I’m whining about a good thing. But you’d understand if you met an Archmage. In the entire Empire, we only have twenty Archmages. And there’s a reason for that. They have practically transcended the mortal realm in terms of magical power. Just being in the same room as them gives me goosebumps.
Does anyone get goosebumps when they stand around me? NO.
Well, of course I asked about why they thought I’d be a good fit for an Archmage. Do you know what they said? “Your spell casting ability is the best in the Mage Division.” There seems to be a grave misunderstanding going around about my ability to combine spells somehow equaling Archmage power levels. It’s not the same thing!
My dearest Caroline, pray for me. Pray for the country. If I’m called upon to fight the same monsters Archmages typically fight, we’re doomed. DOOMED.
I’m petitioning the Committee to get my rank reduced tomorrow.
Congratulations on getting promoted! Even if you’re complaining, I can’t help being happy people are acknowledging your skills. You’re a great person and a great Mage and knowing other people think so too really warms my heart.
Not to steal your thunder, but I’m finally out of the Skilled Level and into the Expert Level within the Guild. You remember me talking about clearing out that nest of giant spiders in my last letter? I didn’t know, but I guess they were actually spider demons.
I know what you’re thinking. Usually the Army is called in for Demon exterminating. If we’d known they were demons, we’d have definitely called you guys in, I swear! But they were mis-classed by the Requester! And none of the people in my party had ever fought spider demons before, so we didn’t recognize them for what they were.
The Guildmaster was really upset about the whole thing, since Demons are super dangerous. My entire team was yelled at. Apparently we should have had some inkling they weren’t normal giant spiders when they started talking to us and throwing magical curses around. Well, fair enough, but I’m not from this country and my fellow party members are all muscle-heads. We don’t question problems, we beat them into submission. It’s practically the party motto.
I still got my membership level increased despite the lecture. The Guildmaster might have been angry, but a job well done is a job well done! That’s why I like him!
Honestly, you should accept the Archmage promotion, now that I think about it some more. Even if you’re not “Archmage powerful”, you’re still pretty strong. And you’re smart and clever. Whatever you lack in raw power, you can make up for with brain power!
I’m speechless. In horror.
What are you thinking fighting a spider demon! No wonder the Guildmaster was angry! There is a very clear difference between a giant spider and a spider demon. The most important difference being the demons have a human head and torso!
I’m not sure which worries me more: that you charged ahead despite being highly outclassed, or that you’re observation skills are so poor that you didn’t think to question WHY the spider had a human body coming out of it.
It’s a miracle you survived. Did you go to Church and thank God? Because you should. I’m pretty sure there was divine protection involved to keep you alive.
Ah, I’m going to try not to think about this anymore. I’m worried. I’m so very worried. It’s giving me a headache.
Let’s move on.
Concerning the Archmage promotion. I still have it.
When I went to hand in my petition the following day, I learned that I’d been moved from the LDF Battalion to the Research Institute. I’m now an Archmage Alchemist.
Why does that matter? Well, Alchemists don’t fight on the front line (thank God). They’re Researchers (as indicated by the Institutes name) and focus mostly on creating new spells. This includes combining spells in new ways that increase their effectiveness.
I’m not the type to be falsely modest, I am the best spell combiner in the Mage Division.
I thought Archmages were all about raw power but I guess I was wrong. When I went to the Institute, I discovered there was already an Archmage there. He’s not like the other Archmages I’ve met, who ooze power. He’s normal. Well, normal in power. (He’s strange as a person.)
He told me that of the 20 Archmages, 10 are destruction classes. Those types are extremely powerful. Since I was in the LDF doing field work of course that’s all I was exposed to. The other 10 Archmages are split as follows: 2 in the Research Institute, 1 in the Air Defense, and 2 in the Medical Section.
Furthermore, it turns out I should have been put in the Institute when I was promoted to Senior rank. Someone goofed up and I was put into the LDF instead. It wasn’t until last year anyone realized I was in the wrong section, but by then the Battalion was use to having me around and fought the transfer.
I mean, I’m flattered that I was so loved by my superiors. Truly.
But I have to wonder…
Is the Mage Division run by monkeys?
PS: Have you ever seen a monkey? We have a zoo here—a place where they gather exotic animals—and there were monkeys. They were loud and disorganized. It reminded me of work.
PPS: I’ve increased the money I’m sending you to reflect my new salary.”
Three months after the above letters were exchanged, Thio was told to take a vacation. It was not a request, it was an order. The Research Institute wasn’t like the Battalion, who always needed people for the next mission. Their schedule was structured and far more laid back. Regular weekends off, Holidays off, and even annual family picnics were considered normal.
Thio had no idea what to do with all that extra time, so he pretended like it didn’t exist. His coworkers realized something was amiss when he came to the first family picnic. Instead of participating in the event itself, he volunteered to prep, monitor, and put away supplies. When they tried to make small talk with him, he’d find some excuse and run away. While the Institute was filled with weirdos, they’d never met anyone so socially awkward as Thio.
Thus, he was kicked out and told to go have some fun.
The truth was, Thio had never had a vacation. Since he started working at the tender age of 12 years old until now, he’d never taken more than a day off at a time. After all, if he didn’t work, he didn’t eat. So ingrained was that mentality that when suddenly faced with a long string of weeks off (not just days), he started to panic.
His first idea was to clean. He was renting a small house near the edge of the city. It took him two days to deep clean the entire house. Next, he repaired and improved anything he could find. This took him three more days.
On the sixth day, he went to the bank. He hadn’t actually looked at his finances over the last four years. He knew exactly how much he needed to live on, so everything else was extra. And of the extra, he split half of it with Caroline.
It shouldn’t have surprised him, but it did, that he was a wealthy man. Not only did his promotions keep pouring more money into his coffers, he was given sizable bonuses for his long work hours with the Battalion. With so much money on hand, he needed to do something with it. After some thought, he decided it was time to buy a house.
It took two days for him to find a house and another two days to negotiate the price. He bought a slightly run-down neglected house that was in the nicer part of the city. This was done on purpose, as cleaning and repairing a three story home of that particular size would keep him busy for at least a week.
He was disappointed when it only took him three and a half days.
With nothing else to do for the second half of the 4th day, he put on his “fancy shirt” (made by Caroline) and wandered around the city, bored out of his mind. While wandering, he came across a 14 yr old selling cheap cigarettes and newspapers. It wasn’t uncommon seeing kids of that age working, and it made him feel nostalgic.
“Hey, do you like your job?” Thio asked the young man randomly.
“Sir, a job is a job. As long as I’m paid I’m happy.”
“How much do you make?”
The boy eyed him, slightly suspicious. “On a good week, fifteen coppers. Why?”
“What if I offered you a Silva a month, plus room and board? Would you take it?”
The boy’s mouth fell open in shock before he could stop himself.
Clearing his throat, the boy tried to feign disinterest. “That would depend on what exactly the job entailed.”
“Ah well, I just bought this big house. And I realized after buying it that the only time I’ll ever have to clean it is when I’m on vacation. I’m on vacation right now, so it’s fine but once I start working… well, the place’ll turn filthy really quick. I was thinking of hiring someone to keep it clean, a butler or a housekeeper.”
“You’ll pay a Silva a month just to have someone clean your house while working?” The boy asked in astonishment.
“And the room?”
“The third story has space for household servants. You’d get to pick which ever one you want.”
This sounded too good to be true to the boy, but he also knew there was no good thing that was risk free. He was struggling to decide when Thio shrugged.
“It was just a thought. You can say no if you want.”
“Wait! No, I… I’ll do it.” He stuck his hand out. “I’m Metts, what’s your name Mister?”
“Acanthio Hillsdale.” The older man responded, shaking hands.
“Let’s get along swell then!” Metts paused. “I gotta let the Boss know I quit. That fine with you?”
“Alright, it’ll take me a few minutes.” Metts began picking up his newspapers and cigarettes, glancing at Thio anxiously as he did. “Don’t move, Mister, alright? I’ll be right back! So don’t move!”
“I’m staying right here.”
The boy hesitated, jumping from leg to leg nervously.
“Promise.” Thio said with a small smile.
Metts’ gave a huge grin and then sprinted down the sidewalk and around the corner. As promised, he came back a few minutes later, running full tilt.
He practically crashed to a stop, sweating profusely and wheezing out. “You…’re… still… here.”
Thio’s eyebrows raised slightly. Sticking out his hand, he cast Endurance Recovery on the boy.
Instantly Metts felt better. Standing up straight, he looked at Thio with astonishment.
“You can do magic?”
“I should hope so. I work for the Mage Division.”
“Wow!” Metts’ eyes filled with admiration. And here he’d thought Acanthio was just a bored rich merchant. Who knew he was doing something respectable, like serving the country.
“Anyway, now that you’re hired and all… I need to get you a uniform. Ah, and if you don’t have a bed or bedroom furniture, I’ll need to buy that too. The house has the minimum amount of furniture right now and the third floor is totally empty.”
Metts counted himself extremely lucky. That day he got three new sets of clothes and a full furniture set. His new Boss led him to the rich part of the city, to a house big enough to be called a mansion, and let him take his pick of rooms. Naturally he picked the biggest one.
Thio then gave Metts a portion of his pay early, five nocks to be exact, and a spare key to the house. The money was to compensate for the lack of furniture (it would arrive in a few days). Metts wasn’t required to start working until the furniture came in, but he declared he’d start the next day even without it.
The young Metts went back home to tell his parents, wearing his new Butler uniform and carrying a string of nocks in his pocket. Since he came from a large household, no one was upset that he was moving out. In fact, having one less mouth to feed and shelter was a relief. And since he’d been employed by someone reputable from the Army and generous, his parents were even more happy for him.
As was tradition, Metts gave his parents a small portion of his wage. In this case, a single nock. It was considered a “thank you” gesture to the parents from the children. This would continue until the parents died. However, Metts made sure he didn’t reveal how much he was making exactly. While he honored the tradition, he was a greedy boy and wasn’t going to be guilted into giving more than he had to.
The next few days, Thio taught Metts all about the house, cleaning, and basic repair. While doing that, Thio also bought more furniture and household items to fill the house. Since he considered the house, and everything in it, an investment, he made sure to get high quality goods.
A month and a half passed.
He’d reached the end. He’d done everything he could think of to do. And there were two weeks left.
Sitting at his shiny new desk, filled with high end stationary supplies, he thought about writing Caroline. He’d written her two weeks ago already, so writing another letter so soon might come off as clingy. Maybe if he just wrote it really slowly and in super detail he could—
He then sat up straight, an idea striking him.
Why not just VISIT Caroline instead of writing her!
They hadn’t seen each other in over four years after all. It was a testament to Caroline that no one had ever sent him angry letters asking why he was neglecting his wife. (He didn’t know that she had, periodically, gone on vacations claiming to have visited him.)
Of course, he’d been avoiding going back to his hometown for four years too. His drunken father was there, and it’s where he was abandoned by his mother. It was a place where people looked as his family and sneered and derided them. Naturally, he had few good memories of the place and hadn’t been eager to go back.
After debating about it for a while, he convinced himself to go. In the end, wasn’t he an Archmage? Hadn’t he helped slay a dragon? Whatever problems his family had, Thio himself had risen above them. He’d gained his own honor in the Army. Filled with determination, he got up and let Metts know he was going out of town.