“Have you gotten a letter from Thio yet?” The Guildmaster Darren asked about a month after Thio had left.
Caroline cautiously. “I haven’t… do you know when I should expect one?”
“I heard the Army lets their new recruits send out letter within a week of arrival.” Darren rubbed his chin. “I’m a bit surprised you haven’t gotten one yet. I hope nothing happened on his way there.”
“Right… I’m sure I’ll receive something soon!”
That was not the last time she was asked. By the end of the week, at least three other people asked about getting a letter.
Panicked, Caroline hustled over to the church and asked Father Richard for help. She didn’t know how sending letters worked in this country. And she’s stupidly thought no one would expect further communication with her “husband”. The Priest showed her how to write a letter and where to send it.
Much like where she grew up, sending letters were cheap (one copper coin) if it went the slow route. If she wanted it to arrive sooner, she had to pay extra. She ended up paying 5 copper coins to get the letter to Thio in 2 days.
His reply came three days later:
I’m sorry about not sending a letter sooner! I’ve been so busy it hadn’t crossed my mind.
From now on, lets make sure we send a letter to each other once a month. That should keep things affordable.
As for myself, my training period is already over. Apparently the Mage Division does things differently than the rest of the Army. For fast learners, you only need to be in training for two weeks and for slower learners, one month. I had thought the course work would be more difficult, but I knew most of it, so I graduated in two weeks.
It’s not that I’m particularly smart, just so you know. I had been studying to be a Knight for some years, so I knew a lot of the Army jargon already. And I’ve been doing basic spell research too. There were random things I didn’t know, but those were covered in the first two weeks of the course.
I’m currently ranked Mage 1st Class. The ranking system goes like this: Mage Recruit, Mage 1st Class – 5th Class, Senior Mage, Master Mage, Scholar Mage, and the Archmage. As you can see, I’m just one rank above a nobody. The highest ranking Mage I’ve seen thus far is a Master. They practically ooze power. I wonder what an Archmage would be like?
There is not much else of interest I can think to write you. I have included a portion of my pay as well. Considering that people are expecting me to write to you, they will most certainly expect me to give you money too. I’m making far more than I’m use to, so don’t feel guilty using it.
She then replied with:
Thank you for getting back to me in such a timely matter! I think the Guildmaster was getting seriously worried for your health. But when I finally told him I got a letter from you, he got angry that it took so long. I told him you were busy and it just upset him more. I’m afraid his opinion of you may have dropped somewhat, but I’ll do my best to convince him you’re a good guy.
As for myself, I am getting along quite well in the Guild! Mariel is back, with her baby. I was a little afraid of losing my job, but she isn’t able to stay for long periods of time. When she’s there, I take smaller Guild Requests (such as gather herbs in the hills and such) to familiarize myself with the town and surrounding area. It helps offset the hours I lose now that Mariel is around.
Thank you for the money. I know you said it wasn’t a bother, but I still feel guilty using it.
They sent letters of these types over the following months. Some were very mundane, while others were more interesting.
About a year into their “marriage”, Caroline received this letter:
I have not talked much about my rankings, have I? The 1-5 ranks are almost entirely about learning new spells and applying them in the field. Outside of that, those ranks do a lot of paper work for people above them. It’s safe, but mind numbing.
Anyway, once you hit Senior Mage you start going around the country to solve magic related problems. Mages go in groups of 5s, 4 Seniors and 1 Master.
Guess what I just reached? Yes, today I made Senior rank!
Are you surprised? I know I was! I’d only just reached 3rd Class when I got the news. I’m told that Master Mages or higher will recommend people get promoted. It’s possible to skip ranks that way or to never get promoted at all (if you anger the wrong person). Apparently they do this on a fairly frequent basis.
I have no idea which higher ranking official recommended me for promotion, but here I am.
I ask you though, what is the point of these Ranks if people can just skip them? The regular Army doesn’t do it this way. Even a very talented soldier or Knight must go up the ranks properly. It’s only through Royal decree that people can skip ranks. Honestly, what’s going on in the Mage Division? Ah, it bothers me so much…
With the promotion comes an increase in wages. Naturally it will be reflected in the amount I give to you every month.
Also, I will be sent out on field missions now, frequently. I will do my best to contact you when I’m in the city, but don’t be alarmed if my letters arrive late. Some of the places they send us are quite far away.
A few months later, Caroline sent a letter:
When you said you’d be sent all over, I didn’t think you meant to an tropical island! I had no idea the Empire even HAD one of those. I’m seriously investing in a bigger map. The places you’re going aren’t showing up on the map I’ve currently got.
I’m seriously envious though. I realize you had to deal with a giant rampaging turtle, but still: a tropical island! I’ve never been to one! I bet the water matches your eyes!
As for me, I’m doing well as an Adventurer. I know you were pretty worried when I made the switch, but I’m doing just fine! It’s not like there are any real dangers around Hillsdale to begin with!
Let me get to the meat of this letter though: Did you know Adveturer’s get Handles as they gain popularity? The Guildmaster goes by “The Howling Gray Wolf of the South”. I guess he’s retired big shot! I had no idea, did you?
That Handle is cool though. I realize I’m a nobody now, but I’ve been putting some serious thought into my future Handle. I want something that says: This woman is strong but elegant! I’ve been thinking I should put something with “Hawk” in it. Hawks are super majestic right?
Do Mages get Handles too? If they don’t, you should convince them to! It’s great!
If it helps any, after going to the tropical island, they immediately sent us far north to tundra country. The Yettie population was going out of control because of an unusually harsh winter in that area. Having been raised in Hillsdale, going far north was torture. How can a place be so cold? And the sun… where was the sun? I had to live via lamp light for days, it was awful!
I’m a little surprised you think my eyes are the color of tropical water. If you’ve never been there, how would know?
I had known the Guildmaster was retired, but I didn’t know he was a big shot. That’s pretty impressive. I wonder why he retired in Hillsdale though? Seems like a punishment if you ask me…
Mages don’t have Handles. Those are official within the Guild, you see. What sometimes happens is a Mage gets a nickname from the general population. You have to do something really big or be really charismatic to get one. Scholars and Archmages are usually well traveled and powerful enough to get a nickname.
For instance, there’s an Archmage that goes by “Fire Storm” because apparently all he does is cast giant fire spells on enemies. His method is “total obliteration”. With a lame nickname like that though, I don’t know if I could look the man in the face without laughing. I hope I never meet him, because a powerful person like that likely doesn’t appreciate mockery.
As for you, I have a hard time envisioning you as a Hawk. A sparrow perhaps, or a fox, but not a hawk. What about the Silent Fox or the Arrow Sparrow? Perhaps the Laughing Fox? Or the Fighting Furious Fox!
Haha. Sorry, I jest. I’m actually horrible with names. So I don’t recommend taking anything I say seriously.
As they rolled into the second year, both Thio and Caroline got into a pleasant rhythm of writing each other. They had started off knowing nothing about each other, but through their letters they became fast friends. What was first an obligation, became an enjoyable past time, and they looked forward to hearing from each other.
One day, Caroline came back from fulfilling a Request. It involved wiping out a group of mutated wolves that were terrorizing a rancher. Usually she went out with a party for missions of that type, but the request had been urgent so she’d gone by herself. The Rancher had taken her back to town, because she’d been beaten up so badly.
“Good Lord, Caroline!” Mariel exclaimed in horror when she walked into the Guild. Caroline’s outfit was shredded, she was covered in bite and claw marks. Her hair looked like a rat’s nest.
Mariel rushed over with a box of healing supplies, and started applying them before Caroline could get a word in edge wise. “What on earth were you thinking? You could have died!”
“But I didn’t.” Caroline replied cheekily, and then grunted when Mariel slapped a bandage on with a little too much enthusiasm.
“Why must you be like this? I realize you’re strong, but going out alone is incredibly unwise.”
“I know, but what was I going to do? What for the wolves to eat the Rancher and his family?”
“Better them than you.”
Mariel sighed. “Then think about it another way: how would your husband feel if he saw you torn to pieces like this? You’re going to scar you know.”
Caroline made a face, feeling awkward. Thio wouldn’t care about the scarring, but he might care about the recklessness
“I’ll keep that in mind.” She replied neutrally.
“Speaking of husbands, when is he going to visit?”
Caroline looked dumbfounded. “Visit?”
“Yes! If my husband was gone that long, I’d go crazy! Doesn’t it bother you? It’s been over a year. Surely he’s worked enough by now that the Army will give him time off to see you.”
“O—oh, right. Right. I guess I hadn’t mentioned? We’d actually been planning to see each other.” Caroline lied through her teeth.
“Wha— how could you forget something like that! When is he coming?”
“Uh, actually, I’ll be going to him. He’s in the Capital right? I’ve never been there, so we thought it’d be fun.”
“That’s wonderful! How exciting! When will you be going then?”
And so, Caroline found herself headed towards the Capital a month later. She could have told Thio she was coming in advance, but she didn’t want to bother him and he might be on a field mission anyway. Her plan was to drop by, and if he was there, great. If not, she’d just be tourist.
After visiting the Capital’s Guild, mostly to catch up on local gossip and to ask about good hotels, eateries, and other such attractions, she headed over the Mage Division Headquarters. It was much, much bigger than she was expecting. After wandering around, lost, a kind Mage brought her to the front desk.
The front desk directed her to the Fighting Battalion (the sub-division Thio worked in). Once she got there, she discovered another front desk, and they directed her to the LDF Section (Long Distance Fighters). The LDF front desk directed her to Thio’s specific Patrol Unit. She was extremely grateful to see there was no front desk for the Patrol Unit. Instead it was just a big room with desks.
She looked around for someone who most likely knew Thio. Just like the rest of the military, Mages had their own uniforms. They wore double breasted jackets with a long strip on the seam of the shoulder, a button up white cotton shirt underneath, and trousers with colored stripes on the side. The uniform color and stripes depended on the ranks. Black uniforms were 5th Class ranks and lower, where as Gray uniforms were Senior and up.
Most of the people walking around were wearing black uniforms. Examining the gray uniforms, she noticed someone with yellow stripes. That meant they were a Senior and might know Thio personally. He was currently sitting at his desk, scribbling away furiously at paperwork.
“Excuse me, I don’t mean to disturb you, but might Acanthio Hillsdale be in?”
The Senior Mage blinked and then narrowed his eyes. “That depends, who are you?”
Such rudeness! Caroline thought in annoyance. It’d been a long time since she’d been in a city and totally forgot that, generally, they had the right idea by being wary of strangers.
Clearing her throat, she politely continued. “I’m a family member from Hillsdale. I happened to be in the area and thought I’d stop by and say hello.”
“Proof?” He snapped.
“Do you have proof that you’re related?”
Frowning, she opened her travel bag and pulled out a letter she’d brought with her. She’d only brought it along since it had his work address on it.
Handing it over, the rude Mage looked at the envelope and then doubled down on his rudeness by actually reading the letter.
“Hey!” Caroline object, angry at such a breach of privacy.
He suddenly grabbed her hand and started shaking it, a genuine smile on his face.
“So you’re the person he writes to! I had no idea it was a young woman!”
“Er, uh—” His sudden turn in attitude startled her.
Seeing this, he straightened up and gave the letter back.
Putting his hands together as if in prayer, he apologetically explained. “Sorry, I had to check for security reasons. There are some pretty rotten people in the world.”
Seeing that he was sorry, and only doing his job, Caroline decided to be generous.
“No, I’m sorry too. I came in without warning. Of course you’d think I’m sketchy. So is Thio in?”
“He’s in town, but not in the office. I don’t think he’s coming back today either. If you leave a message with me, and I’ll pass it on.”
“Alright.” So Caroline left a simple message:
“In town. I’ll stop by your office tomorrow morning. Don’t wait up. – Caroline”
The Mage took the note and frowned. “Are you sure you don’t want to have a more definite meeting place and time? You might miss each other this way…”
“Naw. I don’t want him to feel pressured or anything. I’m here for a week, so there’s plenty of opportunities if we miss each other tomorrow.”
“If you say so…” He shrugged. “I’ll make sure he gets this.”
“Thanks. Well, I better be going. Thanks for the help.” Caroline gave a farewell nod and walked off.
The Senior Mage stood there, scratching his head confusedly. Thio’s penpal had always been something of a mystery to the rest of them. They knew this person was distantly related and an Adventurer and that was it. They’d always assumed it was a male cousin he got along well with.
Who knew it’d be a young lady? A good looking one too. That explains why he was always in a good mood when he got a letter from her. And no wonder Thio kept that to himself. He would have never lived it down, “distantly” related or not.
But it was a bit strange. Thio got along well with this person, but the girl in question seemed to view them meeting up as a possible inconvenience. They’d been die-hard penpals for two years, shouldn’t she be more excited?