An Old Acquaintance
The woman took a seat next to us, keeping her hood on.
“Who’s this ‘Ruth’ you’re talking about? I believe you’ve mistaken me for someone else.”
“Come on. We both know that’s not going to work. The way you carry yourself, your posture, and above all the immense amount of danger I can feel from you just sitting here is unmistakable. Even with the mask and your efforts to change your voice. So let’s just cut to the chase and get down to the reason you were following us.”
The woman swirled her cup for a bit, the sound of the drink sloshing within it seeming to drown out the surrounding chatter. Then she sighed and placed it down on the counter. She pulled back her hood, revealing a head covered in long, flowing, meticulously maintained brown hair, then reached up to her white, featureless mask and removed it to expose a pair of startlingly blue eyes. She placed the mask on the table and took a long gulp of her drink, then spoke to Elysium.
“Y’know, you’re awfully calm about the fact that you’re talking to a dead woman.”
“Please. I never believed for a moment that you’d died. There’s no way a group of bandits would have been able to beat you.”
“How would you know? You’ve never seen me fight.”
“Am I wrong?”
“Though now that you mention it, I do want to go a bout with you. I wanted to then, I still want to now.”
A chill ran through the air, rattling through my bones. The hairs on the back of my neck stood on end. As the two women watched each other with quiet smiles, my instincts blared out, warning me that immense danger was imminent.
“…Sorry, but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass. Destroying the city would bring a bit too much attention to me. More than I care for at the moment, anyway.”
“True, it wouldn’t do to accidentally tear down the city we’re due to perform in. Would be bad for reputation.”
The two women laughed and clinked their cups together as their little jest dispelled the tension in the air.
Or at least, I desperately wanted to believe it was a jest. No matter how strong they were, there was no way they’d be able to accidentally destroy the city…right?
Seemingly oblivious to my soft muttered self-assurances, Elysium and the new woman resumed their conversation.
“So, Elysium, aren’t you interested in what I’ve been up to?”
“Not really. What you do is your business. And that’s not the reason you’ve come here today.”
“You’re right. It isn’t. I’ll get to that in a bit. But first, humour me for a while. Tell me about her. How’s she doing?”
If this woman knew of Elysium, then it was likely that she knew Rosalind as well – from what I gathered of their conversation, I deduced that they were talking about Rosalind. They continued to ignore my presence as they conversed.
“About as well as you’d expect. I’m sure you’ve heard people talking about her.”
“Ah, yeah. I always told her she was destined for great things, but this wasn’t exactly what I had in mind.”
“Oh? What did you have in mind, then?”
“You know, your silence on the matter just makes me more curious.”
“I know, but it changes nothing. I will say nothing more on this.”
Elysium narrowed her eyes, but she let the subject drop. Then she began speaking about something completely unrelated.
“After you left us, when we heard the news… she was devastated. She refused to get out of bed for a week.”
“…Is that so…?”
The woman bit her lip, her eyes glancing away.
“You have to understand, Elysium. There were… things I had to do. Things that necessitated my departure.”
“Running from the law? Did you cheat a noble of their money or something?”
The woman laughed, a clear and sharp laugh.
“Well, feel free to assume that, if you’d like. It would be difficult to explain the real reason, and besides, I’m not at liberty to reveal that to you – nor do I feel such an inclination. Regardless, I would appreciate it if you could refrain from mentioning this meeting to that girl.”
“Hm? Why- Ah, I see. Hm. You want her to stand on her own.”
“Yes. That girl is like a sister to me. An adorable, precious younger sister. But she’s always relied on me, perhaps too much. And maybe I’m at fault for that as well, for spoiling her. But after I left, with your help, she got past it, and is now achieving things I never thought she’d achieve.”
“And you’re afraid that if she learns you’re still alive, it’ll undo her progress.”
“Yes. I’d like to believe that she’s grown strong enough that even learning of me will not cause her to regress, but there’s no guarantee of that. Besides, I’m not going to be staying around here for long. It would be cruel to reveal myself to her, only to leave again later. Of course, the request to keep silent about this meeting applies to you as well, young man.”
With her last sentence, she finally turned to me, fixing her piercing blue gaze on me. I froze, a chill running through my body. There wasn’t any malice or ill intent in her gaze, but somehow, I felt like I was in danger, simply from her looking at me. I rapidly nodded my assent. She smiled at me, which only made me shiver in fear. Then she turned back to Elysium, releasing me from her gaze. I breathed hard, and took a long swig of my cider, trying to calm my nerves. Elysium glanced at me, amusement in her eyes, and spoke to Ruth.
“I take it that I can skip the introductions? I presume the person that’s been following us for a while is you.”
“You are correct. I’ve been watching you since you arrived in town.”
“I thought so. Well, I didn’t know it was you until you stepped through that door, but I knew at least that someone was watching my first meeting with Glint over here.”
I froze once more. This woman had been watching me as Elysium cornered me? And I hadn’t even noticed? No, wait, in the first place, our confrontation had been in a narrow, dark alley. There should have been no way for a third party to escape my notice. And yet Elysium claims that this Ruth had been watching us since that time. What kind of ridiculous individuals was I associating with?
“You know, Elysium, I think you were a little too hard on the poor boy.”
“She said the same thing.”
A smile played around Ruth’s eyes. Elysium continued.
“Anyway, I presume the reason you approached us concerns Glint over here? Otherwise you would have approached me when we were separated. The fact that you came into this crowded bar means that whatever you have to say concerns him as well.”
“An excellent deduction. I noticed you were looking for a magic tutor for the boy. I would like to volunteer myself for the position.”
I blinked, surprised. Elysium seemed unfazed – in fact, her grin suggested that she had anticipated this result.
“Oho. Interesting. Might I ask why you’d like to teach him?”
“Two reasons. The first, because even though I don’t want that girl to know I’m alive, I still want to help her in any way possible. Financial aid is out of the question, since even anonymous donations might arouse suspicion – and besides, you already have a sponsor in the form of Bainel, who can provide you with far more help than me. But if it’s lessons in magic for your little assistant here, I can certainly provide them. I am, after all, a scholar of magic as well as a merchant. I daresay I have a better grasp of the fundamentals of magic than most mages in this country. And therein lies the second reason – Glint here has an affinity that is remarkably similar to mine. I can teach him how to refine it into a skill that can be used for both your performances and for combat. Of course, I will request no payment. And I can provide him better instruction than most. I do not think you have much of a reason to refuse.”
“Of course, I’m fine with it. What about you, Glint?”
Ruth was making some very bold claims – but Elysium didn’t seem to have any doubts about them being truth. Whatever their relationship was, she clearly trusted the woman. There were some other details about her faking her death that I had overheard earlier, but they didn’t particularly concern me. Everyone had secrets. It was a pointless exercise to uncover them all. If Elysium trusted Ruth, that was enough reason for me to do the same. Besides, if her instruction would allow me to avoid being a financial burden on Elysium, I had no reason to refuse. I nodded my head.
“I’m fine with it if you are, Elysium.”
Elysium turned back to Ruth.
“I guess it’s settled, then. But we’ll be holding our concert in about a month, and we’ll be leaving two weeks after that – that’s all the time I can give you to work with him. I need him to be on the same level as a professional before the concert.”
Ruth’s eyes narrowed. Her lips parted in a defiant grin.
“Is that a challenge? I’ll take it as a challenge. If you’ll let me have him for four hours a day, I’ll have him ready within a month, no problem. He might even be able to beat you in a fight.”
“We’ll see about that. So how should we arrange this?”
“Starting tomorrow, I’ll meet him at the entrance to this tavern every day, two hours after noon. We’ll train for 4 hours a day. Simple enough.”
“You okay with that, Glint?”
Elysium crossed her arms and looked to me. She wanted me to be the one to confirm the arrangement, probably because it was one that concerned my own future. I nodded and held out my hand toward Ruth. Ruth laughed and took it.
“It’s a deal, then. Be warned, it’s not going to be easy. I’m a strict teacher. I hope you’re ready, Glint.”
“Bring it on.”