Beta: Worldbringer of Joseun
A melodious orchestra.
Sparkling walls and shining decor.
Landers walked amongst one another, freely talked with one another, and with their hands cupped glasses of what was most likely wine. They held themselves in a similar fashion to magi, albeit far less immoral. While some of them had genuine intentions, there was no mistaking the fleeting glances their way. Said glances were filled with both fear and caution.
As a result, the nobles seemed to keep a wide berth from them. Perhaps not intentional on their part, but it all but screamed to Illya that they feared them in some regard.
That, and the guards stationed around the venue – by the windows and the entrances – seemed to focus almost entirely on them. Only Krusty and Shiroe seemed to have noticed this. Although, both Michitaka and Henrietta did seem to be catching on.
"After all that, we're finally here," Michitaka muttered as he tugged at the nape of his formal attire. "As expected, this is certainly something."
"Nervous?" Krusty asked with a smile as if he belonged in the venue.
"One hundred percent, but I'm not about to dip and bail," he replied. "I know how important this gathering is… I just wish they didn't have those guards around us every second."
Yes, guards… While Illya expected this amount of guards everywhere, she didn't really expect them to be so forthright with their caution. When they arrived, the Round Table representatives had been assigned a room, where guards were stationed at the front and maids attended to their every need. It didn't even take a genius to see that those same maids were forcing a smile.
Because there was always one maid present, Illya had advised each member – through the use of their messaging system – that they couldn't talk about any sensitive matters such as the upcoming Goblin King invasion too soon, or of the fact that Susukino was probing their borders all the way from the Ezzo Empire.
Although, they'd have to clear up that misunderstanding quickly. If there were spies from Susukino near Akihabara, then that meant Maihama – which was situated nearby – could either assume they were mobilizing troops or sending their own spies to them. Either way, it painted Akihabara in a bad light.
And they took away what Illya intended to be a gift. A shame, but a reasonable action to take. If she took something out during the meeting proper, it might've prompted a volatile reaction.
Leaving her reminiscent musings, Krusty chuckled further. "Well, security is a vital concern. I can think of many reasons such behavior is warranted. Right, Illyasviel?"
"Is that meant to imply something, sir Krusty?" It was very easy to hold back a frown. Illya combed her hair and allowed her snow-white locks to fall upon her similarly snowy dress. It was a modest look, mostly because her dear brother didn't approve of the other subtly risque ones.
"Merely emphasizing with their concerns, Illyasviel."
"Alright you two, knock it off," Kayu sighed, a Samurai that Michitaka brought along. His right-hand man apparently. "I think they're staring at us."
"Just think of them as monsters and you can relax."
"That is just you, milord."
Illya sighed and tuned out how her companions talked amongst themselves. Rather than idle like the others, she turned to Waver and smiled.
A seemingly innocent gesture, yet the recipient sighed under his breath and tugged at his formal attire, a standard suit atop a pale red shirt and a white tie. He did so three times.
He also flicked his wrist to fix his sleeve before taking out his favored smoking pipe, which bobbed up and down as he attempted to light it.
From how Waver was frowning, Illya surmised two things. One, he found the cloak and dagger frustrating and annoying to deal with, a sentiment she mirrored, and two, the ones stalking them did so perfectly.
However, whatever thoughts that the Clocktower Lord had steaming would have to wait, if their upcoming company was any indication.
Illya combed her hair, for what seemed like the fifth time today, and turned back to Shiroe. "It seems we are finally being addressed."
Shiroe, having recovered from being teased by his fellows, calmed himself and stood ready to receive him. Said fellows also composed themselves.
"Thank you for coming, representatives from the Round Table," an elderly man said. From how he wore an intricate robe adorned with various golden trinkets, it was clear who he was. "I am Sergiatte Cowen, the coordinator for the Eastal League of Free Cities."
There he was, Sergiatte Cowen. High Lord of the League of Freedom Cities. Duke of Maihama, the most important man in the entirety of Eastal. Comparing him to a regular noble would be like comparing an ancient dire wolf to a mere whelp.
And above all, the reason the Round Table had a chance at peaceful coexistence.
A coordinator? Understating it, aren't we…?
Illya mused as she stepped forward.
"It is a pleasure to finally meet," she greeted. "I am Illyasviel, a representative for the Round Table Conference. It is a blessing that we were invited to such a prestigious event."
"Similar greetings. I am Krusty, a fellow representative of the Round Table Conference."
"… I am Shiroe. I am pleased to meet you."
As expected of Krusty, he knew how to introduce himself. It's a shame that Shiroe took a bit to catch on, but that's not his specialty. Illya decided to let it slide as the other members introduced themselves, with the exception of their escorts.
Illya was surprised that Sergiatte dismissed the guards accompanying him as he sat down to discuss with them. There were some hushed protests, but ultimately, they left him alone on a red satin sofa across from the Round Table's own satin sofa.
A display of trust…? If so, things might proceed smoother than she initially thought.
Without overstepping their boundaries, the coalition opted to explain how their governance worked so far, their roles and responsibilities to Akihabara as a whole. This was mostly done by Krusty, who volunteered earlier. However, in exchange, Illya was to explain the rest of what they agreed to with the Landers within Akihabara.
"–so it is similar in scale to how we manage Eastal but on a lesser scale?"
"That is correct," Krusty confirmed.
"… But that means bestowing a noble title upon one of you would cause needless friction," he surmised. Having one noble among the Round Table seats made them seem unequal. In the long run, it wasn't an ideal decision.
Krusty sent a glance towards their Lander representative, and with controlled steps, Illya took a seat next to him.
"Is a noble title necessary, lord Cowen?" she asked. "I imagine that quite a few of your fellows would protest the idea."
"Perhaps not, as your governance has worked thus far," he replied. "However, you are correct that other nobles see little benefit to bestowing an adventurer a noble title. News of… outside factors has colored their views."
"That is not outside of our expectations," Krusty smiled. "Hence we have decided to detail our intentions to you and your compatriots."
Or rather, Shiroe's decision, not that she disagreed with it. If both parties made their intentions clear with one another, much of the potential conflict could be washed away easily. However, that didn't really account for if said intentions would inevitably conflict, hence the need for concessions.
"The duty of detailing our current intentions falls to me, so I ask for your cooperation," Illya smiled. At the High Lord's nod, Illya continued. "First, the Round Table would like to claim ownership of the city of Akihabara, as it is already known as an adventurer city, as well as the surrounding area as its territory. Is this possible?"
"Unfortunately not," Sergiatte frowned, but that was expected. "Had your governance worked under a single leader, we would be able to appoint him or her as a noble. Following our laws, the appointed noble would be able to lay claim to surrounding lands and borders. You understand why it is difficult to apply to your circumstances?"
"Yes, truly unfortunate."
"However, I must emphasize that the offer did not come from a place of malice," the Cowen added. "Akihabara has a lacking history of nobility. As such, the people of Akihabara– the Lander population– would be overjoyed at a noble taking control, as it usually meant prosperity for the region. This was the reason for the offer."
"The wellbeing of the people? I see," Illya smiled. "While it is expected that the offer would not work, I do not fault the intentions behind it, hence we have a few suggestions that could work as suitable substitutes."
"Substitutes?" The duke muttered with intrigue. "Such as?"
"One suggestion was sending a trusted overseer to Akihabara in place of a noble," Illya continued. "This would allow you to see how we, as adventurers, are handling ourselves. The safety of said overseer would be guaranteed, of course. He would also be the authoritative figure in regards to adventurer and Eastal discussion."
This was something that Krusty ended up suggesting. He would've kept it to himself had Lord El-Melloi II not sensed something from him. Illya personally saw the venture as worthwhile if it succeeded, but it certainly had some loopholes that needed to be sealed.
One such loophole involved the integrity of the overseer. If he or she was not neutral, then the many future transactions and discussions would be lopsided, which may eventually lead to a collapse.
"Interesting proposal. However, the only overseer we can provide that can satisfy your need to own Akihabara, would be one who also holds a noble title. All present nobles have their own territories to look over, and thus, we cannot spare one."
"And I suppose electing a civilian from Akihabara proper as a candidate for nobility is out of the question?"
"As Akihabara proper lacks a reputable lineage or a person with a history of reputable education capable of holding a noble title, I fear that it is," he confirmed. "There is also an issue with the overseer himself. If he or she is not from Akihabara, then he or she may feel as if they are an outsider to the realm. This may or may not color their view if the convictions behind the overseer are not strong enough."
Yes, that was what Illya also realized.
"A pity," Illya faux pouted. "Well then, how about a second proposal? A mutual prosperity agreement, where those in Eastal, if both able and reasonable, aid Akihabara in its endeavors. The same will be done with Akihabara for those in Eastal. However, this is not an actively enforced agreement, but more of a way to quell the fears of the populace."
This was Shiroe's suggestion. It was reasonable and left a lot of room for both parties to easily seek aid from each other. Log Horizon's guild master was likely thinking of the potential attack from the Goblin King and wanted to use this as an immediate way to promote their legitimacy as Akihabara's authoritative figures.
Truth be told, it was a solid idea. If the Landers openly knew about such a pact, they would be far less hesitant to cooperate with them in future endeavors such as trade routes or dialogue.
Michitaka certainly liked the idea, as did Lord El-Melloi II.
"Intriguing," he honestly said with brows raised. "However, as it concerns Eastal as a whole, it will need to run through my fellows. An agreement such as this should not be done without their consent. Despite my position as Eastal's High Lord, I am not above considering their priorities as below my own."
Hmm… the expected answer again. This guy was certainly a traditionalist, wasn't he? Well, maybe not too traditional, but certainly close.
"We are fortunate enough to receive your consideration, lord Cowen. It is a pleasure to know you would seek council with your peers," even when they both knew he did not need it. "As this suggestion is amiable, shall I refrain from mentioning our final suggestion?"
"No, the Round Table has impressed me thus far. I would very much like to hear your final suggestion."
"Separation. Eastal will not meddle with the affairs of Akihabara, and we will not meddle with Eastal."
The narrowing of his brow certainly dragged the attention of some surrounding nobles, as they had been paying attention to lord Cowen the entire time, but the most apparent reaction came from Illya's fellows. Unlike the nobles, they weren't trained to hide their reactions. Henrietta's wince, Michitaka's sigh, and Shiroe's go-to maneuver of pushing up his glasses. All of it indicated exasperation.
"… I see," he muttered. "And why was this a consideration by the Round Table?"
"Fear, mostly," Illya answered. "We are well aware that the general populace fears what we are capable of, or more specifically, fear of following the footsteps of our sister city, Susukino. If cooperation and coexistence are not options, then we will simply appease these fears by fading as the Elves and their villages. While communication will still be possible, interfering with one another will not be. I'm certain that quite a few of your fellows would be amiable to such a suggestion."
"You speak correctly," Sergiatte replied. "However, I'm sure that both of us do not wish for such an outcome, correct?"
"Yes, your lordship. This was merely a last resort. I'm certain that the following days of this gathering will be enough to dissuade us from the idea."
"Let us hope so," Sergiatte nodded as he stood from the satin sofa. "And as you have pointed out, there are many more days in this gathering. We can afford to continue this discussion at a later date."
"How benevolent of you, lord Cowen," Illya smiled as she stood up.
"I am not above considering the goodwill of my fellows," he left the implication there for them. "Would you and your compatriots perhaps join me in the coming pleasantries? Much of the cuisine prepared here today was inspired by tales from your city. Perhaps you can explain more of what they are."
"I'm certain that a fellow representative, Michitaka, would be more than overjoyed to meet your expectations. Much of Akihabara's trade and resource management is run by him, after all."
Michitaka blinked. "Wait, what?"
"I'll be looking forward to it, sir Michitaka."
"Let us proceed, guild master," Kayu egged him on with a slap on the back. "Come on, explain to lord Sergiatte what a pizza is!"
"I'm certain that he is looking forward to it," Krusty chuckled.
"You guys…!" He growled before he steadied himself. "Very well, what would you like for me to explain first, your majesty?"
As Michitaka walked off to follow lord Cowen, whose bodyguards decided to follow along, Shiroe stepped next to her and whispered.
"Are you certain this will work?"
"Considering the type of person he appears to be, lord Cowen will definitely avoid the third option as much as possible," Illya explained once she determined there were no eavesdroppers. "When presented with gold, silver, and a literal pile of shit, they'll definitely avoid the shit."
To summarize. Either the adventurers of Akihabara are treated as allies or they won't cooperate with them at all.
"Pigeonholing their options before we even reach the discussion table proper…" Shiroe sighed. "While it can work, it is not something I'd advocate."
"Giving them dialogue options to choose from is much more predictable than if they made their own choice. It tricks them into having a close-ended mindset rather than an open-ended one," Krusty sighed. "It's a tactic that I've seen my uncles use before… mostly against each other. The targeted party will focus entirely on the choices and not outside options. However, it is fragile. The moment they find a different option– a viable option that we haven't anticipated, it crumbles."
"Which is why I don't like it as a bluff," Shiroe frowned as he turned to her. "However, even if it fails and they refuse the given options, that at least means they'll refuse the separation option. It'll give us time to find our own options."
"Because Akihabara won't survive without Landers," Illya smiled.
"Just as Eastal can't survive without adventurers," Shiroe added. He followed it up by pushing up his glasses, which glinted as he did so. "Are you sure you can keep it up?"
Illya combed her hair, looking out the window as she did so, noting the nigh unnoticeable flash of light. To the common eye, it could've just been the magical ice or the twinkling starry sky.
To her, it wasn't.
"Yes, I'm sure."
"And the other thing?" Krusty prompted.
"I trust my guildmate. She'll do fine," Illya's smiled strained. "She's very reliable when the time comes… or so I am told."
"I believe it is this way, Rin."
"How are we lost? I thought you knew the way!"
"While I was invited here once before, I was but a child with her parents. I am ashamed to admit that it has been far too long for me to recall."
"Then why didn't we get a guide…?" Rin sighed as she looked down the hallway. It looked the same as the last. Terrific.
It had been a solid hour since Rin and Ferlna left their assigned room, but Illya and the other guild masters had left a few minutes before them. They had been guided to the appropriate venue. However, as Ferlna thought she knew the way, Rin didn't request one too.
And so, after changing into what Ferlna called a scholar's robes – which was basically a hooded white robe with the Academic Guild's emblem etched in gold – they embarked to the venue. However, Rin elected to wear the Round Table's attire underneath, which was visible because she wore the robes somewhat loosely, as a way to show her affiliation.
A few minutes later, they walked into a dead end.
To put it simply, Ferlna did not know the way. Now they were roaming the halls in hopes of finding a guard to guide them somewhere. They'd have to explain their seemingly incompetent decision, but it was better than being utterly absent from the event they were supposed to attend.
An event that they were invited to, by one of the biggest big shots in Eastal's magical community. Yeah, missing that would make them look like a massive pair of–
Oh dear, the vulgar side of her was returning. Best calm herself before it got out of hand.
However, in calming herself down, Rin inadvertently noticed the utter lack of guards in the palace. Normally, she expected to find a few patrolling sentries, but not a single one appeared.
Did that mean they were just unluckily avoiding them, or are they stationed somewhere else? There was a gathering going on with numerable persons of interest attending, so perhaps they sought to focus the bulk of the security there instead.
That was a security flaw. However, it sort of made sense as the only entrance to the building was through that single bridge. Trying to enter from anywhere else would essentially be screaming to the guards manning the palace walls that you were a dangerous entity.
… If they were seen, that is, which wouldn't be hard because the eternal ice shined even in the darkest night.
"Ah, I believe this is the correct route," Ferlna pointed towards a spiral staircase. "If we go down from here, we should be able to reach the underground venue."
"And why is the venue underground again?"
"Protection for people above," she explained as she descended the stairwell. "Some demonstrations at the venue can get a little… overzealous. By having the venue so deep into the earth, it lessens the chance of volatile summons or malicious entities from escaping easily… or entering."
"One entrance again…" Rin mused as she followed. "I'm starting to see a theme. Let me guess, is it also a maze down there?"
"To confuse infiltrators, yes," Ferlna nodded. "However, we will not get lost. While I forgot the way there, I do remember how the way is revealed."
"Revealed?" Rin raised a brow. "Is there a code of some sort?"
"If you are authorized to join the gathering, or invited by the Sage as we have been, the path will reveal itself automatically."
"I presume this was done by the Sage himself?"
"Correct. It was at the Sage's request and the academia didn't put much thought into it," Ferlna scoffed. "Just like their research."
"Your disdain is showing, Ferlna," Rin smiled. "You should keep a formal attitude. You do not only represent our research but the Round Table as well."
Ferlna blinked. "But I am not a part of–?"
"Do you really think that's how everyone will see it?" Rin asked with a slight teasing grin. "You arrive with the rest of the Round Table representatives, attend the gathering alongside an adventurer from the Round Table coalition, and you expect to be seen as an unaffiliated party? My, my, Ferlna. I hadn't expected this obliviousness from you!"
Ferlna's eye twitched. Aw, how sweet. She was getting irritated with her. That basically meant they were close, right? "An oversight, I admit. However, I was much more focused on how our presentation would proceed."
"That narrow focus is arguably good for research," Rin started. "However, you really should take a step back and look at the bigger picture sometimes."
For some reason, that made Ferlna twitch violently, but she didn't say anything further. Weird.
"Speaking of which, why exactly do you dislike the Academic Guild?" Rin prompted.
"Did I not tell you before?"
"If you did, I forgot. Forgive me?"
"You're lucky that I didn't…" Ferlna admitted. Ah, so she was deflecting. "Quite simply, I hated how the members did not focus on practical research but on theoretical. In fact, they preferred the theoretical, which was usually followed by educated speculation. Topics that can be easily tested, but with great impact, were what I wished to focus on. However, the academia saw it as a waste of resources and wouldn't even attempt to fund such endeavors. Clearly, the more difficult subjects deserve more funding, despite the lack of results… However, despite my distaste for them, I cannot fault how they ended up like this."
"And how did that happen?"
"A lack of urgency, I suppose. It has left my people slothful. It is one reason why they are so wary of the changes that adventurers such as yourself have undergone," Ferlna expanded. "One day, a radical shift that changes their entire world view. The locals in Akihabara have gotten used to it and follow the Round Table's example in striving for excellence and development. Such actions are strange and unfamiliar to us, who have had the same recipes, the same music, and the same techniques passed down from generation to generation."
"A society of stagnation would be an accurate way of describing it, no?"
"It is as you say…" Ferlna sighed. "Here at the heart of Eastal, a fire has yet to be lit. If this goes on, they will inevitably feel the pressure of being left behind. Even when they likely fear what the May Incident has wrought, they cannot fully abandon adventurers."
"I imagine the nobles upstairs feel the same way," Rin sighed.
Yes. Landers, even when put under immense stress and pressure, would likely not attack adventurers directly. Distance themselves and refuse to aid, perhaps. However, outright assault? Near impossible.
Which was why we had them attack in the first place.
"It is because of this stagnation that I find myself with a distaste of the academia and all those affiliated," Ferlna continued. "I suggest you mentally prepare yourself. There are many… bullheaded individuals here. Especially those from the academia, who see themselves and their research as the only kind that matters."
After descending the stairwell, Rin finally took note of the lack of windows. Instead, pale blue lights hanging from either side of the corridor led the way forward. It was dark, dreary, but had an air of mystery surrounding it.
"Let us proceed," Ferlna prompted as she walked down the corridor.
Rin followed as usual, but as soon as she took her first few steps, she paused and frowned.
This corridor… I see.
"The Sage of Miral Lake's name is Regan, correct?"
"Yes, but why do you ask?"
"Merely taking note of him."
An enclosed space– or rather a bounded field? I thought only we knew how to create one, but it seems that this Regan knows how to as well.
Not only that, the field is a potent one. It appears to scramble one's sense of direction. Even a straight corridor becomes a maze for the average person, or for people who do not know how to dispel the influence…
If there were a few corridors that worked the same way, then Rin was starting to see why people say the bottom of the castle, the Sage's territory, was a veritable maze.
"Rin, the line leads this way," Ferlna explained as she kept walking forward, not once turning left or right.
Rin eyed the ground and took note of no line. However, she realized that if she allowed herself to be taken by the bounded field's influence, she would be able to see it too. She didn't, but nevertheless followed Ferlna down the straight corridor. The only turn they took was to the left, but she could see a massive library down the other path. Truly interesting.
After a minute, Rin and Ferlna found themselves in front of a large stone door reinforced by steel bars. It had no handle, but before they could even touch the thing, it opened by itself. The door slid to the side and into the wall, allowing them entry.
From within, Rin could see that it looked similar to a college auditorium. Numerous rows of seats surrounding a single platform in the shape of a crescent moon. However, the seats themselves were far from the platform. It was almost as if it was a small arena. Rin wondered how they could hear the speaker from so far away, but it appears that there was a stone embedded in a podium at the center of the platform which transmitted noise to their surroundings.
Carried by the wind, Rin surmised. Had Shirou been here, he would've mentioned how odd the air smelled.
It didn't match the dreary decor of the corridor. Instead, it looked much like the decor from above ground, making it much more aesthetically pleasing.
"It looks as though the assembly has already started," Ferlna noted. "We should find a free seat and await our call. No doubt the Sage has opted to allow us to present last."
Saving the best for last, Rin's narcissistic side almost added. However, she was far more interested in the fact that most of these scholars did in fact notice them, but decided to focus much more on the presentation. Although, a fair few of them whispered to their fellows at their arrival.
Strangely, they were focused on Ferlna rather than her, the literal adventurer in the room.
Ferlna chose a seat further away from where most of the scholars sat, but it had a good view of what the guy was presenting, which was something about how the properties of purple flame crystals and dragon skin could create a miniature spatial oddity. However, it was merely a theory and he had nothing to back up his claim. He was basically here to ask for aid to perform these tests.
Had he no initiative to do it himself? Did he truly need his peer's validation to do something on his own?
As Rin sighed, the presentation was reaching its end. She took a sneak glance at the corner of the room, almost at the opposite side of where she sat. Then she took a glance upward, where another set of seats were prepared. However, she only took note of one person there.
There were a few more reputable persons than she expected, but that was fine. She thought back to Ferlna's words.
If it's a fire that these Landers need, then Rin intended to light one.
However, as the meeting proceeded, Rin found much of her motivation dwindling. Apart from the first, she found the following presentations to be much less… intriguing.
Following the interesting topic of spatial manipulation, similar to that of an adventurer's inventory, was how religion actually affects healing magic and how the remnants of Alvs – the half-alvs – could be seen as potential dangers to society. There were also mentions of Ent wood being a much more magically conductive material than existing materials, alongside the research of a spell that could function as a fishing bait replacement.
Rin was under no impression that they were useless studies, but they were bordering that status. One research was mildly interesting, one was plain pointless, and the last two shouldn't have even left the discussion room. Then again, this was a medieval fantasy society, so equal rights are likely irrelevant. It might explain why there were only humans, and the occasional elf, in this castle.
Why research any of this when their society is under threat of demihuman monsters, just waiting outside their walls? Your civilization is already being pushed by monsters, so shouldn't you push back in some form?
It was as if these scholars don't even think about the monsters outside, or on how to easily defeat them, and Rin can think of one easy reason for that.
The adventurers can just take care of it.
That might not be true nowadays, but a few months ago, it was the norm. Even world-ending scenarios were easily dealt with within the year, as written in their historical records. Did the Landers just grow complacent and focus more on fighting each other rather than the actual enemies, the savage monsters?
Ferlna was right. These guys were just plain ridiculous. You wouldn't even find people like them in their world– unless you looked extremely hard… actually, it might not be that hard.
"You'd think they'd put in more research towards offensive magic, instead of this," Rin sighed as the presentation wrapped up. "How long will this go on? How many presentations are left?"
"I understand your confusion," Ferlna sighed. "Despite the number of attendees, not all of them are researchers or scholars. Rather, they are people who funded their research or people attending in the investor's place. There are also friends of the researcher, collaborators who aided in the research, and merchants looking to make a profit by involving themselves, either as buyers or suppliers."
"Certainly in-depth," Rin said, impressed for the second time tonight. However, she immediately frowned as she realized something errant. "Does that mean multiple researchers– not just one guy, collaborated on researching Ent wood and thought it was a good idea?"
"Of all the absurd…" Rin sighed. She noticed Ferlna standing and walking away. "Something wrong?"
"I said there were two researchers left," she replied. "I am one of them. The other one is you."
"I thought we were both presenting our research?" Rin raised a brow.
"The majority of it is indeed ours. However, I was assigned to look into the reason behind the adventurer May Incident. You have provided much of the material, but in accordance to Tsukuba's guidelines, you're more of a research subject and not a collaborator," Ferlna smiled. "However, you and I both know that you hold little care to this particular subject. Why else would you not even discuss it earlier today? Would it not be better if I present the boring details and allow you– Magi Tohsaka, to display the fruits of her brilliance?"
"Flattery will get you nowhere– especially if you use that name," Rin sighed. "Fine. If anything, this should work in my favor. I wish you the best."
As she went up to the stand, waiting just a few seconds for the other presenter to finish shaking his hands with his collaborators, Ferlna took down her hood and revealed her face to the venue.
The whispers came.
"Ah, the Balmen girl."
Balmen? Was that her family name? Why did she hide it?
"What's that radical doing here?"
"Apparently, the academia reached out to her because she lived in that adventurer city."
"Scraping the bottom of the barrel. Saddening."
Scratch that. She wasn't lighting a fire.
She was going to burn the place to the ground.
"As requested, I have compiled my findings on the May Incident," Ferlna started. "To begin, we must first clear up any core misunderstandings that we have about what the findings are about and what we think of adventurers as a whole. I have narrowed down three of them."
She grabbed a piece of chalk and turned to the blackboard behind her. Once she finished drawing a basic sketch of a human body, she continued.
"First misunderstanding. Adventurer bodies are very different to that of a Lander. This, as my findings have concluded, is false."
Immediately, Rin could hear a few scoffs here and there.
"Adventurers can bleed just as any Lander when pierced by a bladed weapon. However, the speed at which they regenerate does not come from any physical traits, most of this recovery is magical in nature," she explained. "Here is a way to portray this similarity. Slit the wrist of both a Lander and adventurer. The speed of regeneration is the same, and applying a basic Heal to both, ends up closing the wound all the same. Even applying regeneration spells can make a Lander mimic the recovery of an adventurer, hence why I stated that this recovery is magical in nature."
At the raised hand of one of the researchers, Ferlna paused to let him speak. She gestured for him to do so.
"There have been cases where adventurers need not magic to surpass the regenerative capabilities of an average Lander. Does this not contradict your claim?"
"If you are referring to their passive regeneration, that too is a result of magic," Ferlna explained. "Some adventurers have special spells that do not require manual activation, which they call passive skills. While manual activation and consumption of mana is not conducted, it is still magical in nature, and thus, can be prevented or dispelled. Not merely through debilitating curses, but it is also possible by disabling the passive skills of an adventurer. Is this clear?"
"Then how would we proceed with disabling said passive skills?" One inquisitive mind questioned.
"That is not the purpose of this presentation," Ferlna reprimanded. "Please do remember that this is a presentation of my findings. Topics outside the scope of my research are irrelevant."
At the few nods she received, Ferlna continued. Idly, Rin wondered if any of them noticed the passively aggressive tone.
"Very well, the second misunderstanding; adventurer's inherent ability to cast spells to make them better at combat than Landers," Ferlna pushed up her glasses. "This is also false."
Oh? It seems a few Landers were intrigued at the prospect.
"While adventurers can learn spells as they grow stronger without the need to study tomes or practice as we do, Landers can very much do the same with some effort," Ferlna said as she raised her arm upward. "For example, Flame Lance." A pillar of flame erupted from her fingertips until it formed itself into a spear, which she held with little to no burns. "Through a week of trial and error, I've learned this spell which would take adventurers reaching the level of forty to learn, despite myself only being level twenty. It costs much of my mana, but their inherent ability to learn spells does not make them stronger. If anything, it is merely their comparably immense pool of mana that creates this claim."
"But that is very much still an advantage, is it not?" a different lander asked, but it was also a reasonable question.
"Yes, but it is not an insurmountable one," Ferlna added as she sent a subtle glance towards her companion. "Adventurers also have access to an item known as an EXP potion. This accelerates their growth by at least fifty percent. If potions of healing work on both Landers and adventurers, then the same should be applied. This potion is a viable way to strengthen Landers as a whole."
"And how do you propose we obtain this potion?" a rather portly fellow asked, likely a merchant.
"Again, that is not the purpose of this presentation," Ferlna shot down. "There is a viable way of obtaining them. However, I have not looked further into its viability, as I have focused on the possibility instead."
Although, Rin knew that there were some people that thought deeply of it. Most of whom were merrily dancing upstairs.
"I believe you forgot a fundamental rule about adventurers and Landers," a portly man snorted. "When both cast the same spell, the spell cast by an adventurer requires less mana. Is this not an advantage unrelated to the total of our mana capacity?"
A few whispers of agreement followed.
"And how much would you say a Firebolt costs to cast, if given a numerical value?" Ferlna prompted.
"… fourteen, seven when cast by an adventurer. It is what my ancestors recorded from training alongside adventurers daily."
"Thank you," Ferlna bowed as she took out a device. Rin recognized it as the device that recorded how much mana was used for a spell, yet another invention from the Sage of Miral Lake. She attached it to her wrist, displayed an output upon a miniature orb; said output would be numerical. "Without further ado, Firebolt."
A plume of fire left her fingertips–
–and seven was displayed.
Rampant whispering followed as the portly scholar stood in shock.
"I-Impossible. How did you…?"
"An adventurer instinctively knows how to cast a spell. Our ancestors took this and interpreted that adventurers are simply better at using magic, or that they were far more attuned to magic than the average Lander," she explained. "There is truth to that statement. However, it is reversed. It is we, Landers, who are not as attuned to magic as adventurers are. As a result, we falsely believed that we could not cast magic as best as they could. The reality is that we were using more mana than necessary. With time and effort, we will be able to use spells with similar efficiency. To show how it can progress, Flame Lance. The average cost for Landers is forty, yet as the display shows, it cost me thirty-two to cast. I am not yet familiar enough with this spell to fully cut down the cost to match an adventurer, but it is still possible."
She sighed as she withdrew her hand. Rin sighed as well, but it was more because such simple ideas had taken this long to be displayed. Why on earth hadn't these Landers focused on lowering the cost of their spells? As always, the answer always came back to adventurers. Why polish our potential magical prowess when we have immortal warriors to do it for us?
With that in mind, they focused their research elsewhere, towards commerce and politics. Rin chuckled at the idea of magic in politics, much like the Mages Association, yet so much more… passive.
"The main difference between Landers and adventurers, when it comes to magic, is the same difference to a hard worker and a natural genius. With enough time and effort, that gap can be closed."
After receiving both nods of understanding and whispers of the opposite, she continued.
Rin hummed as her thoughts idly entertained her. Well, all was pleasant so far. There weren't that many bullheaded individuals like Ferlna said there would be. Sure, they interrupted her instead of letting her speak, but Ferlna didn't seem to mind.
There was also an odd quirk she had noticed. Ferlna's presentation displayed a subtle lack of proof, yet the audience seemed to be uncaring. Was it not as important here in comparison to their world? Rin supposed she shouldn't expect the academe here to act like the academe in their world. However, it started to make sense considering how many asinine tomes and published papers existed.
"Last misunderstanding. Adventurers are mindless beings that live to serve and aid us. That too, is false, even prior to the May Incident."
"And just when I thought she knew what she was talking about…"
"I thought we learned when we threw her out last time."
From whispers to full-blown slander. So there's the bullheadedness that Ferlna warned about… Wonderful. From how Ferlna was eyeing none of the so-called 'researchers' and instead focusing on her, Rin knew not to say anything.
She'd have her time.
"This final misunderstanding will be cleared by explaining my findings in detail," Ferlna said, not even raising her voice above the vocal few that still debased her. "However, to summarize it all in an easily digestible claim; adventurers are people from a different world who pilot puppet bodies to enact their will."
"She's lost it."
"Just when we thought she was going somewhere…"
"A waste of resources once again."
"Where did she even get this idea? What's the source of this–"
"My source of this information, you ask? My primary source of research is the adventurer sitting alongside you all. Isn't that right, lady Tohsaka?" Ferlna silenced them all. Rin indulged by waving like a cheeky spectator. "In addition, her claims were checked and approved by other reputable adventurers. These include Shiroe of the guild Log Horizon and Krusty of D.D.D., both of whom are upstairs as we speak, representing Akihabara as a whole as members of the Round Table conference."
"And how are we to be sure you haven't bribed these fellows?" A researcher, who seemed to be a noble that probably skipped the gathering above, asked. "We all know that adventurers love their gold. A coin or two can always sway their opinion to fit your ridiculous narrative."
Rin ignored the slight and focused on how Ferlna didn't seem bothered in the slightest. Instead, she reached for her bag and withdrew a few papers.
"That is a valid concern. As such, I have prepared a full list on all the adventurers that have signed, agreeing to the claim–"
"One or two more adventurers to your sample size can't possibly–"
"–five thousand willing adventurers from Akihabara, signed and with their approval to be used as sources."
Rin snorted. Certainly the gears were turning in their heads now. Five thousand? That was basically a third of Akihabara's population. Such an absurd number, it must be fabricated! However, as Ferlna took out more and more papers from the bag, they grew concerned. It was only when the podium was already full that they noticed Ferlna was not carrying an ordinary bag, but a magic bag, one that Illya had lent her since she wasn't going to be using it for a while. It would serve a higher purpose here; for the purpose of her presentation.
"Forgive the paper quality and lack of protective barriers," Ferlna explained as she pulled out more and more. "A mere shopkeeper like myself could only afford the lowest quality paper. However, I can attest to the legitimacy of these papers. I trust my sources prove prudent, and if not, then I trust you can confirm it yourselves with the Round Table representatives, or with the adventurers themselves?"
"T-This changes little! You could have bribed the participants still! Or perhaps fabricated most of it!"
All five thousand? Each would have at least cost a couple of gold minimum, even more for the higher leveled players to feel worth it. Did a mere shopkeeper have that sort of capital, or even the resources to obtain a sample size of five thousand, or to fabricate it?
What purpose would fabricating five thousand papers, each with unique names and signatures, serve? Very little is the answer. As Rin eyed the audience, she recognized that a few of them believed so too.
"As for how I've managed to obtain the signatures, I've requested the aid of the Round Table, a party that Sergiatte Cowen himself recognized enough to invite them here to this palace," Ferlna added on. "If you still doubt the legitimacy of the claim, treat is as a theory if it pleases you– or even the mad ravings of a disgraced noble. It matters not. The purpose of this presentation is to present my findings, whether or not you believe it to be true is irrelevant. I would advise that you conduct your own research if you truly detest this claim. Speaking of which, there is more to my rationale. I shall move on to expand on the claim."
And expand upon it she did.
She detailed everything about adventurers from before the May Incident, namely in how they acted and saw the world around them. This, in turn, doubled as a way to display how 'advanced' of a civilization they hailed from, and also explained why they were innovating so much in Akihabara. This also explained the sudden shift in adventurer demeanor as a whole and the differing results of Susukino and Akihabara.
They were robbed from the world they knew as theirs.
They found themselves in a vaguely familiar yet unfamiliar world.
And when they finally settled in, they sought to replicate what they had in their original homeland.
Through this one explanation, though interrupted with occasional objections from the listeners, much of what was left unknown prior was now out in the open. Suddenly, the inhuman adventurers seemed so much more human.
This revelation achieved two things.
Sympathy and interest.
Just as Illya wanted. Why else would she let this paper pass into the heart of academia? Even that tactician Shiroe saw it as a good idea, as did the rest of the Round Table.
Of course, there were more than a fair few Landers in fervent denial, there were several who were already swaying, and a few more were making plans to visit Akihabara itself once the long conference was over to confirm it themselves.
Those that believed it to be false– a mere lie spun by the Round Table to brighten their view of them, would either withdraw in denial or check with an adventurer themselves, thus creating intellectual interactions between the two parties.
And to those who believed in it, that the adventurers came from an advanced civilization, saw even more of a need to mingle with them, lest they fall behind in a world that was quickly adopting parts of their culture.
The food that they were served in the private room hours prior certainly proved that.
Moreover, even if they did lie, fabricated it all through bribery, that still meant adventurers were susceptible to bribes. It still meant that they could be cooperated with, even if the purposes seemed nefarious in nature.
Landers, while people of a different world, were still the same greedy and predictable sort of people. They might think of this as a mere ploy, but that didn't change the fact that these people needed adventurers as their veritable muscle– or even as their golden geese.
By believing adventurers to be less of immortal monsters and more as human beings, either out of sympathy or greed, they'll inevitably fall to this conclusion. Just like other Landers, they can bribe, influence, and create deals with them.
This 'Puppet Body' theory will be passed on to the nobility dancing just above their very heads, which should help smooth the negotiations moving forward. The merchants attending this venue were a bonus, as they can spread it to other merchants, likely their companions and business partners, which will inevitably trickle down to the common folk.
A two-pronged attack, one above and another below, that only served to achieve one thing.
Make them appear as humane as possible.
As Ferlna wrapped up her discussion, Rin noticed that the majority of the venue was busy discussing amongst themselves or confiding in their superiors. Already, the fruits of their labor were bearing.
And now, for some fun.
They showed how sympathetic their cause is.
Now it was time to show their worth– really hammer it in!
Rin rose from her seat and made her way to the podium.
It'll be a challenge to even explain the concepts to these people, as she was already challenging a core belief of theirs. A person was smart but people were stupid. By that logic, if a person was stupid would the people be even worse?
By the time Ferlna wrapped it up, not bothering to talk or confide in those attempting to either slander or compliment her, Rin took her first step on the podium.
And then the Landers were silent.
An adventurer that they thought was susceptible to bribes was here, or perhaps an adventurer that was whisked away from her home? Either way, they called her integrity into question, one who was invited by their beloved Sage.
Those who believed and those who didn't…
She smiled, a familiar facade to her school days taking shape.
A challenge it is, she supposed.
To sum up how the rest of the banquet went in one word, smooth.
After Michitaka was bullied– coerced to cozy up with the Duke of Maihama, the Round Table found themselves having dinner alongside him and his retinue. A princess who goes by the name Raynessia had also arrived at the venue, but Illya couldn't figure out why said Saraliya's daughter sent an intrigued glance their way. The novelty of adventurers, perhaps?
Anyways, a solid hour of song and dance passed. Henrietta suddenly decided to share a dance with their resident Strategist, which was intriguing to watch, she supposed. At the very least, it made them seem much more open to discussion with the nobility, but she could tell that he only did so under Krusty's prompt. Although, it was very entertaining to watch.
However, unlike her peers, she wasn't blinded by the nostalgia that the orchestra evoked. The nobility were indeed much more open to talking with them now, and as a result, their lips were much looser.
They're already looking for ways to coerce adventurers into doing their bidding, as in the good old days, by buttering up to the Round Table. Expected, especially after the friendly showing they've made in the venue.
Sergiatte Cowen didn't think the same. With the subtle implication she had imparted upon him, he was more than a little wary at using them as glorified gofers.
The majority of them didn't fear adventurers, likely because they served as gofers for literally their entire existence up until now– and that'd be doubly true especially after Rin was done with what they discussed.
That Lander, Ferlna, already displayed something similar to that Akihabara Lander meeting a month ago. They were merely replicating that here, to greater effect. A month ago, those Landers thought them unreasonable. From how they acted in the venue with Sergiatte Cowen, that was the exact opposite. As such, this should result in opening many more doors for the Round Table in terms of negotiation.
In addition to making them seem less feared, it made them seem reasonable. However, in contrary to what every other magi believed, that wasn't exactly a bad thing.
True, being feared as bloodthirsty immortals would prevent the Landers from getting in their way, but as Shiroe would point out, it wasn't right, not when the Landers of Akihabara deeply respected its nobility. Akihabara was both the players and the People of the Land; it wasn't mutually exclusive, which was something her family could agree on.
However, this left them with the issue of not being feared. If they're not feared, they're not respected. If they're not respected, then living alongside the people of the land would be incredibly difficult.
Plus, they'd lose a steady stream of potential workers to deal with a bunch of the logistics. There was no way in hell she'd be doing any more paperwork without someone to help her, and she certainly knew her family wouldn't help, not even Lord El-Melloi II unless bribed with something.
… Things certainly have changed if I'm actually giving a damn about the ones who aren't a part of my family.
Illya herself knew that these problems would hurt them in the long run, which was why she had retired to their private room early whilst Shiroe and the others partook of the formalities. She had been escorted by a guard back to the room, as expected.
When the guard left, apparently to bring a maid for her, Illya sat down and closed her eyes.
When Illya opened her eyes once more, she got to work.
Her red-tinted eyes flashed with magic. Her vision blurred and shifted. No longer was she staring at the empty room or the shining furniture. Instead, she saw the room she sat in, from outside the window.
A Storch-Ritter, an ibis-like familiar spawned from strands of her hair, animated by her magical energy.
The current familiar she was sharing her vision with displayed no interlopers outside their room. When she confirmed that, Illya used the Bounded Field spell that Rin made – which didn't actually take long to learn because she had prior knowledge – to ensure that anyone who wasn't a part of the Round Table entering the room would merely hear idle banter.
Even if they discussed something about launching a terrorist attack, they'd only hear about some inane and pointless debate of pineapple on pizza or something. It was a pain to talk with her peers while being under constant surveillance, so she nipped that right in the bud.
Of course, everyone outside of her guild members wouldn't know, including Shiroe. Perhaps one day, but not today. Even though they were allies, she didn't trust him completely. However, she trusted his goodwill and intentions, and that was usually enough.
After completing the ward, her vision shifted until she saw the ballroom once again. From above, she saw three figures hidden up on the rafters, all of whom were Landers.
As expected, they were being monitored, even from up there. Since Sergiatte seemed amiable, this must be the work of someone else– possible Saraliya's. Waver was right, they were concealed perfectly, even if they were merely level-twenty. Had she not imbued this specific familiar with some heat-vision, courtesy of a Clocktower Lord's teachings, she wouldn't have noticed them.
One of them had a notebook and was taking notes of any suspicious activity. Luckily, it only had two entries. It noted how Waver didn't seem to be talking or doing much during the gathering. Illya supposed she'll have to prompt him to be just a tad bit more social. It also noted her early retirement from the venue. An alibi would easily be made by sleeping in and having the maids and guards keep watch over her. No issue there, unless they suspect her to do something in the few minutes she was left alone.
Moving on from the ballroom, she made sure that a familiar was stationed in every room that seemed important and deform back into a hair strand. She could still see through them, but they were stationary– immobile, and didn't take much mana to maintain.
These familiars would be key in gathering intelligence, but damn if it wasn't a pain to do so. Combing her hair every so often to yank a piece of hair off and leave it behind, she was starting to worry that she'd develop a bald spot.
Illya sighed as she cut off the connection and allowed the familiars to go dormant.
She was slightly frustrated that she couldn't seem to find Rin's venue. Hopefully, she'd be able to explain more about that when she returned–
Illya groaned and rubbed her forehead.
… Why is it getting worse? This abysmally irritating headache of mine… how frustrating.
As it began to subside, Illya simply took out a chocolate custard cake from her inventory and indulged.
"… Ten out of ten, dear brother."
Tohya sighed happily to himself.
Overall, despite his minor skepticism to the idea of a school for adventurers, which would only last until they were at least level fifty or proved capable enough to take on a dungeon or two with little issue, he found himself satisfied. He was even looking forward to classes tomorrow!
Lunch was great! He had met back up with Minori and Isuzu and enthusiastically talked about how prepared everything seemed to be. True, there were a few hiccups, with the kitchen running out of curry for the voracious bunch of players, but it worked out in the end.
After lunch ended, Tohya found himself exploring with the two girls, and even meeting a few new people that Isuzu made friends with from her guild, the Crescent Moon Alliance. They ended up finding a pool – and he had absolutely no idea how they made that – which would apparently be used to teach how to fight underwater. It was something they'd need to do for a few existing dungeons, so it made sense.
Overall, he was slightly more excited about the lessons than he was before. Then again, being more excited than 'not at all' wasn't very hard.
As night had fallen, Tohya stepped out of the elevator– oh yeah, an elevator! Somehow, they made it using wind stones, if Tohya recalled correctly. Honestly, he probably didn't, but the higher-leveled players assured that the thing was safe to use.
If an elevator could be made, then what else could be done?
Just as Tohya found himself excited at the prospects, he took note of one slightly open door in front of him. A glance at the room number showed that his name was just under it, alongside another name. He didn't recognize it, but it was vaguely familiar.
Is my roommate already in there?
Tohya mentally prepared himself and opened the door.
"There's nobody here!?"
The room was pretty big, but it basically just had two beds, two desks, and two chests for their personal belongings. There was a window showing the outside world, but as it was night out, he could only see the moon overlooking the forest.
"Then why was the door open…?" Tohya muttered as he walked to an available bed. After a solid second of wondering what was going on, he decided that maybe someone forgot to lock the room.
Might as well put away some of my stuff–
"Thief! Prepare to meet the might of my valiant magics!"
"Why does the thief speak as if he knows me?" Rundelhaus Kode interrogated from the doorway. "Unless… you intended to burglar me specifically!? I, Rundelhaus Kode, will not stand to be burgled!"
"Wait, wait, I said wait!" Tohya shouted as the guy charged a spell– he was seriously going to attack him!? PvP was turned on here!? "I'm your roommate! Look, my name is right there!"
To his credit, the guy canceled his spell and raised a brow. "Truly? But you don't look like my roommate, not at all."
"Am I supposed to look any different?" Tohya felt his brow twitch.
"The last few looked very different from you."
The last few!?
"Yes. I recall a monk, summoner, and finally fellow sorcerer," Rundelhaus somehow replied to his thought– Damn it, he spoke up again. "The last one was a charming fellow, so I planned to surprise him once he returned. Alas, it appears he has also fled my majesty."
"Right…" Tohya muttered as he looked around the room. "So, where are they?"
"I haven't a clue!" He confidently stated. "However, they each mentioned something about a fa-cool-tee. Why do you ask?"
So they basically dipped and asked the teachers for a new roommate?
"… Maybe I'll go see them too," Tohya muttered. There was no way in hell he'd be able to get any decent sleep with a guy like this.
"To ensure they are well and not harmed? Marvelous idea!" Rundelhaus praised, to which Tohya held back a deep sigh. "However, I was under the impression that this fa-cool-tee was closed at this time, no?"
Tohya looked at his mini-clock and immediately groaned once he noticed. An hour after the closing time of 9 pm. If it was that late, there was no way they'd be open for his… concerns. Was this punishment for taking too long to even see his room?
"Tis' a cruel world…"
"True. Nevertheless, a true adventurer should never fall to such despair!" Rundelhaus said as he gripped Tohya's shoulders in an ironclad grip. "Do not worry, mister Tohya. I shall educate you in an adventurer's true code of conduct!"
"N-No, that's fine! You don't need to do that–"
"Nonsense! It is my pleasure– nay, my duty to aid a fellow adventurer! Prepare yourself, mister Tohya!"
"Naotsugu-nii, get me out of here!"
A/N: Gas, gas, gas.