A/N: This takes place before the Round Table delegation gets to the Palace of Eternal Ice (Episode 11).
Walking into Loremaster Re-gan's library, Duke Sergiatte Cowen thought, making his way between shelves and piles of books, was rather like walking down a dragon's gullet.
Oh, a friendly dragon, no doubt. One might even call it a Bookwyrm.
One might, the gray-haired duke thought dryly, approaching the Elf where he was sculpting tiny illusions of Adventurers. If one had no shred of self-preservation. "What do you have to show me that the other members of the League can't see?"
"It's not that they can't see it," the young Elf sage said thoughtfully, eyeing three illusory figures; a Guardian in heavy armor with an impossible ax, a blonde Elf Cleric with a smile bright as a sunflower, and a dark-haired Enchanter in a cloak of white and gold. "It's that they lack the subtlety." Re-gan glanced over his shoulder, gaze deceptively sleepy. "You recognize them, of course."
From the League spies' descriptions and sketches, certainly. Though Re-gan's illusions were far more lifelike...
Hmm. But why these three? "Crusty, guildmaster of the fighting guild D.D.D.," Duke Cowen nodded at the first. Whatever a guildmaster might actually be to Adventurers; it certainly didn't fit the Masters of guilds People of the Land knew. The Guardian and his second in command were the leaders of the delegation sent by the Round Table Conference. Oh, certainly there were supposed to be representatives of the Adventurers' merchants and small guilds as well - but everyone knew where the real power lay.
Or everyone thinks they do. Duke Cowen considered the second figure. "Marielle, guildmistress of the Crescent Moon Alliance." The Adventuress whose smiles had spread a soothing balm on the chaos of Akihabara. A powerful Cleric who'd midwifed calm and laughter with a sandwich stand, of all things. No, it most certainly would not do to underestimate her.
Now the duke let his gaze fall openly on the Enchanter. "And Shiroe, guildmaster of Log Horizon." He hmphed, wondering if the man's presence in the Round Table delegation was the Adventurers' idea of a subtle jab. "A very small guild. Only the most recent reports make it clear it's not another division of the Crescent Moon."
"Ah, yes." Re-gan tapped his fingers together like a toddler gazing on shelves of sweets, or his dear Lenessia at flannel pajamas. "The Enchanter Shiroe. He always has preferred working from the shadows, while brighter lights like Crusty and Marielle shine."
Hah. There was the first gleam of the dragon's teeth. "He always has?" Duke Cowen inquired.
"The flow of magic in Akihabara makes scrying at a distance unreliable," Re-gan shrugged, "but I would guess that Guildmaster Shiroe called the Round Table Conference."
The organization of Adventurer guilds that had finally brought an end to the chaos in Akihabara. More than that; they'd laid down laws meant to protect the People of the Land, as well. Which was the first sign of sanity he'd seen out of that city since what the Adventurers called the Apocalypse.
Though it was a very strange sign of sanity. If his spies were to be believed, in Akihabara, a Person of the Land had the exact same rights as an Adventurer. Exactly.
Which made no sense. Adventurers were immortal beings, with power and magic to rival the Ancients themselves. Why in the world would they bind themselves to give the same legal rights to the People in their own city?
Whatever the reason, peace in Akihabara was infinitely preferable to war with Adventurers. And if this Enchanter was the reason the peace was holding, he was certainly worth closer observation. "Their reply listed him as one of the representatives of the smaller guilds," Duke Cowen said thoughtfully. "Deliberate deception?"
"I think not," Re-gan murmured. "If he is the Shiroe of our tales, it's more likely the habit of the strategist that keeps him to the shadows."
For the reserved Elf Loremaster, that was positively giddy. Duke Cowen's eyes narrowed. "The Shiroe of our tales? He's an Adventurer. Of course there are tales."
"Oh, of course," Re-gan murmured. "But even in the greatest of our legends, not many Adventurers have tales going back almost a century."
A century. An Enchanter who was a legendary strategist.
The duke straightened his shoulders, and tried not to feel a bit faint. "Shiroe the Archmage?"
Re-gan smiled like the cat who'd gotten into the cream. "Indeed, it is he."
Was that... a giggle?
The Elf's face was almost straight, but Re-gan's fingertips were definitely dancing.
Duke Cowen wanted very badly to sit down. Shiroe the Archmage. Debauchery Tea Party Shiroe; the legendary strategist who'd raided the Fields of Death, out-riddled an ancient dragon, and brought the Land of Ice's midnight sun to an Eastal meadow. Among many, many other incredible feats.
Duke Cowen shook himself. "Debauchery Tea Party vanished." Even a quarter-century later, that adventuring band's farewell party was the stuff of bards' tales.
"They did indeed; and none know where or why," Re-gan affirmed. "But from the tales I have gathered, Shiroe the Archmage remained within our world. He simply traveled more quietly."
"Traveled to Eastal." The duke let himself lean on one of the sturdier shelves, thinking hard. "...I'm not ready to have legends walking these halls, Sage."
"Are any of us?" Re-gan met his gaze, utterly serious. "But they are here, my lord. And we must think on why, and what it will mean to the League... and to Seldesha." Now the sage did bow his head. "But my lord, please heed me in this. The Archmage is swift to think, and slow to anger. He may appear the villain, if it serves his strategy. He is not."
The duke nodded, taking that warning to heart. If a man has you at his mercy, old tales said, pray he is an evil man.
But did the Archmage have them at his mercy?
Or do we have him at ours?
Well. They'd find out soon enough. "Tell me, Loremaster," Duke Cowen sighed, "do any of your tales state how to host an Archmage?"
Re-gan stared at him.
"He is listed as one of the representatives of the smaller guilds," the duke said wryly. "According to the Round Table's reply, Log Horizon Shiroe will serve as their envoy in our negotiations."
Library door shut safely behind him, the duke chugged a healing potion, and hoped his ears would stop ringing before dawn.
Sergiatte Cowen shook his head, and winced. No, it'd need more time to kick in. There were still echoes, bouncing from wall to hard stone wall.
...They sounded suspiciously like Squeeee!
A/N: "Pray he is an evil man" - Terry Pratchett rules!