I walked into the throne room alone, wondering what Katalina had called me for. While it wasn’t strange for her to randomly summon me, the fact that I had received a formal request to the Chancellor made my brows arch.
‘Guess the proper procedures must still be practiced once in a while.’
Despite that, it must have been something important, so I dropped my current tasks and sped over to the castle. Since the guards all knew who I was, they gave me a simple nod of acknowledgement before opening the doors leading inside.
However, the Queen was strangely absent from her throne when I got there. Instead, a glum-faced man in what appeared to be a lab coat vacantly stared off in the distance, only perking up once my footsteps reached his ears.
“Oh! There you are! The Queen should be arriving shortly. She is taking care of a few mishaps, completely related to why you were called here.”
“…Jayce, right? Do you have any clue what’s going on?”
The man nodded enthusiastically. Despite having dark shadows under his eyes and looking far from cheery, there was a fiery spark in his pupils. Likely, the pep had come from being recognized for his abilities by the Queen, who gave him a position in her magic tool research lab. The lack of sleep, on the other hand, was caused by self-motivation in an attempt to catch up to the genius of Katsys the Inventor, the other name the Queen was known by.
“Well, ehem, about that… Maybe I should start from the beginning….“ Jayce’s voice trailed off as his confidence suddenly plummeted.
The lab trainee proceeded to explain how he had been tasked with working on the long-distance transporter that I had acquired Resonance Stones for. It had turned out to be a much longer endeavor than previously thought, which meant that Katalina hardly had enough time outside of her duties.
“Eh, what’s slowing down the progress? I thought the blueprints for the pilot model had already been completed.” Even before the trip to the Divine Isles, I had seen what appeared to be the finished schematics.
“For the base components, yes. We have all the parts required to put it together. The trouble is the enchantment scribing. It operates on an entirely different system than what our magic system originates from.”
I hadn’t paid that much attention to how exactly magic tools were inscribed. A casual glance had shown some scattered glyphs which were surrounded with what appeared to be motion vectors and symbols that implied some sort of spatial arrangement and action. There were other characters that made absolutely no sense to me in how they meshed with the writing around it. Coding in college would’ve been more straightforward at this point, but then again, I had no formal training to tell the difference.
“The Resonance Stones operate using a completely different language, one that few people are exposed to normally. Much of the slowdown has been transcribing our normal commands into that which is applicable for these stones. Our friends in Macali are offering as much guidance with that as possible.”
“Ah, is that why those communication devices took so long to make? A few days had turned to two weeks before they were ready. I just assumed that the Queen had too much on her plate.”
Jayce shook his head. “From what I was told, it took her several times longer due to the inscriptions alone. If she had simply copied the writing carved upon the King of Macali’s device, it would’ve been straightforward. But she hates being confined to that, preferring to understand the mechanism fully. It took every resource in the Royal Library to adjust the inscriptions to suit her interpretation of the communication device.”
Things started to make sense now. If the Resonance Stones required a different language altogether, that would make the long-distance teleportation device even more challenging. The formula for those devices in Macali was based on normal magic stones, so that didn’t help much. As a result, Jayce had to learn how to engineer its equivalent from scratch.
“Come to think of it, what language is this even? For it to be so uncommon.”
Jayce scratched his head. “The ‘Tongue of the Ancients’ is what the text says… but as for the origin… I’m not really sure where it came from…”
Just then, a side door opened, with Katalina and Ludmila walking through. Despite the regal dress that the former had on, there were signs of frazzled hair that had merely been patted down in haste. Ludmila also looked a bit dirty, like she had walked through a dust storm.
“Sorry for my tardiness. I hear that you are talking about the inscription language. I’ve had quite a bit of trouble with it, being that it was once thought to be used by the Gods.”
I froze at that statement. I had nearly forgotten about it until now, since I handed the task off to the people in Sanshiro. Pulling out my notebook from my pocket, I flipped to the section where I had crudely copied the seal from the cavern.
“Something like this?”
Jayce and Katalina walked toward me for a better look.
“Why, yes… this was from the seal that you mentioned before? That would make sense with the sheer amount of stones there. Unfortunately, we’ll have to put that aside as there is something more pressing that I summoned you here for.”
Katalina walked up to the throne and plopped heavily upon it. She had apparently been on her feet for the whole day so far.
“Now, where did you get to, Jayce?”
“Uhmm… just the part about the teleportation device. Got a bit sidetracked, hehe.”
Katalina took over the explanation, giving light to why that had been relevant. Jayce had been working on the inscription for the invention, which meant poring through the blueprints and testing his translated inscriptions on small prototypes. But today, he noticed that some of the other blueprints stored in the lab were missing.
“While the blueprints themselves can be redrawn from memory, I’m worried about how they could fall into the wrong hands,” Katalina sighed.
“Wait, just how many are we talking about here?…” I could certainly see problems if any person on the street started firing off portals and magic like a trigger-happy kid at an arcade. “But then again, weren’t those hard to make to begin with?”
“Yes, crafting a gun of similar caliber to the ones I have requires highly-pure magic stones which can convert mana more efficiently into magic. Even with larger stones of poor quality, the spell would simply be wider range, but not more powerful. And to answer your other question… it seems like the ones pertaining to weaponry were pilfered.”
‘Weaponry?’ An alarm bell sounded off in my mind.
“Don’t tell me that someone wants to plan a coup or something? Wouldn’t those of high standing be the only ones that could manage to obtain such high-quality stones?”
Katalina nodded at my statement.
“Yes, that is what I assume as well. None of the actual test weaponry can be used by others, as I have only included mana signatures from those I trust. The most practical alternative would be to build their own then.”
I thought for a moment. Certainly, Katalina’s ascension to the throne was not devoid of opposition. Even if the general public had a favorable view of her, there was always the exception.
“Leftover patriots of the previous king?”
“Most probable. But we should also worry about the blueprints leaving the kingdom, particularly to the North. However, I do not believe that Purnesia could make full use of them.”
“Hmm, why do you say that?”
“The Purnesian Empire rests on a cold, barren land that contains far less mana than other nations. It would be very unlikely for them to mine any mana stones high enough in quality to create mass weaponry for war. Still, that doesn’t mean we should count them out completely.”
The prospect of heading into a battle facing off against an army of Katalinas was a chilling revelation. The world didn’t need a destructive wave of that magnitude. Even having a few people with the same capability could overwhelm the typical army of a nation. That much could be inferred from the actions Katalina had taken so far.
I turned to Jayce. “Any leads as to who our thief could be?”
Jayce shook his head in response. “Nope. Nada. Not that many people have access to the lab even. Just me, the Queen, her maid, and you, Sir. And I’m the only one that’s been going back and forth in it these past few days.”
“Anyone that knows your movements that could have followed you in and bypassed security?” I poked his memory.
“I mean, aside from my folks, the only others I interact with are the castle guards and the merchants that drop off goods. They’re the only ones that even pass by the entryway.”
Katalina interjected with her own thoughts. “However, Ludmila and I have detected traces of mana from a familiar being used. Possibly, to swipe the blueprints. That means, we must keep an eye on those around the castle and verify whether they are working closely with any of the nobles.”
I chuckled upon hearing that statement. “And how am I supposed to help with that? I’m far from experienced with discretion and spying.”
“Ah, I just need you as back up, since you can instantly disable a person without harm or damage to the surroundings,” Katalina said, dismissing my worries. “Ludmila here will actually be doing the spying. She insisted for you to be the one to watch her back.”
The maid girl, who had been silent up until this point, nodded lightly. For how stoic she normally was, there was actually a slight smirk on her face for once. However, one would hardly notice if they weren’t around her often.
“Ludmila is a spy. Yay…” Though, her voice was as monotone and doll-like as usual.
I was half-tempted to coerce her into a signature pose to compliment it. ‘Yay, peace peace’ with a V-sign came to mind.
“Here is a list of all the ones that were stationed around the Research Lab this past week. Already, I’ve had Ludmila narrow down those who are connected to a magic user whose familiar could pull off such a task. But whoever stole the documents had masked its signature to be untraceable.”
That had likely been the reason for Ludmila’s current dirtiness. She probably dashed everywhere to track down all the suspicious people.
“What your task will be is to verify these leads, and for those who seem suspicious, to sneak in and note any strange activity being planned.”
Though subtlety wasn’t my strong point, I could easily back up Ludmila if things got hairy. And with my authority as the Chancellor, I would be able to press those of nobility if we happened to uncover anything against them.
Ludmila walked up to me, ready to start her role. I bent down and sighed, dusting her off a bit.
“Maybe, you should change into a less frilly outfit first?” I stared at her clothes, which looked to me like they belonged in a magical girl anime.
Nodding briefly, she dashed away in a blink. It didn’t even take a minute for her to return, now sporting a simple tunic and pants that clung to her body. I cocked my head to the side before undoing the scarf around my neck.
Bending down to her level, I tied it around the bottom of her face, covering her nose and mouth. Now, she certainly looked the part of a speedy spy that hid in the shadows. Her ability to hide her presence from most people essentially made her a shinobi.
“Alrighty. Let’s go, Nin-Ninja Ludmila!”
With a nod, the two of us headed for the exit, hoping to find the perpetrator quickly. With the two of us on the case, we would make whoever dared to cross Katalina sweat bullets soon enough.
That was the punishment for copying what she had poured her heart and soul into. They had better hope that it wasn’t for the purpose of evil.