When he first brought the magical goods into the study, Claude saw Angelina had brought over all the magical tools and custom-made furniture from the wooden villa. He didn't know what had happened between Maria and Angelina to make her so insistent on leaving Normanley Wood.
Angelina took the carriage with which Claude had come to the carpenter, had him open his shop, and bought two ready-made wooden bunk beds. She wanted to convert Arbeit's room into a dorm for Myjack and Gum so they would have a more comfortable stay.
Arbeit's bed was moved into a corner in her workshop for Claude. She did everything nearing the middle of the night. Their mother and brother had gone to sleep already, and Myjack and Gum came to bid the two goodnight before they washed up. Claude stopped his sister for a talk to find out about the family's situation.
She had been expecting this, so she didn't squeem. She cast a spell and Claude could feel a bubble-like barrier surrounding the room.
"What spell is this?" Claude asked.
"Silence. Nobody can hear anything we say no matter how noisy it gets."
"How's your magic training going?" he asked concernedly.
"Pretty well. I think I'll make the third ring in another six months. What about you?"
Claude's face paled awkwardly. His sister had begun her journey on magic with his guidance, but now, five years later, she was a two-ring magus well on her way to her third ring. He was still just a one-ring magus. He had done his best to train every moment he had, but commanding men in war left little time for any personal pursuits. At best he'd make two rings in another couple months.
"I'm afraid my progress has been slow. I've not had many opportunities to train. Even fewer because I've had to be careful not to be discovered. I hope to make two rings in a couple more months though," he said, shaking his head dejectedly. "By the way, what basic spells did you engrave in your second ring?"
"I only have four so far. Transmute Rock to Mud, Transmute Mud to Rock, Flame Control, and that combat spell you gave me, Chain Lightning. I haven't found any others in Landes' diary that are really practical. I can strengthen walls with the transmutation spells, and Flame Control lets me control the heat in the array. The rest I've recorded in a grimoire. I don't think they're worthy of being in my hexagram."
Claude had to admit she was far greater a magus than him. At the very least, she had the air of a capable, confident magus, which he sorely lacked. He'd barely had any time to play the wiser senior in her life now that she could almost be teaching him.
He stood up silently, took out a blank notebook, and handed it to her. She took it with a puzzled expression.
"Sprinkle a little potion on it."
His lover had made it. She'd copied all the formation diagrams for the spells her mother had left her with ink potion. The ink vanished once it dried. A certain potion had to be sprinkled on the pages to wet them to reveal the ink.
"Since you have three more spaces, I suggest you engrave these three spells. I won't accept no to Energy Barrier. Lightweight Flight lets you leap over ridges and hills easily. Stealth Sneaking let's you run and hide. They're very useful. You can choose any you find interesting from the rest and copy them into your grimoire."
Angelina sprinkled ink potion over the first blank page and watched a light blue spell formation diagram appear.
"How did you get so many spells?"
"Well..." He hesitated for a moment, but steeled himself and answered. "I met a magus from Siklos. She lives alone in a forest I happened to wander into. I helped her out with a couple things and she gave me these spells in return."
"That can't be... Don't all magi from Siklos want to take over the continent again? Why would they live in seclusion?"
"She and her kind are different. She calls themselves nature magi. Apparently they're very attuned to nature. Most of these spells are have to do with plant cultivation."
Angelina pages through the rest of the notebook, sprinkling the pages and watching the diagrams appear one after the other.
"Whoa, Cultivate and Returning Spring are far too useful. I could plant all the herbs I need with them... Claude, can I make these my basic spells?"
"Don't even think about it."
Why would his sister make an even better nature magus than Sheila? Sheila had never really cared about nature spells despite being a nature magus and one's descendant. She cared only about learning combat spells.
He supposed it had to be because of the different environments in which the two had grown up. Sheila had spent her entire life in the wilderness. For almost all of that time, she'd been driven by only one goal: to drive away the bears that kept her from her mother's inheritance. That goal had driven her to seek combat spells, and had made her abandon her nature magus ancestry.
Angelina, on the other hand, focused on magic in relation to her pursuits as a herbalist. She only cared for combat spells as far as keeping herself safe, which she did only because her brother had drilled it into her before he'd left five years earlier.
She pouted at him upsetly.
"Anna, these are tier-zero spells. It's a waste to engrave them on your second pentagram! And you have so much mana that the difference in consumption isn't worth it either. We're rogue magi, Anna. We always have to keep in mind that we might be forced to go on the run at any time. Being able to keep yourself safe is much more important than anything else. None of those spells will do that. The three spells I picked out for you will, however. Energy Barrier protects you from magic attacks, Lightweight Flight allows you to escape quickly and Stealth Sneaking lets you hide from enemies. I won't budge on this."
His little sister lowered her head in dejected defeat and mumbled.
Claude wanted to stretch out his hand and stroke her hair, something he usually did to show his affections. But the moment he touched her head, he suddenly recalled that she was a grown woman -- 19 years old. She wasn't that crybaby who'd seen him off when he'd departed for Bluefeather. His hand froze just above her head at the realisation.
His little sister, almost instinctively, raised her head again and pushed it into his hand.
"You're going to mess up my hair again! Bad brother!"
Claude laughed dryly and he pulled back his hand. The awkwardness had dissipated but he made a mental note to not do something like that again. It had been fine when Angelina had been a little girl, but it was inappropriate now that she was a woman.
"I bet the magus who gave you these spells was a beautiful young woman," Angelina said, almost speaking to herself as she paged through the notebook again.
"She's called Sheila," Claude said, answering the question with his silence on the matter.
Women were like blood-hounds when it came to other women. They could sniff them out from kilometres away. That said, he wished to say as little about Sheila to his sister as he could get away with. It would have been a different matter had his lover chosen to come back with him and become his wife, but, since she wasn't, there was no point in dredging her up.
"Thank goodness you didn't bring her back. You'd have broken Kefnie's heart," Angelina said, patting her bosom, "She's been waiting for you. Her resolve hasn't wavered in all these five years. She's been courted by a number of handsome naval officers. In the last year since you've stopped sending letters, they kept saying you had to be dead and that she should forget about you and move on with her life. It got even worse when our last letters were returned and they said you'd vanished from the registry. They had nowhere to send our letters. She's been Mother's strength since then, but I know she's missed and feared for you even more. She recently vowed to become a chaste nun if it turned out you'd died."
He was reminded of how horrible a man he was. He'd not cared about Kefnie's feelings, despite leading her on before leaving, when he'd fallen for Sheila. She'd all but vanished from his mind. He'd acted like she didn't exist, and had even had the gall to propose to Sheila. He supposed he should thank the girl for turning him down. If he'd really brought her back, he might have just torn his family apart. His mother had, for years now, accepted Kefnie as his wife, even though there'd never been a ceremony. She would not have let Sheila into the house. It would have dragged the family name through the mud as well. He didn't doubt it would have made the headlines and gossip rags on every street corner in the city. It wouldn't have been fair to Sheila either. He'd never so much as peeped about Kefnie to her. She would have returned with him expecting to meet her new family-in-law as his rightful fiancee, only to be treated as a tramp. She didn't deserve that.
The rage, disappointment, and shame might just kill his mother. She had never truly recovered from his father's death. Her constitution was still in shambles and she became sick at the drop of a feather. Kefnie might not survive it either, mentally, at least. Absence made the heart grow fonder, and she'd have five years of it. She might just kill herself, or decide to come after him. He didn't think she'd actually manage to kill him, but he might be forced to kill her in self-defence, and that would ruin him, not just in the public eye, but to himself as well. He'd never live off the guilt. Even if she just got over it and got on with her life, he had no doubt there would be no shortage of young gentlemen who'd challenge him to duels for her honour.
He was most concerned over what it would do to Sheila, however. She was pure and innocent. She'd never survive the storm her return with him would start. He didn't know how she'd react, on the one hand it might ruin her psyche so badly she killed herself, on the other she might refuse to accept any criticism of him and take to her magic to resolve things. He didn't know which would be worse. If she killed herself he might just be driven off a cliff and kill himself as well, if she used her spells carelessly, however, even if no one was hurt, the entire kingdom would come down on them.
He paled completely as his mind ran through the scenarios, and sweat started running cold down his back. He wanted to bow before Sheila in gratitude for choosing to stay where she was. He'd been dejected and almost angry at the time, but now he felt nothing but gratitude for her unintended wisdom. He was a cheater, he'd cheated on Kefnie with one -- no -- two women. As much as he disliked the way things seemed were seeming to work out, at least this way his family would not be hurt. What more could he ask for than for at least his family to be happy. He might be a transmigrator, but he was nothing special in this world. He could not conquer the world.
He had neither power nor authority. He was but a puny captain.
His experiences in the war had given him a little ambition, but it was not much, and even that would take years, if not decades, of work. Right now he had no way to climb the social ladder, so he just had to wait for an opportunity to come along.
"--the captain held out the most beautiful moon-goddess flower and knelt before Kefnie and swore that, if she accepted his affections, he would take care of her for the rest of her life. She just told him frankly that someone had already taken her heart and was fighting on the frontlines. She even chastised him for being shameless enough to take advantage of his fellow officer's absence from home. The captain left, covering his face..."
He'd missed at least four proposal tales while lost in his thoughts. Angelina droned on and on about Kefnie's stout determination to marry him. She'd not finally accepted Kefnie as her future sister-in-law because she'd waited for Claude until his return, instead, she'd only finally accepted that Claude was worthy of Kefnie because he'd return a captain. The captain of whom she'd just spoken had been furious at the rejection, and had declared that Claude would have to salute him first before he was allowed to do anything with Kefnie, if he ever returned. He later even said he'd bring every captain in the city to Claude's wedding and make him salute them all, one by one, before they'd allow the wedding to take place.
Claude smiled. If they did that, they'd be the ones standing in line to salute him, one by one.
Claude thumped the table and glared at his sister strictly, finally bringing an end to her senseless ramblings.
"Let's not talk about Kefnie for now. I'll see her tomorrow. Tell me about the family's situation and what happened at the wood that made you move back here."