The blue-haired mage casually strolled down one of the many busy streets of Zelphilia. The sun was shining and the weather was warm. In the wind you could catch the scent of freshly picked grapes mixed in with a pinch of wild grass. It was like any other beautiful day. The streets were filled with people as the city was bustling with activity during its annual Wine Festival.
It wouldn't hurt if he took a day off to enjoy himself. Working as a representative for the Professional Magicuser's Society wasn't exactly the easiest of jobs. Just last week in Saillune he had been sent to investigate their mage guild due to a series of important documents abruptly disappearing. Not the most exciting of assignments, but at least it had been one of the easier ones, unlike dealing with that horde of goblins the other day. Every job had its downside.
He reached the town square just in time to witness the traditional grape squashing event. A dozen or so local girls were in the huge wooden tubs, holding their skirts up as they pranced around. It was an amusing site to pass the time, but then again, if you were a wine drinker it could give you second thoughts about sampling the local vintage, however, Zelphilia had long since updated its wine making process. Now they used presses to mash the grapes.
Speaking of vintages, he had promised Naneth he would pick up several bottles of the stuff for her. Might as well get it while it was on his mind, but before he could make his way to the nearest vendor a rather tiny body crashed into him, sending them both sprawling to the ground.
It was a moment before he could gather his bearings and gaze up at the figure lying on top of him. He realized it was a child, about five years old with long, fiery red hair and a braided ponytail. She was staring back at him with her own big round eyes.
"Are you okay?" he finally asked, readjusting the headband that kept his hair out of his eyes.
"Yea, sorry mister. I was trying to -- "
"LINA! GET BACK HERE!"
The young girl let out a terrified shriek shortly before jumping up and ducking behind the nearest merchant stand. It wasn't long before a teenage girl with thick purple bangs in a waitress uniform came barging down the street. She stopped as she passed him, fuming for a long moment before finally taking notice of him.
"Excuse me, did you happen to see a little girl with red hair come through here?" she asked.
He got up and dusted off his clothes. "Yes, she went that way," he pointed in the direction from which he had just come.
"Thank you," she nodded before storming down the street.
"...wait'll I get my hands on her..." he faintly caught over the wind. He switched his vision over to his mage sight. The purple-haired girl practically radiated power. He could sense that without using his spectral vision, but how was that possible for one who looked so young? Then again, that was a stupid question when he only looked about seventeen. Still, his curiosity nipped at him.
As the girl stormed on down the road he watched her aura. It shone a bright blue, one of the colors aligned towards someone possessing holy power, or more specifically, Ceipied's power. Interesting. What would she be doing with such power?
He turned his attention to the younger girl cringing and trembling in fear. So this must be Lina. What could she have done to make the other girl so mad? She shared a similar aura. It shone just as brightly, but in a different way. The colors veered towards a fiery red much like the color of her hair.
Once the other girl far out of view Lina finally came out of her hiding spot and ran over to him. "Thank you," she smiled nervously. "Oneechan would have killed me if she found me."
So they were sisters. "You're perfectly welcome. Tell me, why was your sister so mad?"
Lina blushed as she shyly twirled her fingers around each other. "Well, I wanted to earn some money. Luna told me instead of asking for some from Mom to go out and earn it. So I did. A lot of the boys like Oneechan. And I mean really like."
"No, I mean really really like."
"I mean really really -- "
"I get the idea, Lina. Go on."
"I took some pictures of Oneechan while she was in the bath and..."
"Okay, I see." No wonder her sister was furious with her. Why shouldn't she be? Who knows how many hormone entranced boys might be running about chasing after her now. "So what are you going to do now?"
"I'm going to run away so Oneechan won't catch me and hurt me. But I have to leave before she gets back." She started to run past him, but he held his arm out to block her way.
"Now wait a minute," he smiled. Children were so simple minded. "Tell me, would you still run away if you could protect yourself? How about if I teach you some magic?"
"Wow, really?" her eyes widened with excitement. "You mean you're a wizard?"
The mage cringed slightly at the word. "Actually, I prefer to be called a mage. A wizard is some wrinkly old prune of a man who waves a wand and wears a pointy hat with stars on it." Technically, he was old. Old enough to remember the Kouma War and a few things beyond that, but he didn't look a day over seventeen.
"Where's your beard?" she looked at him skeptically. "Wizards are supposed to have beards. And why aren't you wearing any robes? And what about your staff? What kinds of spells are you going to teach me? Will I be able to throw fireballs? Can I use them on Oneechan if she hurts me? When do we start?"
The girl definitely had the curiosity and enthusiasm to become a mage. "Who told you all this nonsense? Beards itch and robes get hot in the summer. We'll start after we talk to your parents and only if they approve."
"Oh, I almost forgot. I didn't introduce myself." With a wide grin, he fell to a knee so he was eye level with the child. "My name is Rune Simbriant. What's yours?"
"Lina. Lina Inverse."
"Lina Inverse, huh? Well, Lina. Let's go see your mom and dad."
The little girl looked down at her feet as she absently traced a path in the dirt with her foot. "Mom will be there, but Daddy has been gone for two years now. He died when a barrel of wine fell off a wagon and landed on him. Mom runs the wine fields now."
He cringed again. This was not a good way to start off with the child. "I'm sorry," he gently laid a hand on her shoulder. "I didn't know."
"That's okay," the girl smiled, her enthusiasm had already returned. "Mom says he's up in heaven with Ceiphied and he'll be waiting for us."
Rune couldn't help but return the smile. Her self-confidence seemed to be virtually unbreakable unless you talked to her about her father or sister. And that was from what he had seen so far, anyway. "Smart woman, your mother is. Why don't we go see her? Or would you rather wait for your older sister first?"
"No, let's go!" she shrieked. Before he could say anything else she had grabbed his hand and they were dashing through the streets on their way to the Inverse household, leaving a trail of dust in their wake.
The Inverse household was very eloquent. It was a small mansion, more than big enough to accommodate for the three remaining family members, with a fairly large grape plantation behind it. The inside of the mansion was decorated with numerous lush tapestries and paintings as well as being well furnished. They were a well to do family.
Rune was waiting in the family room for Lina's mother at the moment. The girl had explained the story three times to her mother before she finally believed the child. He wasn't surprised. How often does someone find a representative of the PMS in their house requesting to become their child's mentor?
Once she realized the situation she sent Lina off to wash up for dinner while she asked him to wait here. He was impressed with Mrs. Inverse. If she managed to do all that Lina claimed, watch over the wine fields and taking care of the girls, she must be one incredibly tough woman.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Mr. Simbriant," Lina's mother strolled into the room. She had red hair similar to her younger daughter, only darker and pinned up in the back. Her skin had a pale tone to it. It wasn't like that of someone who was faint or overly delicate, but more of a silverish tint. It went well with her green eyes.
He bowed. "Please, call me Rune. Calling me mister only makes me feel like an old man."
She returned the bow. "As you wish, but only if you call me Katrina. Please have a seat. Would you care for some tea or wine?"
"No thank you. I don't fancy the taste of alcohol." He hoped she believed him. Refusal of any wine in Zelphilia was considered an insult. It was a local custom that wine was accepted over water. "I wouldn't want to trouble you as I am here on a matter of business. I am a representative of the Professional Magicuser's Society."
"You mean the PMS?"
"Yes, they are the one and the same."
"I see. Lina explained to me something to the effect about you training her in the field of magic. Pardon me, as I may be a bit skeptical. Most mages don't tend to be the friendliest of sorts, or look so young. I know you mages can slow your aging, but exactly how old are you?"
Great. The age issue again. This gift from L-sama was turning out to be more of a curse than a gift. "Well, I can tell you I'm much older than I look, and I can understand your concerns. That is why I came. I wanted to speak with you and perhaps get your blessing to train her as well. I happened to bump into her in the middle of the market square while she and her sister happened to be chasing one another. I noticed she could have a rather strong potential for learning to use and control magic. The talent within her is dormant as of this moment and will remain so until she learns to tap that power. What I was hoping for, perhaps, would be for your permission to teach Lina to master this innate talent."
Katrina's eyes narrowed. "Am I supposed to just let you take my daughter and leave?"
"Darkness, no. I should hope not." He knew what thoughts must have been running through her head. On several past occasions children showing great magic potential had been forcefully taken from their homes by several different guilds. Such things nowadays were strictly forbidden by the PMS. But those events had happened several decades ago. Old memories must die hard, apparently. "There is a mage guild here in town. I can set up residence there. Your dear little Lina could spend a few hours a day with me and then come home to you."
"Oh really?" The icy glare he was receiving didn't appear to be melting anytime soon.
"We could set up a schedule if you'd like. You could drop her off at the guild or I could come pick her up. And once she started school -- "
"What exactly would you be teaching her?"
"Given her age I would have to start her off with some basic mathematics. She's still rather young, but I'm sure she could catch on quickly. Most children -- "
"Mathematics you say?" The glint in her eyes softened somewhat. He hoped that was a good sign.
"Yes, the other mages usually chose to teach their students magic right away, but I don't believe that is the best of all the things to do. I chose mathematics because I believe it is best to start off with something simple. As long as she can count she really shouldn't have much trouble. And as she goes on it should make things go easier for her. Figuring mathematical equations and devising spells are similar, in a sense. Then as we moved on she would be taught about the legends and lore. Magic isn't something you simply teach a person. It takes great responsibility to wield it."
"Don't you think she may be a little young to learn magic?"
"As of this time I don't see any problems that would arise form her learning magic."
"You sound like you have done this before."
"Several times," the blue-haired mage nodded. "I'm usually very careful who I choose, though. Knowledge can be a great source of power. Given to a madman...the end results wouldn't be very pleasant."
"You have a point." The lady of the household absently ran a long red fingernail over the gold metal band on her ring finger as she sat in deep thought for several moments. "What if I say no?"
"Well," that response startled him, "you are free to make that decision, Katrina." Great. There went all his hopes to train the girl. Who knew what kind of sorceress she could have turned out to become. He stood to leave. "But if that is your wish, then I thank you for you time."
As he turned to leave Katrina reached out and grabbed his arm. "Tell me," she said as he looked back at her, "when you look at Lina, what do you see?"
The question was a little puzzling, but he didn't see the harm in answering. "I see a girl who will have great potential in life. She will follow her heart and be successful in whatever she pursues in life."
"Do you really mean that?" There seemed to be a sparkle in Katrina's eye that wasn't there a moment ago.
She smiled. "Good. Then you have my blessing to teach her. Now, won't you stay for dinner? I would like to know more."
At the top of the stairs the little girl with flame red hair peered over the railing and listened. Had she heard right? Was Mom really going to let the nice man teach her magic?
Then she heard Mom ask him to stay for dinner and she knew the answer.
"I'm gonna learn magic! I'm gonna learn magic!" she sang triumphantly, marching back and forth across the top of the stairs. Now she could protect herself from Oneechan.
Suddenly, she heard the front door slam downstairs.
"I'M GOING TO KILL HER!" It was Oneechan!
"What's wrong, honey?" Lina heard her mother ask.
"It's Lina! When I find her I'm going to..."
"She's upstairs, dear. What's wrong? Did she do something?"
Uh-oh. She started to tiptoe towards her room.
"LINA, YOU ARE SO DEAD!"
Make that she made a mad dash for her room, shut the door, slid the bolt into place, and piled everything from her dresser to her stuffed bear, hoping to create an impenetrable barricade to her room.
She hid under her bed, cowering in the darkness. Maybe if she pretended she wasn't here Oneechan would go away.
"OPEN THIS DOOR, LINA!" Luna screamed, pounding on the door with her bare fists. The effect was strong enough to shake the whole room. "I KNOW YOU ARE IN THERE! YOU HAVE TO COME OUT SOMETIME!"
Okay, maybe not.