Chapter Four: Fouquet the Crumbling Dirt
In Tristain, there was a mage thief by the name of "The Crumbling Dirt," who had every noble in the country cowering in fear. This one's full name was Fouquet the Crumbling Dirt.
When Fouquet heard that a noble in the North had a jeweled crown, he would go all the way there to steal it. When Fouquet heard that a noble in the South had a staff bestowed by the king as a family treasure, he broke through walls to steal it. In the East, none of the best pearl rings by the artisans of the White Islands remained in any mansion. Fouquet also eagerly took possession of a priceless bottle of well-aged wine from a winery in the West. The thief was everywhere.
Fouquet's tactics range from stealthy infiltration to outright breaking in. The national bank had been attacked in broad daylight, and houses were silently frequented in the depth of night. In any case, Fouquet's tactics simply left the royal mage guards in the dust.
Fouquet was identified only by the use of alchemy to enter targeted rooms, turning doors and walls to dirt and sand, then walking through the gaping holes. The nobles were not stupid, of course, they had tried to magically “solidify” everything around their treasure in an attempt to stop the alchemy, but Fouquet's magic was simply too strong, nullifying everything, fortified or not, into dirt.
If Fouquet decided on breaking the way in, a 30-mail tall dirt golem was used. Tossing aside mage guards and shattering castle walls, it let him boldly take prizes in broad daylight.
No one had ever seen Fouquet’s appearance up close. Nobody even knew for sure whether he was a man or a woman. All they knew is that Fouquet was an earth mage of at least Triangle class, that he left insulting notes, such as “I got your treasure. –-Fouquet the Crumbling Dirt” at every robbery scene, and that he preferred treasures and artifacts of great magical power.
Two huge moons shone down on the walls outside the fifth floor of the Academy of Magic, which encased a treasure room. The light stretched out a shadow, standing straight against the walls. Fouquet the Crumbling Dirt.
Fouquet’s green, long hair moved with the wind, and Fouquet briskly stood, openly showing the figure that strikes fear in all the nobles of the country.
Pressing a foot against the wall, Fouquet felt the wall’s power and could not help but admire it. The main tower of the Academy is as strong as it looks… is a physical attack really its only weakness? I can’t break through something this thick without attracting attention. It was not hard for an expert in earth magic like Fouquet to check a wall’s thickness with their feet, but breaking a wall was completely different. It looks like they used only hardening spells on it, but I can’t even break this with a golem. It’s got a very strong hardening spell… my alchemy won't do much.
“Damn it… and I already got this far.” The thief's teeth grit in frustration. “I’m not leaving the Staff of Destruction, no matter what.” Fouquet crossed his arms and went into deep concentration.
Meanwhile, as Fouquet thought in annoyance about the wall, Louise’s room was in chaos. Louise and Kirche glared at each other in anger, while Saito, on his straw bed, excitedly studied the sword Kirche had just presented to him. Tabitha nonchalantly read on Louise’s bed.
Louise had her arms on her waist. “What is the meaning of this, Zerbst?” She glared at her rival.
Kirche watched Saito’s admiration, “I told you, I got what Saito wanted, so I came here to give it to him.”
“Ah, that’s a shame. I already got my familiar a weapon. Right, Saito?”
On the contrary, Saito couldn’t let go of Kirche’s gift. He unsheathed the sword and stared at it. When he held a sword, the inscriptions in his left hand glowed, while his body became light as a feather. He wanted to swing it around, but he was indoors. He still couldn’t figure out what the deal about his left hand was. All he knew is that it glowed if he held a sword.
But all he cared about at this moment was this beautifully decorated blade.
“This is so awesome… I still like this one more… and it shines!”
Louise kicked him into the air.
“What are you doing?!” Saito yelled.
“Give that back. Don’t you already have that talking sword?”
“Uh… that’s true… it’s interesting that a sword can speak, but still…” It’s so rusty and old and so broken. If a swordsman uses anything, it’s got to be shiny and cool, right? Besides, Kirche just gave me this for free…
“Jealous words are quite unmannerly, Vallière!” Kirche trumpeted triumphantly.
“Jealous? Who’s jealous?”
“Aren't you? I, Kirche, easily got Saito’s most desired sword as a gift. You can’t say you’re not jealous, can you?”
“Jealous, my arse! That aside, I will not accept even a tiny little bit of generosity from a Zerbst! That’s all there is!”
Kirche looked at Saito, who stared reluctantly at the decorated sword in Louise’s hands.
“You see that? Saito loves this sword, got it? This sword is created by Germania’s very own alchemist Lord Shupei!” Kirche threw a seductive glare to Saito. “You listen here… all that is good under the sun, let it be swords or women, can only come from Germania! Tristainian women, like Louise, are all extremely jealous, impatient, miserly, and snobbish, and nothing can change them!”
Louise glared at Kirche.
“What? I’m just telling the truth.”
“Oh… how… amusing. Women like you are all romantic-minded idiots! Did you hook up with too many guys back in Germania, making nobody trust you, and ending up dropping out and running all the way over here to Tristain?” retorted Louise with a cold, uncompromising laugh, interspersed with angry shivers.
“You have guts, Vallière…” Kirche’s face darkened.
“What? I’m just telling the truth.” Added Louise victoriously,
They simultaneously brandished their wands.
Tabitha flicked her staff even faster than the two, blowing their wands away in a gust.
“Indoors,” she simply announced.
Probably meaning it’s dangerous to fight in here.
Louise angrily muttered, “And who is this? She has been sitting on my bed since-”
“She’s my friend,” countered Kirche.
“And why is your friend in my room?”
Kirche stared. “Is that a problem?”
Saito tried to talk with Tabitha, but she never replied, only quietly reading her book, as if conversations were really inconvenient.
Meanwhile, Louise and Kirche still glared at each other.
Kirche looked away, “Well… let's have Saito decide.”
“Me? Decide?” Saito immediately felt distressed for being singled out.
“Right. This is about your choice of swords.” Louise also looked at him.
Suddenly Saito felt worse. He liked Kirche’s shiny blade the most, hands down. But Louise will never let me pick that, or she might not let me have dinner for a week, although I guess I can get that from Siesta, but still…
He looked at Louise, who glared at him. Louise may be a selfish, self-centered, ungrateful girl, but she did take care of me when I was out for days… and she is the type of girl I find attractive…
Then again… Kirche bought me this really expensive sword. To top that, a beautiful one like her actually confessed to me. Before this, there was simply no way for me to land someone this striking …
Okay, that just made this impossibly hard. Now it just feels like I’m picking between the two of them and not the sword.
“Well? Which is it?” Kirche and Louise both stared at him.
“Uh, well… can’t I have both?” Saito tilted his head and tried to look cute.
It didn’t work. He was launched into the air by a combined kick, hurling him onto his straw bed.
“Hey.” Kirche turned to Louise.
“Guess it’s time to get this over with.”
“Hmm… you’re right.”
“I really hate you, you know?”
“Same to you.”
“We think quite alike.” Kirche smiled and raised a brow.
Louise, too, defiantly stuck her chin up.
“Let’s duel!” They shouted in unison.
“Geez… you don’t have to…” Saito was shocked. The two glared at each other as if they did not hear him.
“But of course, we have to do this with magic!” Kirche triumphantly declared.
Louise bit her lower lip, and nodded. “Fine. Location?”
“Really? Are you sure, Louise the Zero? Are you really sure you want to fight me in a magical duel?” Kirche goaded.
Louise lowered her head. Am I sure? Of course… not. But it was a challenge from a Zerbst, so she had to take it. “Of course! I will not lose to you!”
Meanwhile, standing on the walls of the central academy tower, Fouquet felt footsteps. He jumped off towards the ground, and just as Fouquet reached it, he whispered “Spell of Levitation”, landing like a feather, absorbing his momentum. Fouquet then disappeared into the courtyard bushes.
Entering the courtyard were Louise, Kirche, Tabitha, and Saito.
“All right, let's begin.” Kirche announced.
“Are you guys really going to duel?” Saito anxiously asked.
“Yes, we are.” Louise confidently answered.
“Isn’t it a bit… dangerous? Let's just stop here and let it go, shall we?”
“That’s true, so whoever gets injured is the idiot,” said Kirche.
“Uh-huh.” Louise nodded.
Tabitha approached Kirche, and whispered something in her ear. Then she pointed at Saito.
“Hmm… now that’s a good idea!” Kirche grinned.
Then, Kirche whispered something to Louise.
“Ah… not bad.” Louise nodded.
And they both looked at Saito. He suddenly had a bad feeling about it.
“Hey… are you guys serious?” begged Saito, but nobody cared.
He was hung in midair by a rope from the main tower. Yep… I should have just picked a girl and been done with it. On the ground which looked so far, far away, he could see the silhouettes of Kirche and Louise. Despite it being the middle of the night, the two moons made for clear vision. He could even see Tabitha on her wind dragon. It held two swords in its mouth.
The two moons shone warmly on Saito.
Kirche and Louise looked upon him, dangling and flopping around in midair.
Kirche rolled up her fists. “Here’s how we do it… the first to cut off the rope and let Saito down wins. Then the winner’s sword goes to Saito. Sounds good?”
“Got it.” Louise nodded, her face blank.
“No limits on type of spells used. You can go first… my treat.”
“Okay… good luck.”
Louise brandished her wand. In the air, Tabitha began to shake the rope, wobbling Saito left and right. Spells like “fireball” have high accuracy rates, and as long as the target doesn’t move i can hit it. However, Louise had more than that to worry about – she had to make the spell work in the first place.
Louise thought hard. What would work? Wind? Fire? Water and earth are both out… they don’t have many spells that can cut ropes. Fire spells work the best here…and here Louise remembered that that is exactly what Kirche is good at.
Kirche’s fireballs will cut that rope easily. I can’t fail this one.
She picked fireballs anyway. Aiming a small one at the target, she recited the short spell. If she failed, Saito would get Kirche’s sword, and to someone esteemed like Louise, this would be completely unacceptable. She finished reciting, and with her utmost concentration, flicked her wand. If it worked, a fireball would come out of the tip.
But nothing came out of the wand. The next moment, the wall behind Saito exploded. The shock wave shook Saito even harder. “What the hell?! Are you trying to kill me?!” Saito’s angry yell drifted down towards them.
The rope remained intact. If she thought she could use the shock wave to break the rope, she wasn’t thinking. A large crack appeared on the wall.
Kirche collapsed in laughter. “ZERO! ZERO LOUISE! You broke the wall instead of the rope! Now that’s talent!”
Louise looked down.
“Really, I’ve got to ask you… what the heck did you do to make it blow up like that?! Oh god… my sides hurt…”
Louise frustratingly held her fists and knelt to the ground.
“Next is my turn.” Kirche aimed at the rope like a hunter would his prey. Tabitha was shaking the rope, so it was tough aiming. Despite that, Kirche kept a brisk, easy smile. Chanting a short spell, Kirche waved her wand born out from habit, fire spells were her specialty after all.
From her wand appeared a melon-sized fireball, which flew towards Saito striking the rope, and burned it loose in an instant. Saito started to fall to the ground, but Tabitha waved her staff from the rooftop, casting a Spell of Levitation on him, causing him to slowly land on the ground.
“I win, Vallière!” Kirche announced in earnest.
Louise sat down, pulling on the grass with her hands in despair.
Meanwhile, Fouquet watched them from the bushes. The thief saw the crack on the walls from Louise’s blast. What kind of magic is that? She asked for a fireball spell, but nothing came out of her wand, and the wall blew up. I’ve never heard of a spell that can make things explode like this. Fouquet shook his head. More importantly, I can’t let go of this chance. Fouquet started chanting a long spell, waving his wand at the ground. When finished, a mild smile formed on his face. Following Fouquet's voice, a bulge formed on the ground. Fouquet the Crumbling Dirt was showing his talent.
“What a shame, Vallière!” Kirche laughed.
Her battle lost, Louise reluctantly and gloomily slacked her shoulders. Saito watched her, a complicated emotion on his face. “…why don’t you uh… untie me first?” He managed a low tone. He couldn’t move with the rope wrapped around him in layers.
Kirche smiled, “Oh, why of course, I’ll be glad to!”
Right then, Kirche felt something behind her. She turned around. She couldn’t believe her eyes. “What… what the heck is this?!” Her jaw dropped. What she saw was a huge earth golem moving towards them.
“Kyaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!” Kirche ran away screaming.
Saito yelled behind her, “Hey! Hey! Don’t go! Don’t leave me here!” He was in a panic. After all, he had never seen such an enormous golem, and it was heading towards him. “Wh…what the hell is this?! It’s huge!” Saito wanted to run, but the ropes had him tight on the ground.
Louise recovered her senses and ran towards him.
“You… why are you tied up like this?!”
“Isn’t that your idea?!”
Above them, the golem raised its foot.
Saito lost hope. “Louise, get out of there!” He yelled.
“Dammit… this rope…” Louise tried in vain to untie the knots.
The golem’s foot descended. Saito closed his eyes.
In that instant, Tabitha’s wind dragon veered from the skies grabbing the two with its talons and pulled them out from under the foot with only inches to spare, before it came down crushing everything under it in a heartbeat.
Hanging under the wind dragon, Saito and Louise watched the golem. Saito shakily asked, “Wh-wh-what…the hell is that?”
”I’m not sure… but it’s one gigantic earth golem! Somebody must have summoned that!”
”Something that big?!”
”…whoever summoned this must be at least a triangle level mage.”
Saito bit his lip, and thought of Louise, who tried to untie him despite her danger. “That aside… why didn’t you run?”
“No respectable master would desert her familiar like that.” She answered frankly.
Saito watched her quietly. For some reason, he found her quite attractive… just now.
Fouquet, standing on the golem’s shoulder, smiled and paid no attention to the wind dragon or Kirche escaping. A dark cape covered him from head to toe so they could not make out his face. Fouquet transformed the golem fist to a metallic composition, and ordered it to punch the wall. A dull thump sounded as the metallic fist hit in the wall, collapsing it. Under the dark cape, Fouquet smirked.
The golem transported Fouquet in with its hand, and the thief entered through the hole and into the treasure vault. It stored valuables of every kind, but Fouquet had only one target.
The Staff of Destruction.
A row of staffs of many sorts hung on the wall, but one came to Fouquet as completely unlike a staff. It was a mail long, and made with a sort of metal that he had never seen before. He looked at the metal plate right under it, reading, “Staff of Destruction, do not remove.” His smile grew to a grin.
Fouquet picked up the Staff of Destruction, and was shocked by its lightness. Just what is this thing made of? He had no time to ponder and ran back onto the golem’s shoulder.
Fouquet burned a message onto the wall before leaving:“I have the Staff of Destruction. – Fouquet the Crumbling Dirt.”
With its caped summoner sitting on its shoulder, the golem leaped over the Academy walls, landed with a huge thud, and moved toward the grasslands and beyond.
Above the golem, the wind dragon circled around. Tabitha, sitting on the wind dragon, waved her staff for a Spell of Levitation, moving Saito and Louise onto the dragon’s back. She waved again. The air around Saito resonated into slicing waves, shredding the binding rope into pieces.
“Thank you,” he said to Tabitha in gratitude.
Her face remained blank, only nodding in acceptance.
Saito watched the gigantic earth golem, and asked Louise, “That mage… broke the wall. But what for?”
“The treasure vault.” Tabitha answered.
“He was holding something when it came out of that hole.”
“It was a thief. But… that was quite bold.”
They watched as the giant golem suddenly crumbled in mid-run, into a large mound of dirt.
They descended to the ground.
Brightly illuminated by the moons, there was nothing else besides the mountain of dirt. Just like that, the summoning mage had disappeared into the night.