There were silver and gold decorations, and a jeweled chandelier, as well as marble states which seemed like the work of a master craftsman. The wooden dining table was made from the trees of the Northern Great Forest, and they held dishes which were difficult to find even if someone offered dozens of gold coins. It was luxurious but not vulgar; this was a space which was hard to find in other noble homes.
Earl Bergen, the man sitting at the dinner table, greeted Vince and Theodore with open arms. "Ohh, the heroes of Bergen have arrived!"
He had a fairly handsome appearance. His clothing were slightly wrinkled, but it wasn't enough to make someone frown. Rather, it softened the impression of the rather bulky man. Above all, the bright smile on his face contained a true sincerity.
It was because slave trading was a national felony. If the two people hadn't come or if they failed the mission, he would've had to take responsibility for allowing slavery to exist in his territory. For Earl Bergen who didn't know anything, it would've been like a lightning bolt striking from the sky.
The two people arrived in front of his chair and bowed.
"I am Red Tower's Superior magician, Vince Haidel."
"I am Red Tower's Average magician, Theodore Miller."
Earl Bergen received their greetings with a smile and gestured for them to sit down. Despite being in a higher position, the two magicians weren't people he could easily trifle with. Additionally, he already had a relationship with Vince.
"Hahaha! It has been a long time, Professor Vince. I didn't know that I would see you again like this."
"Yes, it is the same for me as well. I quit my position as a professor, only to come back here in a few months. I didn't know I would deal with such a big event like elf slave trading."
"This was a really big incident. Why in my territory…"
Despite the Earl talking like he knew about everything, Vince hadn't told him a few facts.
It was kept from the Earl that a high elf was present among the kidnapped elves and that the slave organization [Shackler] was just a front for the secret unit of the Austen Kingdom. This was because it could develop into a huge political issue.
'I don't know if news has reached the capital yet, but it is still early at the moment.' Vince calmly distinguished between what information could and couldn't be told.
Setting aside from Earl Bergen's personality, the hidden facts of this case were too big. They couldn't be allowed to rise to the surface of the water. If it was known that the high elf was present in Bergen, there existed the possibility that other kingdoms would start interfering. However, there were only two magicians here, and Vince wouldn't be able to cope with the situation in his injured condition.
It was why he turned Earl Bergen toward another topic. There was one thing bothering him.
"Oh, feel free to speak! I will help you with anything you need."
"The things you have given us so far is enough. I just wanted to ask something."
Both Theodore and his teacher turned their attention to someone sitting beside Earl Bergen. The person was a girl was long blonde hair who looked to be around the same age as Theo. Her skin had the distinctive unblemished fairness of a noble, and she had a beauty which wasn't easily seen on the streets.
Then Earl Bergen introduced her like he had been waiting for this cue. "She is my dear child whom I gained in my later years. Sweetie, what are you doing? Come and say hello."
"…I-I am Fiona Bergen."
"Huhu, isn't she cute? She hasn't made her debut yet, so she is still unsure about how to treat people!"
It was too obvious! The two people saw what Earl Bergen was thinking and exchanged looks.
At the age of 20, Theo was already an Average of the Red Tower and had great talent. It wasn't uncommon to desire for a daughter to get together with such talent. His intention was to make Theo his son-in-law.
Unsurprisingly, he started to talk more shamelessly. "Isn't being greeted by a young lady instead of an old man better for the young Baron Miller? I'm not just saying this because she is my daughter, but she is a pretty cute kid."
"…Thank you for your consideration."
Fiona was swiftly moved to the seat next to Theodore. She wasn't wearing perfume or cosmetics, but out of nowhere, a sweet scent seemed to tickle his nose. Due to the uninvited guest, Theo couldn't enjoy the food.
He looked at Fiona and inwardly sighed, 'Hoo, she is pretty though…'
Any male would dream of having a romance with a noble lady when they were young. Fiona was the epitome of such a romance with blonde hair, big breasts, and immaculate skin. If Theo was a common youth, he wouldn't be able to keep his eyes from her.
The problem was that he had met females prettier than her.
–Theo, this is how to finish the spell.
For example, Sylvia was a silver-haired girl overflowing with innocence. The mysterious atmosphere around her wasn't something a sheltered noblewoman could compete with.
–What, Kid. Are you tired already?
The next one to pop up was Veronica. Not only was she beautiful and mature, every hug and touch left Theodore's head blank.
Theo had met incomparably beautiful women, so he had become strangely resistant to beauty, let alone a young noblewoman like Fiona who didn't know how to tempt men. Theo ignored her squirming and ate his food quietly. He was similar to an iron wall.
'Well, I don't have to worry.' Vince laughed at the sight of Theo before concentrating on his conversation with Earl Bergen.
"Someone from the Magic Society will probably come in three, maybe four days. Until then, I would appreciate your hospitality, Earl."
"Of course. It is for the kingdom. It is okay even if you stay for three or four years."
"Hahaha, that is too much."
Two hours passed slowly. There were facts which weren't revealed to each other, but the atmosphere of the dinner wasn't bad.
Theo continued eating quietly, but he occasionally talked to Fiona since a strange atmosphere would be bad for relations with Earl Bergen. Leaving a good impression was one way to make a connection.
As the food on the table gradually disappeared,
"Ah, that reminds me of something, Baron Miller."
Earl Bergen suddenly said to Theo,"Baron Miller is from our academy right?"
"Yes, that's right."
"I heard that you won a tournament in the capital and graduated. So, I prepared something for you."
The earl received a scroll from a servant and passed it to Theodore. Theo received the scroll and pulled the red string tied at the center. He had an idea of what this scroll meant. Indeed, it was as he expected.
"I wanted to invite the dean of the academy, but he had no time to spare. Still, he gladly gave me the certificate of graduation."
"Ah, I don't know if I did something bad or not."
Theodore read the contents several times with blank eyes.
It was a senior diploma from the Bergen Academy. The item he hadn't been able to dream about in the past was now in his hands. Seeing the name 'Theodore Miller' at the top didn't feel like reality as he was someone who had never even met the dean.
Why, just a few months ago, it had been something he desired, but now he just felt strange.
"No. Thank you for your care, Earl."Theo hid his emotions and smiled.
He now realized that the academy wasn't worth anything as he put down his knife and formed fists.
* * *
The dinner party was over soon.
Parting from the reluctant Fiona and Earl Bergen, the two people left their seats. The sound of the dinner party was cut off as the doors closed behind them, leaving a deafening silence. Maybe it was because the corridor of the mansion was so much quieter than the dinner party.
After declining a guide, they walked for a while before Theo spoke in a low voice, "Master."
Theo pulled out the scroll. "What does this diploma mean to me now?"
Vince pondered for a moment before replying with a serious face, "… Frankly, it isn't a valuable item. Your graduation is irrelevant because you have already reached a level where that doesn't matter."
As Vince said, the academy diploma was just to prove the identity of a first-time magician. It was useless for Theo who had already crossed the 'wall' of the 5th Circle. Proving that he was a magician was no longer important as his circles were proof of superiority.
Theo knew this. He just couldn't accept that the five poisonous years he'd endured had ended with a single piece of paper.
"But Theodore…" Vince's words weren't over yet. "Your five years aren't in that scroll. Just like magic isn't ink written in books, the proof of Theodore Miller is contained in here."
Vince's finger poked Theo's chest.
It wasn't that strong, but it felt like a blade cutting off a sick piece of Theo's heart. Vince Haidel, who had worried over his identity as a war mage for years, cut off the bud of uncertainty growing inside Theodore.
"Be aware that certificates are given because they exist, but the certificate itself isn't a qualification. Theodore Miller, you yourself will prove that you aren't a scribble or stamp on a piece of paper."
"So, what will you do with the diploma?"
Theo playfully smiled at the question.
The discomfort, confusion, and dizziness he just felt had disappeared somewhere. The diploma in his hand wasn't heavy like he had been thinking. It was just a common piece of paper, and everyone knew that paper was a good burning material.
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Hwaruruk~ Theo used the 1st Circle Magic, Ignite. Fire emerged from his fingertips, and the diploma was turned to grey ashes and scattered onto the floor. Theo invoked the wind to sweep away any traces.
It felt like the worry eating at Theo's heart was also blown away, and the pain which had accumulated for five years was now gone. While Theo was caught up in his memories…
[Theodore.] Suddenly, someone's voice was speaking in Theo's ears.
It wasn't surprising. At first, he thought it was Gluttony, but then he realized that it wasn't. It was a voice he had heard just yesterday.
High elf Ellenoa… It was her voice.
[I'm sorry, but can you come to where I am? I would like to continue the conversation from last time.]
Today's second invitation had arrived.