Chapter 72 — A Quiet Afternoon
A minute or two after Soran and Gloria left, a transfer gate opened in the middle of the living room. Gloria's mother emerged from the gate looking slightly flustered. She tidied her dress and tucked her wavy hair behind her ears. With a dissatisfied look, she grumbled, "Little brat! You actually did it! I'm your mother. How dare you trap me with Maze…"
The woman sulkily looked around the empty room, then drew a circle in the air with her finger. A portal appeared, and she mumbled as she entered it.
"Let me finish discovering the secrets of the Deck of Destiny, then I'll get back at you brat!"
Not too far away, Gloria sighed. She of course noticed her spell had been dispelled, but her initial goal was just to teach her mother a lesson, not to trap her for all eternity—not that she could anyway. The mistress stopped in front of a wall and touched it with her hand. It triggered some sort of hidden mechanism, and the bricks began to open up to reveal delicate mechanical parts and a spiral staircase leading down. Tools permanently enchanted with Light hung on both sides, lighting the stairs.
The two went down the stairs and soon arrived at a spacious laboratory. It was almost larger than the actual mansion. Rows of bookshelves, each five or so meters tall and a dozen meters wide, lined the walls. The bookshelves each held hundreds of books, and there was a ladder which seemed to be for visitors. Wizards and witches had no need for ladders as they could just use Mage Hand.
"Vivian's reading inside. I cast Silence to prevent anything from disturbing her."
Gloria turned to look at Soran, then pressed her palm onto a nearby wall. Immediately, the energy barrier covering the place dissipated. She gently opened the door and entered. Soran followed suit while looking at the items in the room. Apart from the massive amount of books, there were also plenty of alchemical devices and jars filled with unknown powders. The only device he was familiar with was the distillation machine. As a rogue, he had used similar machines to concentrate poisons countless times.
Vivian was sitting in front of a desk. Next to her lay a pile of books almost as tall as Vivian herself. She was currently drawing something on a piece of paper with a goose feather quill. The little girl had a serious expression, and under her feet was a basket filled with crumpled paper balls that seemed to be failures. She was so focused on her work that she did not notice the two approaching her. Tilting her head sideways, she flicked through another book and scratched her head as though she’d encountered something difficult. Vivian subconsciously bit the feather quill, then immediately spit the feathers back out after realizing what she had done.
"Vivian." Gloria smiled and waved at the little girl. "Soran's back. Take a rest today. We can continue studying tomorrow."
Surprised, Vivian turned to look at Soran. She immediately leapt out of her chair and jumped into her brother's embrace.
The expressionless Soran also smiled as he patted Vivian's head. He lifted her up and kissed her on the forehead. It was only then he realised something—Vivian was quite a bit heavier than before! She was no longer light as a feather and had gained some weight under Gloria’s care. Soran glanced at the mistress and nodded to show his gratitude. If not for the upcoming events, letting Vivian stay and learn with Gloria would be a decent option. Making an eight-year-old follow him around as he wandered from city to city pained him, but there was no choice. Soon, even reaching the Realm of Legends would be only barely enough to defend oneself.
Vivian looked like a little princess in her dress. She had her hair tied up with a pink ribbon, and she also wore a delicate breastpin which did not seem to be just for decoration. Magic research could be dangerous at times, and the breastpin might be an item Gloria prepared for Vivian just in case something happened. Vivian was still wearing the deerskin boots Soran had bought for her back in Amber City. The little girl kissed her beloved brother on the cheek, then hung onto his neck like a koala.
"Go," Gloria said while still smiling, "She has a lot to tell you. No one will disturb you in the backyard."
Vivian dropped back to the ground, then held Soran's hand and led him to the backyard. As they walked, the little girl asked, "Big brother, where did you go? I was worried."
Soran followed Vivian to the backyard without replying. It was a sizable place, with beautiful maple trees planted all around. Under one of the trees, there was a long wooden bench and a swing that looked to have been installed recently. Climbing vines covered the walls, and in the corner of the backyard was a fenced area full of elegant violets.
Vivian chuckled as she joined Soran, who sat on the swing. Fiery leaves fluttered down ever so gently, dancing in the air elegantly for the last time before winter’s embrace claimed their vibrance. The siblings enjoyed the wonderful view as they chatted. After a while, Vivian got off the swing and pulled Soran over to the bench. She made her brother let her use his lap as a pillow, a request to which Soran gladly complied.
"Big brother, I learned a lot of spells! But you know, some of them are really hard. I thought you could cast spells just by chanting… I never knew there's so much to learn! Big sis Gloria teaches me magic every morning, geography at noon, alchemy during the afternoon, and even something about religion when there's time left. I always fell asleep quickly at first, but now I'm fine. The things big sis taught me are actually very useful, and she says I'll become really really strong if I learn more! I want to be strong too!
"Big sis Gloria is a very good person. She tells me bedtime stories before I go to bed, but sometimes it's so complicated that I can't understand. She’s been telling me a story about a princess and a dragon, and the noble thingies going on are so boring that I always fall asleep quickly… The princess still hasn't even been taken away by the dragon!
"Ah, she also teaches me how to sing and play the lyre! It's really difficult… The songs big sis Gloria play sound very good, but it’s bad when I play them."
The little girl sounded frustrated. She cuddled against Soran before continuing to murmur, "Ah, I can't understand. Why do wizards and witches need to learn so many things! I thought I could just point forward and go 'pew pew pew'...
"Big sis was teaching me how to memorize spell models quickly, but I actually have no idea what they are. Those little dotted drawings are easier to remember! Ugh, I really don't like reading the words, they're annoying."
Vivian continued to rant while lying on Soran's lap. She first talked about things like astrology, geography, and religion. Soran could not help but frown when she moved to things which even he could not understand. There were some spellcasting terms which sounded familiar, but in the end he was not knowledgeable in that aspect. God knows how much Gloria had taught Vivian in the past few days. The little girl was grumbling on and on, but Soran knew she was actually glad to have Gloria teach her. Vivian should also have learned Read Magic, which should speed up her learning process. Soran listened to his sister's rant without interrupting, only caressing her hair and patting her back as she talked.
Vivian closed her eyes, and her voice gradually dimmed as she continued to mumble about what had happened in the past few days. The little girl spoke happily about everything from what she did, to what she learned, to what she ate. After a while, her mumbling turned incomprehensible. Soran peeked over to find his sister sound asleep, her saliva dripping onto his pants.
Soran put his coat over Vivian's small body. It was already late autumn, and the breeze was chilly despite the blazing sun. During their entire conversation, Vivian had not asked even once what Soran went to do. She never did, but even talking about trifling matters with her brother was satisfying enough.
Just like that, the two stayed in the backyard peacefully. After a while, Soran also felt slightly drowsy. He placed his hand on his sister's back, then slowly closed his eyes.
Leaning on the windowsill, Gloria was aimlessly flicking through a book. She peeked at the siblings from time to time, and as though affected by them, she also closed her book along with her eyes.
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