Chapter 5: Siegfried’s Shadow (2)
Mahoro woke with a start at the sound of the large bell.
His surroundings were dim, and he was confused. He looked around not knowing what had happened and saw the light of the clock face. The bell rang seven times.
Oh, no! I fell asleep here, and now it’s curfew!
Mahoro realised that he had slept like a log after Noah had left, and he turned pale. He crossed the beams and hurried to leave the mechanical room. The Main Building was entirely dark with only light from the moon seeping through the windows.
Ergh, I screwed up. How could I fall asleep there without eating dinner…?
Mahoro rushed down the stairs and just as he was about to leave the building, he resigned himself to the fact that he had already broken curfew and opted against making a mad dash back to the Blocks. Roll call was at 9 pm; he only needed to return before then. More importantly was the problem that he had missed a meal. Would his stomach hold out until morning?
Mahoro suddenly stopped in his tracks on his way to the Blocks.
There was a bluish-white flame flickering in the direction of the lake.
Is it a will-o’-the-wisp?
Mahoro strained his eyes to stare at it and saw the flame bob over the surface of the lake. He had to quickly return to the Blocks, but the bobbing flame really made him curious.
I want to… try to get closer. I’m already in trouble anyway.
His curiosity got the better of him, and in the darkness, Mahoro headed towards the lake. He just wanted to get a little closer, not thinking too deeply about it as he pushed his way through the grass and bushes. With only the moonlight, he couldn’t see very well in the darkness, but there seemed to be a person standing at the edge of the lake.
From far away, Mahoro saw black hair down to the person’s shoulders, and he had to rub his eyes. Could it really be him? he thought and ran towards the lake. He ran for maybe 2 or 3 minutes, and then an invisible wall blocked his way, causing him to tumble backwards onto the ground. Mahoro stood back up in a daze and slowly reached his hand out. There was a wall right in front of him. He couldn’t see it, but there was indeed an obstruction there.
“Open up! Open up!”
He started hitting the invisible wall without thinking. And all of a sudden, he heard the sound of something shattering, and the obstruction disappeared.
“What just happened—?”
Mahoro was confused, but he took a step forward. The wall had just been there, but it completely disappeared. Mahoro took off running in triumph, but a shrill call of a bird seemed to tear through the darkness of the night and his feet stopped again.
“Intruder detected. Intruder detected. Warning all units. Warning all units.”
A bird with a long tail circled directly overhead, crying in an inflectionless voice. Mahoro burst into a cold sweat. Was he perhaps the intruder here—?
Oh, right, I think the lake is supposed to be off-limits?
Mahoro looked at the lake, belatedly remembering the instructions from the Academy. If Siegfried had been there, Mahoro would have run to him, but there was no one by the lake where he had seen him earlier.
Mahoro panicked at the sharp voice that barked out from behind him and pinned him into place. He wanted to run, but someone had seized his arm, and he had no choice but to raise his head.
“Oh… You must be Mahoro Baldwin.”
The one who had seized his arm was a young woman. She appeared to be in her twenties and gave off a sex appeal with her long black hair that curled down to her chest and a mole under the corner of her eye. She wore a white doctor’s coat, and she seemed to know who Mahoro was.
“Umm, err, I’m very sorry. I-I’m… not very sure what’s happening…”
Learning that she was probably staff at the Academy, Mahoro apologised incoherently.
“You broke the barrier erected here. But I suppose that there’s no helping it, if it was you. I’m Mary. Mary Elgar. Come with me.”
Mary led Mahoro by the hand and smiled. Mahoro thought that he would be lectured without a chance to explain himself, and her gentle treatment of him made him feel relieved. But what was the barrier that she mentioned…?
“Um, how do you know me…?”
Although the woman knew Mahoro, Mahoro had never seen her before.
“I remember all the faces of the new cadets. I’m the educational psychologist here. You haven’t come to see me yet though,” Mary answered in a clear and beautiful voice.
Right, he seemed to remember Zach mentioning a sexy psychologist at the Academy’s medical clinic. As he walked with her obediently, a man and a dog ran towards them from the Accommodation Blocks.
“Are you the one who caused the alarm!?”
The blond-haired man was Leon. Running next to him was a Dobermann Pinscher. It had an elegant black figure with a tough expression on its face. After examining Mahoro’s face, it started barking with a force that seemed to bite and snap at him.
“Eeek!! I-I’m so sorry!”
The dog was so terrifying that his knees almost buckled.
“You’re a new cadet!? State what you were doing!”
Mahoro started to tear up at the ferocious way he yelled at him. This person and the dog really scared him.
“He only came here by mistake. Ainsworth, you’re scaring the new cadet. Rein in your familiar.”
Mary wrapped an arm around Mahoro’s head and pulled him to her as she glared at Leon. Leon seemed to have finally noticed Mary, and for some reason he flinched back. He brought a finger to the Dobermann at his feet, and it stopped barking.
Third-year cadets each had their own familiars. Any animal like birds, cats, mice, or weasels could be contracted, but Loewen Military Academy generally formed contracts with dogs, pairing each of the cadets with ones that matched their dispositions. According to the Commandant, dogs were chosen because they were loyal to their masters. The dog appeared to be a normal Dobermann at a glance, but it was a familiar, so it wasn’t an ordinary dog. It would investigate, fight, and obey all of its master’s commands; however, it operated by absorbing the contracted owner’s magical power, and very few people would call it out all the time.
“Heyyyyy, did you find him?”
A light from a lantern, as well as Oscar and Noah, came running up to them. Next to Oscar was a golden retriever with sandy brown fur and gentle-looking eyes. Next to Noah was a terrifying pit bull terrier, a breed that was known for its aggression. It looked like a fierce predator capable of mauling a person to death with its firm muscles and well-developed jaw. Its face was very far from beautiful, and it astonished Mahoro that Noah, with his incredible beauty, would have such a dog with him. The two new arrivals looked at Mahoro and asked him suspiciously what had happened.
“I-I’m sorry. I thought I saw something above the lake… I’m so sorry.” Mahoro apologised to the older cadets gathered there.
Oscar whistled. “Whaaat? Not only did you break curfew, but you trespassed into a restricted area? Pretty gutsy for someone who looks so quiet~”
On the other hand, Noah fixed Mahoro with a sharp stare that demanded answers, his attitude intimidating him. “You saw something above the lake…?”
“Gentlemen, he is a new cadet. You’re scaring him. He didn’t see anything, I’m sure, not in this darkness. Right, Mahoro?”
Mary gave Mahoro an encouraging rub to his back. They would never take him seriously if he said that he saw someone who looked like Siegfried or saw bluish-white flames bobbing over the lake. Mahoro gave a meek nod and fearfully looked up at Leon.
“Troublemaker, what’s your name?” Leon demanded, and Mahoro straightened his back to give his name and class.
“Leon, don’t look so scary. Mahoro, Leon’s as straight-laced as they come, so he’s always tough on curfew breakers.” Oscar smiled and slung an arm around Leon’s shoulders. Leon looked down at Mahoro with his arms crossed and an increasingly severe scowl.
“I deeply apologise for my behaviour! I know that I was wrong, and I will never do it again!” Mahoro apologised profusely, expressing his heartfelt remorse in his apology. Leon finally softened his attitude towards him.
“In any case, you seemed to have found him very quickly, Dr Mary,” Leon muttered, directing a confrontational stare at her. Now that he mentioned it, Mary did seem to appear very quickly next to him.
Huh…? Could it be that the person at the lake was Dr Mary…?
Considering the colour of her hair, it would not have been strange to mistake her for Siegfried from a distance. Then was Dr Mary the person whom he had seen then…?
Dr Mary smiled, not in the least perturbed by Leon’s suspicious gaze. “I just happened to be walking nearby. The Commandant’s familiar started shrieking overhead, and I came running over.”
That was when Mahoro heard the loud barking of dogs approaching them from a distance. It was a pack of strong, black Rottweilers. When Mahoro shrank backwards, Noah stepped in front of him like a shield.
“They’re the Commandant’s familiars. They were likely sent to search for the intruder.”
Mahoro watched the pack of dogs running towards them from behind Noah’s back, and then a white-haired woman on a broom came flying in behind the dogs. She sped through the darkness with a frightening speed and lightly descended in front of Mahoro and the others.
The Commandant surveyed the people there. “Status report.”
“Mahoro Baldwin trespassed into a restricted area by mistake,” Dr Mary replied with a smile.
The Commandant peered into Mahoro’s eyes. “I see. Mahoro, entering a restricted area is a problem, but you also failed to return in time for curfew. Now why would you do that?” she said, tilting her head.
“I-I’m sorry. I accidentally fell asleep by the clock tower…” Mahoro answered, hanging his head, and Noah burst out into laughter next to him. Leon stiffened his face in disapproval, and Oscar stared at Mahoro amazed. Mahoro had thought that he only needed to return before roll call, but apparently she had already known that he had failed to return on time. She was the Commandant after all, and she could even fly through the air. He wondered what kinds of unimaginable magic she could use.
“Are you having trouble keeping up with your subjects?” she asked matter-of-factly. There was no derision in her voice. Mahoro could not answer the question, and he blushed in embarrassment. He was worried that he might be expelled if he answered honestly that he couldn’t keep up.
“Mahoro, I am very compassionate, and so I will forgive your transgression just this once. Your punishment will be a three-page written apology about your actions. When you finish, bring it to my office. Thank you for your assistance, Leon, Noah, Oscar. You may be dismissed after you escort Mahoro back to the Blocks. I have received a message from the soldiers that there are no other problems.”
The Commandant whistled through her fingers at the growling pack of dogs, and the Rottweilers relaxed in an instant before turning around to leave. Apparently she had also notified the soldiers that were guarding the area. Mahoro remembered the strict security when he first arrived at the island, and a chill went through his spine.
Mahoro apologised again. “I am very sorry. Thank you very much.”
After thanking Dr Mary and the Commandant, Mahoro started down the path to return to the Blocks with Noah and the others escorting him. He was glad that the Commandant hadn’t expelled him.
The Commandant was discussing something with Dr Mary, but then mounted her broom and flew towards the lake.
The four of them walked with the light of the lantern guiding them.
“Hey you. Did you see something at the lake? Did it have something to do with Dr Mary?” Noah asked once again, apparently still concerned about what had happened. Leon’s sternness was frightening, but the sharpness in Noah’s eyes was frightening in an entirely different sense.
“No, it was nothing… It didn’t turn out to be anything…” Mahoro mumbled and hesitated, looking to Oscar for help.
“Don’t mumble! Answer the question!” Leon said harshly, and Mahoro wanted to run away.
“I-I’m sorry, I’m so sorry… It was nothing!”
Mahoro fell back a few steps to apologise deeply. Oscar gave a wry smile and slung an arm around Leon’s shoulders to lead him away from Mahoro.
“Come on, come on, don’t bully the newbie. Don’t you feel bad for him? How can you pick on someone so tiny and not feel bad about it? You look like you’re bullying him.”
Leon glared at Mahoro. “I’m guiding him on proper behaviour and conduct.”
“I’ll walk him back myself. You two go on ahead.” Noah gave Mahoro a nudge to his back, and Mahoro let out the breath that he had been holding and started walking. Oscar dragged Leon, who wanted to argue with them, back to Block A with him.
Mahoro walked the dark path with Noah leading the way.
As soon as they were alone, Noah asked in amusement, “You really slept at such a narrow place? What are you, even?”
Mahoro hung his head in shame.
Noah turned around and said, “Leon picked on you today, but don’t let that tosser bother you. He always kicks up a fuss when someone breaks the rules.”
Was Noah perhaps trying to cheer him up? Mahoro was depressed that he was punished and told that he had to write a written apology, but he felt a little better.
“I’m all right… I’m very sorry for all the trouble that I caused today.”
They passed through the entrance between Blocks C and D, and Noah walked him to his room, where Mahoro apologised again. Noah seemed to want to say something, but he left.
Mahoro opened the door to his room sighing, and Zach jumped over to him.
“Mahoro! Geez, where have you been!? It’s this early in the term, and you’re already broken curfew? That’s too crazy! There were alarms going off outside, and I was so, so worried…” Zach clung to Mahoro with tears in his eyes.
Mahoro apologised for making him worried and slumped his shoulders. If he had known that this would happen, he would have dashed back to the Blocks as soon as he heard the bell.
He felt bad for Zach, who seemed curious to know what had happened, but he was too mentally exhausted to talk about it, and he crawled into his bed on the lower bunk. He had missed a meal, but he had no appetite any more. For now, he wanted to rest his head, and he covered himself with his blanket.