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The Tree of Thoth

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Anna stared down at the glyph. “How do I get this off my… I mean the workshop’s floor?”

“You don’t,” Edge said, remembering when Ewan decided to experiment with that staff of his on the floor Edge had just waxed the day before. If he’d had any idea what the man intended, he would have told him to take it outside. He felt Anna’s pain.

“Oh! You’re pacted to Faustus, right?” Nell asked. “I used to have the Faustus Blades. Try it! I’ll see what the Uryu Blades are like next.”

“Faustus Blades? Like the Rufina Blades?” Now Anna was intrigued. Perhaps this might make up for that man marking up the workship’s floor with that staff without a by-your-leave. She stepped into the glyph and raised her mana’s power.

“Aww!” Pamela approved.

Roxis eyed the exits as Anna tried to process what she was wearing. How it restricted her movements. Where her sword went.

“My turn!” said Nell, waiting for Anna to get out of the magic circle.

“That womanizer… putting me in this to hamper my movements… depriving me of my weapon…” The bunny ears on Anna’s head twitched angrily.

“You look just like Teddy! All that thick plush… Oh, I wish I could hug you,” lamented Pamela.

“Even without my sword, I’ll show him!”

“You can use the circle to… change back,” Edge only finished after Anna was already out the door. “Where is she going?” he asked, although he had an idea.

“Probably to murder that Ewan Kleines,” Roxis said from the balcony. It wasn’t cowardice, simply showing proper respect for Anna and her formidable skills.

“Oh,” said Edge.

‘You aren’t going to try to stop her?’ Roxis almost asked, but the normally stoic and sensible Edge’s ‘oh’ had far too much of a tinge of ‘oh, it’s about time’ or ‘oh, that sounds perfectly understandable to me’ for Roxis’ liking. Even if someone from Zee Meruze joining in would make it an internal affair instead of a case of someone from Al Revis attacking a representative of Zee Meruze, the man was a librarian and even if there wasn’t anything left in his care directly related to alchemy, who knew what secrets, like that staff, he knew of?

“I may join her,” said Flay, decloaking behind Roxis. “That is a pitiful bunny girl costume. Why, it looks more like a small child’s footie pyjamas.”

“Far more appropriate, given Anna’s age,” Roxis pointed out. It wasn’t as though he thought Flay had dishonorable designs on the young swordswoman, but when he first met Flay, he would have assumed from that comment that the delinquent was also a deviant. For such an excellent manipulator, Flay needed to think a little more about what he said before he said it.

“Well,” said Flay, hopping down from the balcony, “I should hurry or I’ll miss the violence.” The Raider’s Guild of Zee Meruze… would they be an asset to his plans, or would he have to ensure that his Evil Syndicate could overpower them?

“Oh, I’ll go too!” Nell said, after quickly stepping into the circle and summoning white and blue crystals that Roxis assumed were the Uryu Blades.

Edge went with Nell, leaving Roxis alone with Pamela.

Finally. “I’m told he called you Seshat,” he said.

“I know, I have no idea what he was talking about,” was Pamela’s response, but her mana, Aion the Mana of Life, Lilith’s eldest daughter, appeared out of Pamela’s teddy bear. According to the legends Roxis had read, Aion normally hid herself away like that, to keep alchemists who weren’t worthy from finding her and trying to pact with her.

How Pamela of all people had managed to convince a mana like that to pact with her had boggled Roxis’ mind, especially since she wasn’t even alive! A ghost pacting with a mana of death, like Edge and Rufina, or a mana of spirit like Tony’s unfortunately-named Flay was sensible, but this?

As it turned out, there was a reason. Roxis’ mana also manifested – Dour, not Vanitas. He assumed Vanitas was still with Vayne, Sulpher and the alleged adults.

“She needs to not know,” Aion said.

Dour nodded sadly.

Seshat was the one who had written that name in the first place. If the seal took the name from the memory of everyone alive, then it would have been stripped from her as well: the next Pharaoh would have been a god, as the Egyptian’s saw it, just as much as Seshat. If he forgot it, then she likely had as well. But Seshat’s memories would contain the location of the Book of Thoth.

The heart of the Millennium Tree, the mana at the core of it. The names of the pharaohs were inscribed on the leaves of Dour’s acorn.

“I’m going to use some Water of Lethe,” Roxis said, before the High Queen of the Mana had to resort to threats. He’d rather not seem slow on the uptake in front of such an august being.

“Good,” was the response, and the embodiment of all the life in creation sank back down into a pink teddy bear.

Roxis had until he got the bottle uncorked to contemplate the absurdity of it all.

“Roxis?” Vayne asked later, poking his head in the workshop door. “What are you doing in here?”

“Synthesizing,” said Roxis, gesturing at the chart on the wall with everyone’s assignments. “What with one thing and another, I haven’t completed my share of the chores yet.”

“At a time like this?” Vayne was clearly considering telling Roxis that he didn’t have to, really, but he knew Roxis’ sense of responsibility. Right now, though, “Would you come with me? I want to introduce you to my father.”

“What if I don’t want to be introduced to him?” Was Roxis’ response. The man had forced Vayne to be a murder weapon, and almost caused the loss of Jess. Not just death, loss: without a ruby prism or a soul, what would happen to her when she died? Thank goodness Vayne had taken it back from him somehow. Roxis had gotten the impression that it was destroyed in the process of ripping it out of her, but that was Vayne for you.

“Please, Roxis?” Vayne asked. “He is my family.”

Roxis sighed. “Well, alright. Where is he? I thought you’d be giving the man a tour of the workshop by now.”

“The campus dungeons,” Vayne confessed. “The Vice Principal knows what he did, and the Principal is trying to talk her into not pressing charges since Isolde isn’t but…”

Roxis had wanted Theofratus strung up by his innards for quite some time now, but if he hadn’t been in his right mind when he committed all of those crimes, then it wasn’t Theofratus Aurelius himself, the greatest alchemist of the previous generation, who was truly responsible. And pressing charges? As Vayne’s friend he appreciated the thought, but that would blacken the good name of alchemy itself. The Vice Principal was a woman of strong and admirable principles, but this? When they’d just made contact with Zee Meruze, which talked about goddesses named Ishtar and had a Chief Librarian who waved around a magic staff so blithely? “You’ve already gotten Flay, I hope?” he was the one who had a prayer of stopping her, not Roxis.

“He’s there already,” Vayne said. “He says he’ll take care of it, but I still want you to meet my dad, Roxis.”

Did Vayne know what that sounded like? “Why is it so important to you that I meet your parents now? Given everything that’s happened, I would think that the last thing your father needs is me sniping at him.”

“Jess and Nikki, and, well, everyone else have already threatened him if he tries to use me again, or even makes me upset,” Vayne assured him. “He won’t be surprised? You’re the only one of the workshop who hasn’t met him, not properly, and you’re the one I wanted to introduce him to the most. You’re my pactmate, so that’s… It’s like being family, isn’t it?”

Roxis adjusted his glasses and looked at Vayne. “The short answer is no, it would be incredibly arrogant of me to claim that it did, when you are a mana and I’m simply a human.” Hubris, the deadly sin of pride. “But apparently we are related, however distantly.”

“Through Lilith,” Vayne agreed, relieved. Had he been intending to make that argument if Roxis argued about the pact. “I know that your family is important to you. I was worried that you’d be insulted, or think it was presumptuous of me, or…”

“Vayne,” Roxis said, cutting off the babble. “After all this, we’re all family, I think.”

Vayne laughed. “Even Pamela?”

“There’s a story in my family about a crazy great-uncle who became convinced he was a ghost and began to go about wailing and rattling chains at all hours while the rest of the house was attempting to sleep, except for the ones who were working on night syntheses of course. They had to lock him up in a padded room at night eventually so he couldn’t make noise by moving the furniture around, either. So yes, even Pamela wouldn’t be entirely out of place. I’m afraid.” Embarrassing as it was. “Either way, it’s only fair, when you’ve already met my father.”

“But we didn’t really have much time to talk.” Johann had ditched the rest of them when they reached the top of the floating island.

“He wanted to assist, but he’s only been able to do proper alchemy since he pacted with Lutanus, and the Vice Principal was with us, remember?” Roxis explained.

“Oh, right, he would have used Thothian alchemy to fight. Summoning monsters… that’s kind of like Pamela, come to think of it.”

Roxis didn’t think anything of that, which might have caught his attention if he didn’t have other concerns. “Has anyone seen my father since the rest of you got back to campus?” Roxis hadn’t had time to go look for him, not when Pamela had to stay in the infirmary so the Wings of Icarus would work, since she was some sort of honorary faculty member, and once the temporarily dead, including Melanie herself, started coming in Roxis, Anna and everyone they could flag down had their hands full getting them healed and revived in time.

“He didn’t come here with Ewan?” Vayne wondered. “He and Lutanus were asking him about Zee Meruze’s library. They wandered off, but I heard from Anna” and all that commotion, “that he came here.”

“Well, if I go with you to where all the others are, he’s bound to show up eventually.” Or Roxis could ask the Vice Principal where he was. Or even the Principal, since new student registration, of an adult no less…

“Hey,” Tony greeted them as they headed down the steps into the dungeon. “Your dad’s pretty cool!”

“I did not want to hear that from you,” Roxis muttered under his breath.

“What was that?” Tony asked. Renee just gave him a look because like seriously? Grow up?

“Hey, Roxis!” Johann waved enthusiastically, and that was when it hit Roxis that he was going to be going to school with his father, although at least, “They think I’ll be able to test into your classes!”

…No, it looked like they would not be in different years.

And while his explorer and trickster of a father had indeed seemed very cool to Roxis as a boy, the trouble was that he was the kind of cool that would appeal to people like Tony, who was at least graduating, and Flay. Roxis could already imagine the two of them hatching ‘benevolent’ plots, and heaven help him if the two of them decided to make sure that Roxis was engaged by the time he left Al Revis, so there was no need to worry about being pressured into an engagement by the king as soon as he returned. The goal would be to bind him more tightly to the kingdom, and Roxis wanted to spend a few years as a wandering alchemist, learning to deal with different conditions and local variations in ingredients first.

He would have to ask Vayne if he wanted to accompany him, although since Vayne was a mana who didn’t have to stay within a certain radius of his pactmate, that wouldn’t be a barrier, now would it?