The Praedian Records

J.G. Phoenix

Lydia’s Golden Treasury

Armor of the Unburdened

You’re hired,” Lydia’s words opened up a whole new world of possibilities for Enya. She would never forget them.

Enya was let into the estate of Duchess Lydia von Tenebrae by a servant woman. It was a long way from Libero Chapel, her previous residence. The magnificence on display made the new hire’s head spin. The Classical Clesian splendor she had grown up with couldn’t hold a candle to the gilded halls of the Tenebrae Estate. Everything around her was a work of art in its own right, crafted from the finest, and rarest of materials. Elaborate patterns on the marble floors erupted from the walls and converged at regular points along the main hall. The building’s mana conduits, so common out here in the East, were expertly and painstakingly crafted to weave in and out of view.

As striking as the individual elements were, there was a warm, harmonious glow bringing Enya’s new surroundings together. She thought she would have been more nervous having come this far into the building, but that inviting warm glow was more than enough to put her mind at ease for the moment. That had to be by design, she mused. Had all of this been conceived by a single architect? If so, they were probably famous. Enya was fairly certain the architect was also a faber.

She was quietly escorted to an office on the first floor of the main building. Enya expected to find Lydia inside, maybe reading something or making progress on another one of her own books. She knew it was a bit risky, but Enya realized that this would be a good opportunity to ask Lydia for a favor. She had brought her favorite book with her today, with the hope of getting it signed by the author. Even at the risk of being annoying, Enya wanted to find the right moment to ask.

When the servant let her inside, Enya saw two more, but Lydia was nowhere in sight. One of the servants was middle-aged man with thin grayish-brown hair combed back and out of the way. His clothes were similar to the other male servants Enya had seen in passing, but had accents on the cuffs and near his collar that gave her the distinct impression he held some kind of rank or seniority over the others. Maybe he was the one in charge of all the others. Whatever the case, he was even busy looking over a document and didn’t seem to notice Enya and her escort coming in. That was what she expected from someone in that kind of position.

The other servant was a young man, much closer to Enya’s age. His chair rocked precariously back and forth as he balanced himself with his foot on the leg of the desk. Enya had seen enough people hurt themselves to know how that oafish behavior might play out. As if that wasn’t worrying enough, his attire was in total disarray. His coat was wide open, his shirt was mostly untucked, and he was rocking himself in that chair with a pair of old gym shoes. Enya wasn’t even completely certain his shoes matched. She only knew that one was considerably more worn down at the top than the other.

Enya began to suspect that her acceptance for this position had something to do with the young servant at the desk. Having never really felt qualified to work at the Estate, Enya wondered if her hiring wasn’t the last step in a series of moves to replace this lout. Why else would he be sitting in this luxurious office if not to be formally let go? What else could those documents be but damning reports about him?

“Master Wheeler,” the woman escorting Enya spoke softly, “This is Enya Ward. She’s the new hire you were expecting today.”

“H-hello,” Enya stammered, acutely aware she was no longer a spectator. “I’m Enya Ward. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

The middle-aged man smiled and stood up from the desk. “Good day. I am Irving Wheeler, Master of Mistress Lydia’s Golden Treasury. No need to be nervous.”

“So she’s the new one?” The young man didn’t get up, he merely craned his neck around for a better view. He was far from impressed. “Looks like a broom pusher,” he shrugged.

Enya grit her teeth. He wasn’t completely wrong, but she and her family were groundskeepers for the Libero Chapel. Not mere ‘broom pushers.’ A groundskeeper’s work came with pride and diligence. And who was he to talk about her that way? If he didn’t look so proud of himself, Enya was sure she could crush him flat with a few scathing remarks of her own. There was nothing for it, though. She was here for her sake, not to get into a squabble with a scruffy boy who probably wouldn’t even be here come tomorrow.

As Enya’s escort left, Irving stepped around the desk and approached her with an open hand. “Ms. Ward, from now on, you will be working here on the grounds. Since today is your first day, consider it an orientation.”

“I’m happy to be here, Master Wheeler,” Enya shook his hand, “I promise I’ll do my very best.”

“Hmm. Quite the contrast,” Wheeler shot a weary glance at his other subordinate. “Todd, get up and introduce yourself.”

With a sigh, the irreverent servant, Todd, stood up and turned to face them. That was when Enya noticed a small stain on his shirt. She couldn’t help but recoil at the sight of it. It was a faint blemish but it may have been a tea stain. Coffee maybe? Both seemed almost too refined for him.

“Todd Brace,” the young man introduced himself. He put his hands in his coat pockets in lieu of a handshake, “We’re in the same boat so you can take it easy.”

Enya winced at that. The thought of ‘taking it easy’ was offensive enough on its own; she couldn’t afford that luxury back home. Hearing it from a boy with a stained, untucked shirt almost felt like some kind of test.

“Trust me,” Todd said, apparently sensing Enya’s doubts, “the job’s not hard. Lydia just needs people she can trust to keep all her stuff organized. She loans out items, we get’em prepped. They come back, we put’em away. Easy work, easy money.”

As vague as all of that sounded, Enya got a surprising amount of information out of it. Her first impression of Todd was still an unmitigated disaster, but she was ready to get on with her own orientation. Todd hadn’t mentioned any custodian work, but Enya had her own suspicions about that. The boy couldn’t keep himself together, so he obviously weaseled his way out of any real work that needed doing. She was different; always attentive, always alert, always accommodating. That had to be one of the reasons Enya was chosen over so many other applicants at the university. That and they clearly needed someone more presentable working alongside Irving.

“I suppose that is one way of looking at it,” Irving shrugged faintly. He started out of the office and beckoned Todd and Enya. “Let’s head down and show you around the world’s largest private inventory.”

“Lead the way, Master Wheeler,” Enya said, happy to forget Todd and follow Irving.

Enya’s mental image of the Golden Treasury steadily evolved as she saw more and more of Lydia’s home. At first, she envisioned a library, a library also filled with unique items. From there, a kind of history museum took shape. Then, something more secluded came into being: a closely guarded complex of rooms with plain, heavily reinforced walls, and rows upon rows of ancient treasures. The polished warmth of the main building’s interior slowly crept into the design, bringing some much needed vibrancy back into the picture. It was the Golden Treasury, wasn’t it? Not the ‘Tenebrae Museum,’ and not ‘Lydia’s Bunker.’

One thing Enya figured would have to stand out was the entrance. If all sorts of treasures came through this area, it had to be large enough to accommodate them. Maybe there would be large double doors reinforced by runic locks, accessible only with a special key.

A golden key, naturally.

After a couple of minutes of walking the group arrived near the center of the main building. Enya’s mental image of the Golden Treasury had morphed and taken on different themes of the estate itself several times. They came to a shallow ramp leading down to a pair of large slab doors. The ramp went three meters down, was fourteen meters long, and was flanked on either side by a staircase. Enya had been on the mark where the entrance was concerned. She was only taken aback by the implication that they were going underground.

Then she thought about it a little more.

“Here we are,” Irving said.

“That makes sense,” Enya nodded to herself, “Where better to keep a private inventory than a basement?

“Quite.” Irving led them down the right staircase and toward the large double door at the bottom. “This is the service entrance, so you won’t be using it outside of work.”

Just the thought of having to force those heavy doors open by herself made Enya shrink. There was no managing that in her imagination, much less reality.

She watched as Irving led them right up to the doors to try and learn how to properly open them. She didn’t see any handles or levers anywhere, so there had to be some sort of trick.

“Open up, now,” Irving said with just a hint of impatience.

Enya thought there might be someone on the other side that could let them in, but a light flashed between the doors and out of every crack, as if mana were active and overflowing inside. Then, the doors began to open and slowly glide into the walls to either side. There was a faint grinding sound as the enormous slabs parted, but nothing like what Enya expected to hear from such heavy moving doors. There were no markings left behind on the floor, no residue, and no tracks for the doors to ride on. Whatever set of mechanisms were at work were designed to completely spare the floor. Just inside the area behind the doors, the marble floor sharply transitioned to concrete, with more obvious mana conduits running along the walls and along the floor. Ahead of them was a sizable corridor, something even a small vehicle could easily pass through.

“Is that a hallway?” Enya’s nearsightedness was playing tricks on her. She couldn’t see the end of the path in front of them. The more she tried to make it out, the longer the path seemed to stretch out. She regretted not taking a cab to the Tenebrae Estate. Her legs were still sore, and orientation or no, she still had a long day ahead of her.

“We aren’t going too far in,” Irving assured her, “This great old passage leads to several places, not simply the Golden Treasury.”

“Oh.” Come to think of it, the Duchess used to be Idolus’ Primarch, and this estate here in the capital had been her home since at least that time. It was only natural there was more to the Tenebrae Estate than Enya knew.

“Hey, thanks!”

Everyone followed the voice to a pair of men, more inventory workers like Todd. No, not quite like Todd. They wore their coats properly, tucked their shirts, and wore matching shoes. They were rolling a hefty black case toward the service entrance and had just reached the top of the ramp. “That’s great timing. We were just bringing this back.”

“Hmm,” Irving placed a hand on his chin and eyed the case carefully, “Which item is that?”

“King Mnemos’ armor,” one of the workers answered after double-checking the case’s ID.

“Ah, the king’s unburdening.”

“What’s that?” Enya asked. All she could see was the case and the two handlers approaching them.

“Right. We’ll take it from here,” Irving said, “We have a new hire,” he gestured at Enya, “and I want to show her how we do things.”

“Good idea,” the worker at the front nodded. The two of them eased the large case down the ramp and over to Irving and his helpers. Then they waved goodbye, leaving well ahead of the small group and heading deep into the service corridor.

“So, what’s King Mnemos’ Unburdening” Enya asked again.

“Well,” Irving began, “the armor itself has no name that we’re aware of. However, the legend is well known in the East. King Mnemos wasn’t the only man to wear the armor, so we’ve taken to calling it the Armor of the Unburdened. Quite the cautionary tale if you can endure its predictability.”

“Why don’t I tell you the story while we return the armor?”

“I want to hear it,” Enya said. This was her first chance to learn about the history of one of Lydia’s treasures. Besides, what better way to pass the time in that seemingly endless corridor?

Todd sighed as he inspected the case, “I don’t, but whatever. Regale us with your legends, Irving.”

Enya scowled at him. Todd’s reckoning was coming soon, wasn’t it? It didn’t seem to be, and that was a little worrisome.

“The story of King Mnemos actually begins with the previous King, his father, Evander,” Irving explained as the group started down the service tunnel, “The Kingdom of Ledonia was losing whole swaths of territory to invaders from the west, the Vandals. Great conquerors are always cropping in the west, it seems.”

“You know some of us have heard this story before,” Todd said impatiently, “like several times. Could you try to make it interesting?”

“Interesting?” Irving cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Can’t you focus on pushing the armor and stop being so rude?” Enya countered, ready for the drama if it came to that, “Please continue, Master Wheeler.”

Todd leaned toward Enya. “Hey, I’m doing you a favor. You’re so happy to be here but hearing the same stories with no twist or new angle gets old. Oh, and try to tone it down with the reverence. You’re not gonna get canned for calling him Irving. ‘Master’ is just a maid thing.”

Enya was pinning him with daggers. It was one thing to be obnoxious, but he still wanted to drag her down to his level. “I wouldn’t dream of it! In Clese, we’re respectful to authorities and our seniors in every field.”

“I really doubt that.”

“It’s true!” Enya huffed. She was torn between the story of King Mnemos’ armor and the reasoning behind Todd’s employment in such an important establishment. She wanted to hear both stories right here and now. She decided to go after the Todd problem first. “Master Wheeler, why does he work here? He’s … terrible. There were a hundred people at the university that were better for this job than both of us. I don’t understand.”

“It’s alright, Enya,” Irving said, “Todd made an important point earlier. Mistress Lydia needs people she can trust in the Golden Treasury. Likewise, King Mnemos needed people he could trust with the secret of his armor.”

“People she can trust,” Enya repeated the words, searching for some deeper meaning. She had no doubt the Golden Treasury’s security was top of the line, but there was more to this. There had to be; Todd worked here.

“Now then, the armor. Let’s see if I can’t pique Todd’s interest this time.” Irving took a moment to clear his throat, and then to the surprise of both of the young workers, he began to sing.

“My king, anointed and dearest Evander, returned to the earth from whence he came.”

“A song?” Todd’s pace slowed and his brows furrowed. “I never get songs with these old stories.”

“And I never get any enthusiasm out of you when I tell these old stories,” Irving smirked, “Funny how that works. Now, from the top.”

My king, anointed, our dearest Evander, returned to the earth from whence he came.

Majestic, undaunted, our peerless defender, Ledonians fight on in his glorious name.

Of victory and plunder the Vandals did sing, Ledonia burns, she burns all around.

Now I, Prince Mnemos am sworn to be king, his oaths heralded the gilded crown.

A curse was upon me, my fear did take hold, a boy made king, a mere fourteen year old.

The Mystic, he soothed me with tales of the bold, of men unburdened and clad all in gold.

My heart was at ease, I made north with all haste, they journeyed north to find the land.

Not one man turned back from the horrors we faced, the armor was surely nigh in hand.

How long have we tarried, how long have we fought? A season has past and the mountain runs red.

My fear was cast down, I have seen what I wrought, the Unburdening Armor lies just ahead.

The inscriptions make known a most solemn act, forsaking knowledge of every deed.

Now donning the armor shall seal the pact, for power, for courage, and every need.

‘The contract begins,’ these words did I speak, these words were not of his own accord.

This armor I bear for the sake of the weak, they returned to Ledonia to lay low the horde.

Cruel laughter and mocking returned with my sight, a plot most foul and for decades discrete.

Men in my court, they were filled with delight, the words he did speak, ‘The contract is complete.’

A reign I knew not had just come to an end, his memories lost as if only a dream.

No loyalty here, they all willed to ascend, they put to action this dastardly scheme.

The armor was gone, I knew not where I erred, for him, the past they would not regale.

The Mystic appeared and my life was spared, in exile, King Mnemos would hear his own tale.

Irving had led the group to a large open area underground. They arrived before Enya even knew it thanks to Irving’s song.

“What about the rest?” Todd said as he guided the armor’s case down the ramp, “You skipped over the whole war and Mnemos’ people trying to get rid of him.”

Irving chuckled “But of course. This song takes on multiple perspectives, including my own. King Mnemos lost all knowledge of the war–as well as the entirety of his reign–after being tricked out of the armor by his own servants. Filling in that part on such notice is a bit beyond me for the moment.”

“Oh, you made all that up on the spot. Fabers ….”

Enya knew a fair number of full-blooded fabers in Clese, and improv was something the choirs were quite good at. They prided themselves on being able to produce something new for services each week. Enya didn’t know what to expect working for Irving, but his singing reminded her of them. Her enthusiasm was only building.

“So we’re missing parts?” Enya asked. Not knowing the original story, She had been bobbing and swaying along with Irving, mostly oblivious.

“Perhaps I’ll come up with something from the Mystic’s perspective next time,” Irving teased.

“Or,” Todd leaned toward Irving insistently, “maybe an omniscient perspective instead of Mnemos’. Not that it matters. You should just tell us what happened without getting in character.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re finally taking an interest in all of this, Todd. It’s quite refreshing, I must say.”

“Forget it,” Todd scoffed, “Do what you want, Irving.”

More ramps and stairways led down into the deep archives of the Golden Treasury. The walls were plain, plated with metal, and lined with countless compartments. The rows stretched on in both directions just like the service tunnel, with only occasional gaps that formed aisles. There was no telling how far it all went, but Enya suspected the Golden Treasury was much larger than the mansion above it.

Irving continued to lead them through the vast inventory until they reached the place where the Armor of the Unburdened was kept, inside the deep storage area. Irving stopped them just short of a gallery where numerous item cases were positioned away from the walls. Some of the cases were missing, exposing strange insets on the floor. Enya figured their case belonged on one of them. There was little in the way of markings or other identifiers that could help her guess which one.

“Welcome to Deep Storage,” Irving said, making sure Todd and Enya stopped, “The Golden Treasury is made up of several layers, somewhat mimicking the Agian hierarchy of spells. The first layer is the ‘Retrieval’ layer. The second is the ‘Inspectory’ layer, and the third is for deep storage. While they’re somewhat self-explanatory, I’ll have you know that Mistress Lydia can summon any item from the Golden Treasury at any time. The staff is limited to the retrieval layer, however.”

Something began to click for Enya. “Is that why we can’t just send items back with mana?”

“That’s part of it,” Irving smiled, glad she was quick on the uptake, “Most of the staff aren’t mages to begin with and those that are can’t be expected to bear such a tremendous burden.”

“Better to move the heavy stuff with calories than mana, right?” Todd said.

“Yes, and as part of the agreement to loan out items from Lydia’s inventory, we need to decouple them from the security system. Otherwise, bad things can happen. Well, that about sums it up. Now, Enya, you’ve been wondering about Todd here, haven’t you?”

Enya wasn’t sure she wanted to know why he worked here anymore. She was almost afraid to hear a justification she might actually agree with. Either way, it was becoming increasingly obvious that Irving had no intention of replacing Todd with her. Whatever was happening in the office earlier wasn’t what she thought it was.

“You don’t have to tell me,” Enya looked away from them both. She didn’t need to hear whatever it was that made Todd better qualified for this job than her. It was enough to know that his obnoxious behavior was completely overshadowed by it.

“Then he can show you,” Irving said, stepping over to the case containing the armor, “Items in deep storage are often associated with runic systems and languages that can be quite incomprehensible to the uninitiated.”

With a heavy sigh, Todd snapped his fingers to get Enya’s attention and then knelt down in front of the case. “Look at this,” he said as he held an open hand out in front of the face of the case. He brought it up and toward himself slowly, leaving increasingly energized mana in its wake.

Enya could see words appearing on the case, outlined by the glowing mana. She came closer to try and read the text, but even the letters were completely foreign to her. “What’s it say?” she turned to Irving.

“I haven’t the foggiest,” Irving shrugged in amusement, “Or at least that’s what I would say if Todd hadn’t translated it for me. That is the full account of the Armor of the Unburdened from its original bearer to King Mnemos. It’s written in one of the acer dialects.”

“He translated it?” Todd had Enya’s attention again.

“Yes, he did, but bear in mind that the acer didn’t chronicle anything regarding King Mnemos, at least not to my knowledge. Todd translated the text into their language when we loaned the armor to them. He could just as easily change it to Laytier or a more common language.”

“My family’s really into that kind of stuff, so I grew up around it,” Todd half explained.

Enya could tell he wasn’t interested in going into the details, but she didn’t believe for one second that he could excel beyond Irving in anything by just being around the right people. “You didn’t just grow up around it. That would be like me becoming a good groundskeeper just by watching my family. You need the experience to know how to pace yourself and build up endurance.”

“Indeed,” Irving nodded in agreement, “Todd’s parents taught him every system of writing they knew and he helped them with their work. I’ve yet to stump him with a system he’s not at least familiar with. It’s quite remarkable given his heritage. Just this morning he put the final touches on an ancient war correspondence the Roburo scholars were busy scratching their heads over.”

Was that the document Irving was reading earlier? “So that’s why.”

“Enough about me. Let’s get started.” Todd began inspecting the case with both hands, feeling around its corners while Irving and Enya watched. “Before we put items back, we have to stabilize the mana flow and sync it back up with the system here. After that, we put it onto its slot and it’s officially back where it belongs. That’s the whole procedure in a nutshell.”

“Stabilize the mana flow.” Enya was a little embarrassed to hear it explained in those terms. She didn’t even know what he meant by that. Todd really was more qualified to be here than she was. No amount of politeness on her part could make up for the sheer difference in expertise and usefulness.

An alarm sounded. It was just loud enough to get Enya reaching to cover her ears. She only stopped so she could hear Irving.

“Not often this happens. Let’s see what the problem is.”

“Attention. Item 3-A-340 has gone active and is no longer under control. I repeat,” a voice came in through unseen speakers overhead.

“What’s that item?” Enya asked. As soon as she did, the alarm thankfully stopped.

“I haven’t seen it myself,” Irving said, “but I know it’s of Sulan origin. Some kind of old machine. Mistress Lydia found it recently and decided to keep it rather than hand it over to the Sulans.”

“Think we should help them out?” Todd said, “That’s not far from here, and Sulan tech can be pretty nasty.”

“Perhaps, but …” Irving glanced at the armor’s case, concern in his eyes. The timing could have been better. “I don’t like leaving the armor out here like this.”

Todd flashed Irving a mischievous grin. “Let’s take it with us. One of us can put it on and be the bait.” Before Irving could even stare him down, Todd quickly said, “Kidding! Kidding! I doubt the armor’s contract still works anyway. Let’s just have Enya keep an eye on it while we’re gone.”

“You want me to wait here?” Enya glanced back and forth between Irving and Todd. She supposed she ought to. If dangerous machines or magic were involved, she might only get in the way. This was probably the best opportunity she was going to get to prove to Irving that, while she wasn’t as knowledgeable as Todd, she was at least dependable, and guarding the armor was a fairly easy way of doing that. She couldn’t possibly mess that up. “Okay,” she decided on her own, “I’ll keep the armor safe.”

Pressed for time, Irving agreed. “We’ll be back as soon as possible.”

Enya stayed behind, watching until they were both out of sight. A small part of her wondered if she would ever see them again. There was no telling where Item ‘3-A-340’ was, and the sheer scale of the Golden Treasury made the possibility hard to ignore. The only thing Enya could be sure of was that waiting was going to make her very, very anxious.

Looking more closely, Enya tried to make out the inscriptions on the case again. It was completely foreign, and yet Todd, of all people, understood it. This was the same boy who couldn’t keep his appearance together or show due deference to save his life, and yet he could still read and write circles around her. Enya tried to shake off her disappointment. “You have your job, now focus.”

Minutes passed and neither Irving nor Todd returned. There were no new announcements over the intercom, and no one else had come through the area. Enya was all alone. She was used to spending time by herself in Libero Chapel, but the Golden Treasury was a completely foreign place to her. Having to simply stand by only made matters worse for her. Enya’s job as a groundskeeper was never to be idle. She should have at least been tidying up anything that looked out of place. Her only option was the Armor of the Unburdened and its large, glowing inscription-covered case. Todd hadn’t done his part yet, so Enya wasn’t inclined to try moving it.

Ten minutes later, Enya found herself inspecting the armor. Centuries of mere existence had done their worst; the luster was long gone and the large plates seemed almost fragile somehow. Despite the toll of time, the armor had come right out of Irving’s song. Curious, Enya carefully reached out with her finger and lightly tapped one of the bracers. Thankfully nothing happened. She was caught of guard by the bracer’s light weight when she picked it up. The armored glove came with it, and Enya carefully inspected them.

“King Mnemos actually wore this.” For decades, apparently. The thought nearly made Enya recoil, but she kept holding the bracer.

She was still alone, and Enya was starting to wonder if she would be here like this all day. Whatever that Sulan machine was, it was keeping everyone else occupied. Maybe something bad was happening and being stuck here would keep her from ever knowing about it or being able to help. Her grip on the bracer tightened as the thought nagged at her. “What should I do?”

The thought occurred to her once: put on the bracer, but she could tell at a glance the armor was forged for someone more than twice her size. It would slide off her arm at the slightest push. She was just about to put the bracer back onto the case when the ground shook. A noise almost like an explosion and a short tremor nearly brought her to her knees. “What was that?!”

The cold metal gauntlet on her cheek brought her attention back to the armor. She didn’t realize she’d been holding the bracer so close. “That’s … that’s not how armor works,” she said, trying to laugh it off.

That noise and the accompanying tremor were worrisome. Irving made it clear the situation in the treasury wasn’t normal.

Enya slowly rose up to set the bracer back. “What now? Just put everything back and wait here? What if they’re in danger? What if Todd was right?” He had suggested taking the armor with them. Whether he was joking or not, the situation was dangerous. Enya wanted to help, not fret back here by the armor. There didn’t seem to be anything she could do, though. Not only did Enya herself not have the right body to wear the armor, but neither did Irving or Todd. The armor was clearly meant to be worn by a tall and stalwart man.

Enya put down the bracer and let herself fall into a sitting position just in front of the inscriptions on the case. “None of us can wear it, so even if I take it to them, it won’t make a difference.”

Defeat was bitter, and Enya tried to recall Irving’s song to pass the time. She didn’t remember all the verses, but some definitely stuck out in her mind.

“A curse was upon me, my fear did take hold, a boy made king, a mere fourteen year old …” Enya trailed off into a soft hum as a certain word tugged at her thoughts.

Fourteen. Fourteen?

Something didn’t feel right about all of this. Enya looked up past the inscriptions, but couldn’t see the armor from where she was. She remembered just how large it was. How could a fourteen year old boy do it? Extra padding certainly wasn’t the answer, and yet Irving’s song was clear about what happened. A fourteen year old managed with this very set of armor. “Donning the armor shall seal the pact, for power, for courage, and every need,” Enya recited the verse. Maybe the armor would take care of the fitting issue. If it could handle every need, then it could probably handle that.

Enya stood back up and looked over the set of armor one more time. “Let me try something.” She picked up the bracer again and carefully slid her hand into it. It was embarrassingly easy to get it on. Her fingers slid effortlessly into the affixed gauntlet. Enya could tell right away that she would be dangerously clumsy wearing the whole armor, at best. “That’s what I was worried about,” she sighed.

Suddenly, the armor began to glow. Enya would have slipped off the bracer on reflex, had it not shrunk down around her arm until the fit was perfect. Now she understood King Mnemos encounter with the armor. Anyone who was willing to wear it could wear it. It was just that simple. Enya knew she would probably be in trouble for trying to help, but she would regret it if she stood here with such a powerful artifact, and did nothing while others were getting hurt.

She decided to put on the other bracer, and as soon as Enya made that decision, she heard herself say, “The contract begins.”

Her hand leaped to cover her lips. “What did I just say?”

Another tremor came, and with it dust began to fall from the ceiling. Enya was transfixed by the streams overhead. Structural stress was never a good sign. The Sulan machine was still wreaking havoc somewhere nearby.

Enya put on the bracer and just like before, it shrunk to fit her. She pressed on but she was worried about more than just everyone’s safety. The Armor of the Unburdened was a set of magical armor. King Mnemos wore it for decades and lost his memories after he was tricked into removing it. So what would happen to her if she tried to use it? Maybe, she reasoned, she could wear it for just a few minutes. The sooner she took it off, the fewer of her memories would be lost. It wasn’t the most encouraging idea, but it seemed better to put the armor on herself and be Todd’s ‘bait’ than bring it to him or Irving and expect them to put it on in the middle of a crisis.

“Am I doing the right thing? What if there’s an unbreakable rule about this?” She wasn’t stopping in spite of herself, fastening the armored belt in place as soon as she was finished with the breastplate. The helmet was the sole remaining piece. Enya held it in front of her and glanced at the armor’s case. It was empty, but the glowing inscriptions were still there. She’d gone too far to turn back now. The worst that could happen to her was breaking some taboo only to arrive too late to make a difference. “Please forgive me, but I can’t just stand by. Whatever this machine is, I’m going help stop it.”

As soon as Enya put on the helmet, a brilliant light swallowed her up. All she knew for certain was that the Armor of the Unburdened was no mere relic.

“The contract is complete,” Enya heard herself say, her senses quickly coming back to her. She was dumbstruck to see the armored belt just now leaving her hand. Irving had graciously accepted it from her as if everything was fine. Todd stood a safe distance away with an insufferable, knowing smirk. Even Lydia, of all people, was here now. The implications were terrifying. Irving might have been more understanding about the situation, but the very person who hired her, the owner of the Tenebrae Estate and everything inside it, and her personal hero, she may have seen it as a step too far. This was simply too much for Enya to take in all at once.

Irving wasn’t the least bit bothered by the situation, nor was he surprised by Enya’s face. He handed each piece of the armor to Lydia, who promptly placed them back into the open case. No one said a word to Enya at first, despite everything.

“What happened? Can someone please tell me?” She was scared and couldn’t hide that fact from anyone. She followed Irving expecting Todd to be sent away, but it was far more likely to be her after a stunt like this.

“Are you serious?” Todd said.

“Y-yes, I’m serious,” Enya fired back, “I was just putting on the armor and now everyone’s back. It’s like I was daydreaming.”

Irving chuckled and even Lydia stifled a laugh as Enya’s eyes darted between the two, desperately looking for answers.

“Did you really forget?” Todd shook his head, “I guess that armor does still work.”

“Why did you ever doubt that?” Irving fixed Todd with a scowl, “So, are you satisfied with your little experiment, Enya?”

How could she be? Enya didn’t remember anything that happened after donning the armor. Not a single detail. She didn’t even know how long ago all of this started. She was afraid to even ask. Even so, it had to be done.

First, she knew a deep and sincere apology was in order, to Irving, and especially to Lydia. “I’m so sorry,” Enya forced her head down and clasped her hands together, “I shouldn’t have put on the armor, not even in a panic. That was by far the most disrespectful thing I’ve ever done.”

“Hah,” Irving’s shoulders hopped, “what a paragon, this child.”

“I promise I will never ever do something so brazen and dishonest again, Mistress Lydia, Master Wheeler.”

“Ugh, tear your coat while you’re at it,” Todd winced at the scene.

“It’s alright, Enya,” Lydia said. She came up to the girl and placed her hands on her shoulders. “As it turns out, you were very helpful in the end.”

“I was? What happened with the Sulan machine? How long was I wearing the armor?”

“Two days,” Todd said.

“I’d say just about thirty-eight hours,” Lydia clarified.

“What?! Why did I wear it for so long?!”

“I’m afraid we won’t be answering that,” Irving said, “Not in any meaningful detail, at least. Perhaps one day.” He was apologizing in his own way, but there was no hiding his amusement.

Lydia touched the case containing the armor, grabbing Enya’s attention. “While you did help us with a serious problem here in the treasury, you went behind Master Irving’s back. We decided the most appropriate punishment would be to abide the contract you made with the armor. You have no memory of events and we won’t speak a word of them. I was pleasantly surprised you agreed to it so quickly, Enya.”

“I did?”

Todd cocked his head at her, “You said it was the right thing to do a second ago.”

Enya had to admit, that did sound like her. She shuffled uncomfortably as she imagined events playing out. The guilt was strong, strong enough that Enya would have accepted any punishment for disobeying Irving. Knowing she’d been of any help at all was little comfort when she couldn’t remember anything.

Fortunately for Enya, Lydia was well equipped to brighten her day. “By the way, it’s only a small thanks, but here,” the duchess held out her hand and in a burst of latent mana, a book materialized. It was Enya’s book The Traveler by Lydia von Tenebrae.

Enya accepted the book, but a whole host of questions came with it. She only brought it with her in the hope of getting it signed toward the end of the day. She never actually spoke with Lydia about it or passed the book along to her. Moreover, the way it appeared out of thin air suggested it was added to the retrieval layer of the Golden Treasury. Enya wasn’t sure why or even when that happened. It was likely just another piece of information missing from her time in the armor. Maybe, Enya mused, just maybe there was a reason for all of it. She opened the book cover looking for anything that might be different.

She was positively overjoyed to have her hopes answered. Right there on the inside of the book cover was Lydia’s signature. “Thank you so much, Mistress Lydia! I promise I’ll never use anything in the treasury again!”

“Easy girl,” Todd held up his hands, “That’s not the problem.”

Lydia nodded, and then she addressed the real problem. “There is no issue with you using the armor if you need to, Enya. It turned out to be the right choice. I only ask that you follow Master Irving’s instructions and respect his wishes. I placed him in charge because I trust his judgment. Among other things.”

“I understand,” Enya said, feeling more excited about her job than ever. “From now on, Master Wheeler, I won’t do anything like that without your permission, first.”

“Wonderful,” Irving said, “You’ll do quite well here with that attitude.”

“Now, would you do the honors?” Lydia gestured at the armor. There was still one more job to do.

“Yes!” Enya handed Irving her book and approached the case. As long as Todd had done his part, all Enya had to do was push it onto its slot. The Armor of the Unburdened would be officially returned to the Golden Treasury. Enya wouldn’t underestimate how heavy the case was now that the armor was inside, and gave it the full body effort the item warranted. It wasn’t long before the case passed over the slot and was stopped cold by a locking mechanism. Enya stepped back as once invisible conduits lit up with mana. All of the light flowed up the armor’s case in a single long wave before vanishing at the summit.

“Thank you, Enya.”

Irving returned Enya’s book with a knowing wink. “Well done, on both of your assignments.”

“I’m here to serve,” Enya said. She bowed to her superiors with a smile, knowing all was well. “So, what’s the next item?”

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