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Chapter 4: Wherein Harlock Cooper Does Not Point and Laugh

His Honour, the Grand Magic Master, Wenward Marning, had to see the body with his own eyes before he would accept the truth. It was, doubtlessly, a corpse. Now only the shell that had, for thirty-three years, contained Harlock Cooper, with the face that had belonged to him, his eyes drawn shut as if in sleep - but the slightly greenish tint in his pale skin spoke otherwise. The face was now nothing but a mask, an effigy of what he had looked like and therefore so different from what he had been. Harlock was not there.

And still, Marning did not believe, not entirely, not even when he looked with his Wielder sight and saw the truth as plainly as he saw it with his human eyes, not even when hours passed, and the rising sun made the sky blush crimson. He could not fathom this reality, because his world simply went crashing down around his ears.

He was old, too old for this.

Harlock Cooper had been the darling of the Kingdom. He was admired for his achievements and for his sheer talent, greater than anything the world had seen.
His name was spoken with awe throughout the continent, and his deeds were known also in faraway lands beyond the ocean. Even Marning, who was closer than any man had ever come to Harlock Cooper, the nearest thing the King's Magician had had in the way of a father, found himself constantly astonished by Harlock.

There was a day twenty four years before when a boy of nine years, the son of a crippled and dying glassmaker, had sneaked into the chambers of the Grand Master and audaciously requested to be trained by him, and by him alone. Marning had flatly refused the low-born boy and had even tried to have him arrested, for the Grand Magic Master, overseer of all Wielders and magicians in the Kingdom, took on students from only the most privileged and powerful magicians.

Only when the boy could not be apprehended by his guards, nor by Marning himself did he begin to grasp the enormity of young Cooper's Wielder ability. He remembered the revelation; it was like a starving pauper discovering grand riches. The dry desert of young Wielders finally yielded an oasis. At last the future held hope.

And indeed, Cooper had been greater than anyone dared imagine possible. While he was arrogant, selfish and overly confident, he was also daring enough to invent new laws for magic, and he was special, simply better in every way than any other magician had ever been.

It was as if he had come from a different world. He certainly had no regard for such things as status and tradition. But even though his actions occasionally offended the highest among magicians, even though scandal had followed him about like a shadow, he was loved passionately. The world had waited for a Wielder like him for so long.

Cooper shone, and Marning shone with him - for the saying goes: "Behind every successful magician there is a modest master who guided him onto the path of Wielding."

*

Marning sighed and wiped his eyes dry. Why would Harlock die? Why now? It was just so unlike him to die such a simple, unglamorous and unimpressive death. But he had checked and re-checked the body. It was indeed him. Not even Harlock Cooper could fake that. Marning searched his mind for any signs, anything at all in Harlock's recent behaviour that would indicate that his death was coming. Harlock often spoke of death, but that was not unusual. Every War Magician was obsessed with death in the way that a snake-keeper is obsessed with venom.

Magic always demanded a price; part of being a magician was making sure that the price you paid was never your life.

Shwort bustled in uninvited, laying a tray with an assortment of breakfast food - cheeses and bread-rolls - on the table before Marning. Shwort had been Marning's personal secretary for forty years. He was five years older than the Grand Master, yet he looked a decade younger. He went about things in a matter-of-fact way. In high times and low, Shwort maintained the same efficient, professional and steady manner Marning had come to depend upon.

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