Chapter 3:

Rats & Cheese

Theodora Plays to Win (With Cheat Codes)

Callum did not strictly exist in this world. He had to use proxies to move from place to place and he could not use his own power. He had studied up on some of the more archaic forms of magic on this world since they seemed to be the least “flashy.” The magic on this plane required a lot of excess mana which was why it was rare to see anyone using it. They employed wands and incantations and familiars to curb the “runoff” but it was still excessive. Excess was something humans coveted no matter what universe he was in. They loved to push boundaries regardless of the consequences, no matter what collateral damage they left in their wake, they were loath to be content with what they had. Greed was an enjoyable sickness. The truth of this world was that most people processed enough mana to pull of rudimentary spells and far more were capable of mid and high tier magic but their talents were never honed. Only those with dangerously high mana were accepted as full mages. The runoff from these mages was immense and debilitating. They didn’t live long lives and even simple spells caused large scale havoc. The royal assembly of this nation should have been looking for ways to solve this problem, as they were burning through imperial level mages at an alarming rate, but this was not the case.

Callum activated an invisibility rune. Runes were an archaic alphabet used by ancient magicians to summon power from another plane and shape reality to their will. Runes were combined with geometric patterns to create more complex spell chains. The methods of employing Runes and this manner of spellcasting as a whole were lost ages ago. These were in fact World Code. Each universe had it’s own coding, and so ran by it’s own rules, and only people with knowledge of said code could “edit” it. The creator beings were long lived and bored easily so it was easy to infer that whichever one created this universe decided to “drop” its codebook into this world, to see what would happen. Callum managed to track what was left of it down. About a dozen smeared, faded pages, remained by this point but it was enough.

When it came to Runes, it was best to draw them directly on the thing you are trying to Edit, and so if you wanted to augment your own body, you’d draw it on your own body, engraving it in the flesh was the best option. Interestingly this body Callum possessed had a rune marking on it already, one that wasn’t on the pages he’d found. His best guess was a Preservation Rune, this body was likely thousands of years old, old enough that the rune was starting to lose power, thus the smell.

Callum snuck through the castle doors and into a large meeting hall, no, the throne room. He positioned himself to one side where he could make a quick escape and still hear everything that was going on inside. He’d heard from a source that messengers were on their way from the capital with important news. It appeared something momentous was happening, but trust was something he didn’t have when it came to humans. He needed to know if there was a threat to Katya’s happiness.

The king sat on his throne and his five cabinet members were kneeling before him. The king motioned for them to rise. “You may speak freely, I know you have concerns.”

The first man speaks, “Is it true the prince has decided to seek a bride from outside the capital?”

“Yes. The messengers have already been dispatched.”

“It’s abhorrent. It’s bad enough if it was a commoner he was chasing, but backwards, backwater, inbred peasants are crossing a line.”

“Someone should have stopped him. Something must be done!”

It was turning into a shouting match, all directed and the king. The King raised his hand for silence.

“Gentlemen, my son is in the heat of youth. It is something to be indulged in, celebrated even-”

“Your majesty-”

“However,” his mild expression suddenly puckered, “he is also an impulsive, idealistic, lovelorn fool. I felt much the same as you all-”

“Well, then-”

“I felt much the same as the rest of you, but then I had a thought. What if we took advantage of the situation. I told my son that I would take care of every last detail. There’s no need to fret or take up unnecessary ventures, focus on your studies, leave it up to me and my most trustworthy lieutenants. We’ll sort the matter out.”

“What exactly are you planning?” Everyone’s faces had turned from anger to malicious intrigue.


The noise from the messenger was too much to block out. He was using some kind of magic item to amplify his voice. Blast it! Can’t a sickly bedbound girl get some rest! Hey! Shut up out there! Theo’s voiceless pleas reached no one and the messenger continued.

“Hear ye, hear ye. Prince Bradley of Babel is seeking a bride.” A murmur rose from the villagers. Edith’s heart raced and Cambria let out a quiet, “oh, my.” This was positive news for Cambria, she was buy and large the most promising lady in the village. Though, I’m surely to be the most popular. If Cambria gets scouted by the prince, even as a concubine, then my position in the village is secure. No more riding Cam’s coattails, I can have my pick of whoever I want, I won’t even have to rely on the old folks anymore. It’s the perfect outcome. Edith didn’t hate Rhonda or Cambria but she was often relegated to the role of “one of Cambria’s sisters” as if she was just as generic as Rhonda, no offence to Rhonda, but she had nothing to offer, she might as well have been on the same level as the parasite in the basement.

“All eligible women of commoner mage class and below as well as their families are to report to the capital. A ball will be held, whereby the prince will evaluate potential candidates. If you do not have appropriate attire; gowns, footwear and accessories will be provided upon arrival. A teleportation gate is being constructed and will be operational in two days’ time. Anyone who fails to arrive at the gate by the departure time will be put to death along with their families. That is all. You may all disperse.”


Cambria, Edith, and Theo shouted in unison. The entire village began to stir. How long would they be gone? Why such a largescale summons and why was it mandatory? Was there something else going on? The entire village began to tilt into an uproar of confusion and worry. Town enforcers exited the guard house at the top of the village, right next to Chief Rhoald’s place.

Edith was in a state of shock. Cambria and Rhonda, believe it or not, were third class mages, just above commoner class which means they would be exempt if Edith wasn’t commoner class and Theo wasn’t a powerless worm. This meant that Edith and Theo would get to go to the ball, but it was unlikely that Cam or Rhonda would get to go, right? What was the point of inviting the families too? Surely, the wouldn’t also be attending the ball. It was a quandary; it was beyond suspicious. Every fiber of Edith’s being told her to run. Screw her family. They never saw her as anything but baggage, she was Cambria’s “yes” girl, and nothing more.

What about mother? Just as she was about to dash away, that thought stopped her. Mother was never mean to any of them, no matter how poorly they treated each other, mother never said a bad word. She even scolded them when they were mean to Theo, or she used to. She held out for Theo longer than anyone, but a useless lout was a useless lout. Was mother truly any better than her three daughters? Did she actually care for them even though she was gone for long stretches of time. She’d be back tomorrow, according to Chief Rhoald, and what would she say? What would she do? There was so much going through Edith’s head. Keep it simple. I need to think about me. No one else. I can’t just run, can I? I need to cover my tracks in case things don’t go my way. Edith slipped away, a plan forming as she ran back to the house.


“We will be holding the ball in three days.” The king started to lay out his plan, “I’ve already sent out some intermediate class mages to help with assembling teleportation gates. They’ll be ready by evening two days from now.”

“You’re inviting a bunch of ugly peasant women, with no magic to speak of, to the castle for a formal ball? Have you gone mad, my king?”

“Ha, ha. If I was not in such a good mood, I’d have you beheaded on the spot, ha ha! This is the time to think long and hard on my actions. Don’t you see the opportunity my son has unwittingly put before us. Every other nation is more powerful than us. Casterly has not two, not three, but five Calamity Class mages and what about us. We have none. Bolton has two, Sicily has two, I could go on. Every country has more upper tier mages than us, just in general. What can be done about it? We need to take extreme measures to ensure that our nation’s future strength.”

“You’re not proposing what I think you’re proposing?” A dastardly grin breaks out on the man’s face and as the realization spreads so do the smiles.

“We’ll weed them out. We’re starting with the dirty village rats and work our way back here. Babel will become a beacon of strength. The next generation will be stronger and the one after will be even more so. We’ll lure the rats in with cheese and then squish them flat!”

A soldier standing not far from Callum began to sniff as though he smelled something terrible. It was time for Callum to leave, he would wait until the meeting adjourned and then teleport as fast as he could back to the village. He’d guide Katya to a neighboring kingdom, it wouldn’t be easy but it was better than staying somewhere she was going to die. He wouldn’t let her die again. He couldn’t let her die again.