8.04 T

(The author is on their monthly break until February 6th for Patreons, February 9th for Public readers!)

 

As the cargo ship approached Wistram Academy, it burst into the sun. It had been raining but a moment ago; now, the [Sailors] relaxed and cheered.

They had arrived. And what a long voyage it had been! Too long. Especially to hear one of the passengers complain. The [Captain] himself was glad to be headed towards the docks. He had erred greatly, making a round trip across Pheislant rather than heading straight for the Isle of Mages.

It was usual for anyone who made the Wistram Detour—because the academy was in the ‘center’ of most maps, in the middle of the ocean between all the continents—to go along ports and collect people and [Mages] before heading to Wistram Academy. And given the number of people wanting to go right now—and the number of ships already docked and unloading—it had seemed like a profitable run.

However, the affable Drake [Trading Captain] had nearly yanked out all his neck-spines after nearly a week of being harangued by one of his passengers. The old half-Elf had practically flayed the Drake’s scales off with his tongue alone after hearing he wouldn’t immediately be taken to Wistram.

It wasn’t like he’d paid more than anyone else, as the Drake had patiently pointed out. To which he’d received the astonishing response that a [Mage] paid for service and that the [Captain] shouldn’t have even demanded a fee up front from a real [Mage].

Which was so incomprehensible that the crew had made jokes under their breath the entire cruise about the idea. The [Captain] however, had heard of stuff like that. [Archmages] who’d walk onto a vessel and demand the owner take them somewhere—even if they were [Pirate Lords] or [Storm Captains].

But that was the stuff of old tales. And again—his passenger was a half-Elf who was so old he had white hair, even if he looked imposingly well-preserved.

So the [Captain] had flattered and apologized, and pointed out he was taking fellow [Mages] to Wistram and that they were also taking new students for this quarter…and kept well out of the old man’s way.

Now, he was breathing a sigh of relief as he came into dock. The [Harbormaster] was waving him in; a man whose job was normally cushy, but who was right now cursing as dozens of ships came in and out. Per day.

Not that Wistram didn’t have enough places; it was an island so you could theoretically hop out on shore or take a rowboat, which was what some parties were electing to do. There were other docks too, which had actually been raised out of the sea for this occasion. Normally, Wistram didn’t get this much sea traffic.

But something was up with the academy. And that something was a gathering of [Mages] not seen since they had come together to declare the King of Destruction a public threat oh, thirty, forty years ago?

This was because Wistram had a secret. A big one, that had been circulating the academy since last year.

The Academy of Secrets, as it was sometimes called, traded such things. So—for a small secret, the lowest denomination of their secondary currency, you could learn this:

 

There were a bunch of strange kids in the academy. All Human.

 

Nothing much. That was a ‘small secret’, and it wasn’t even worth much. Small secrets were like that. Hints.

 

If you whistle while walking down a certain corridor, something interesting might happen.

 

For instance, that was a small secret that hinted at a larger truth. Well—this was a ‘spent secret’ in that most people knew about it.

Mage lingo. For instance, the medium-equivalent would be—

 

The Somela Corridor has a secret uncovered by whistling.

 

Or—

 

There are a group of Humans who the Archmages and the factions are fighting over. Here are the names of some of them…

 

More detail, more value. Now, the Somela corridor’s value stopped there since no one really needed to know more than that you could uncover the dedicated music classrooms and auditoriums by whistling a tune while walking there.

A decent tune, mind you. Anyone who couldn’t hold a note didn’t get to get in.

However, the big secrets and grand secrets? Those were where detail was everything. A big secret about what was consuming Wistram? It would include a list of every single one of them, confirmed and unconfirmed, what they’d done to be so interesting—if the secret broker was at all good, obviously—and the following:

 

These children do not come from any nation that can be pointed to on a map. They come from somewhere else, and the Archmages will have anyone’s head who doesn’t have their faction’s backing to tell the secret. And there are more of them being found every week.

 

Not many could afford that secret. Everyone, from the students to the teachers to the [Mages] living in Wistram, knew something about the Earthers. How much? Well…

And it was rare, but this secret had not left Wistram’s halls. The Archmages and the Council had put a lockdown on [Message] spells—since of course they could detect what was being sent—and had warned people. This was a secret for [Mages]. If you think it’s worth blabbing to someone, you might just find it was the last word you ever said in Wistram Academy.

Because they’d kick you out. Not because they’d kill you. Ahem.

It was this secret which was driving everyone to gather here. Because even experienced [Mages] with great friends in the academy received silence when they asked what the hullabaloo was about. Their allies only said one thing: ‘Come back. There’s something important you need to see.’

Thus, they came. And not just those who knew there was something to learn. [Mages] of every species, color, level, and age were congregating at the Academy, or would be on the way. Not all would arrive at one time; for instance, a certain half-Elf [Battlemage] was dragging her companions to the nearest harbor. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t here now, either.

This would be a month-long event. A semester of chaos and meetings and of course, banquets. That was why some [Mages] who hadn’t even graduated from Wistram were coming. For the event, to learn, and to eat. Drakes from Fissival, [Depth Mages] from the Drowned Folk, [Mages] fleeing from Belchan, other academies’ brightest and best to represent them, and so on.

Thus, as the Splendid Scale docked, not only was the [Harbormaster] and his team there to help count cargo, or speed up the unloading of passengers, a number of young [Mages] with diplomatic skills or inclinations were at the docks too.

Because Wistram had no idea who was coming. Oh, they had called on their Archmages, old Councilmembers, [Mages] in good esteem, and everyone on their list, but their actual message’s content had read somewhat differently from a call-to-arms. It was more like a social cue, and a casual one at that.

 

Hey, we’ve got food and drinks and secrets to share. Get over here and bring those braised Phoenix wings you had last time.

 

So they came. A flood of [Mages]. A herd—a pack—a cabal? A sorcery of [Mages], returning home.

One of the young [Bards] in the welcoming committee was adjusting her clothing as the morning sun made her sweat a bit. There wasn’t much of a breeze; Wistram was always sunny and calm and she had a Terandrian doublet, adjusted for a [Bard]’s sense of style, on.

She was one of those rare students whose real class wasn’t exactly [Mage]. But [Bards] used magic! Some of them. Barelle the Bard, for instance. So they’d put her in charge of welcoming Terandrians.

It was her job to sort people coming in. Into the right camps. For instance, there were the Archmages—two had already arrived!

Old Verdan Blackwood, the Dullahan Archmage and one of two from Baleros had actually made the trip, eager to learn what his people were hinting at. He was affiliated with the Iron Vanguard and the Qua-Baleros faction, which was hugely political. Smaller, really; they had more members abroad. They essentially were like the Libertarians with less focus on political reform, but represented their continent of Baleros just as heavily.

More overtly too; the Libertarians pretended like their mostly-Human, pro-interference party wasn’t the party of Terandria. Dullahans didn’t bother. Verdan, by extension, did not either; he was Human, but he was called the Dullahan Archmage because he wore armor like them and was essentially the extension of the Iron Vanguard’s might, for all Archmages were theoretically neutral.

He would have been a stir in himself. But then had come Archmage Valeterisa of Izril. And Wistram had flipped.

The Archmage of Izril had not been seen in a decade! Moreover—the reclusive Archmage had long since left the Academy to pursue her own magic. The fact that she had arrived and immediately demanded to see all the spells that had been invented or discovered was hilarious; she hadn’t even known the full scope of what was happening!

The young [Bard], Mena Alstren, would have loved to be in the academy trading secrets and maybe even meeting the new and powerful [Mages] coming in. But she had been assigned this job and at least she could maybe earn some points by introducing herself! Not that some of the old Terandrian [Mages] would remember her; she’d met half a dozen crotchety old men and women.

As the new boat came alongside the docks and the gangplank was lowered, the young woman glanced up and reluctantly got to her feet off the makeshift benches the greeting party had made out of barrels, sacks, and so on. She heard a call—

“Splendid Scale! No cargo—passengers only! New students, visitors from Izril and Terandria!

“Ah, the new students. Selphid’s tits, I forgot they were coming! Someone greet them. I nominate you, Beme.”

“Me? Oh—fine. But you have to tell one of the [Mages] they need settling in!”

“Tell Cognita. Find a Golem and do it.”

“I don’t want to, though…”

The young Lizardman—really, a Lizardboy—whined. The Centaur was unmoved. He glanced sideways.

“Visitors from Terandria and Izril? That’s you and Seky, Mena.”

“Don’t abbreviate my name.”

An Oldblood Drake grumbled. She nodded at Mena and adjusted her much more open clothing as Mena put a big smile on her face. They began to walk to the gangplank as the students lined up—

From the railings of the trade ship, a pillar of stone smashed the gangplank to bits. The greeting party, [Harbormaster], and other [Captains] and crews recoiled as bits of wood splintered into the water. The pillar of stone caused a huge splash of water.

Some of it got on Mena’s doublet. She stared.

A piece of wood? Is this what we’ve come to? First you cart me all the way to Pheislant like some piece of merchandise and now—out of the way. If no one else will do it, I’ll handle it myself! [Bridge of Light]!”

A shimmering walkway appeared in front of the scared passengers and greeting party. A gently sloping ramp—with stairs on either side, even handrails! Mena gaped.

That was a Tier 4—maybe a Tier 5 spell! She wasn’t sure, but it was more than just the tier that amazed her. It was beautiful. She had seen light-spells like the [Light Wall] version of the famous wall-defensive spells, but it was just…solid light. This? This was semi-transparent, gently molded colors along the vein of yellow such that they turned to green twining tendrils like vines around the railings, orange where the bridge met stone or wood, blue down the center…

It was a piece of art. And it had appeared in an instant.

The new students stared—then flooded down the walkway after testing it gingerly. They were fleeing the irate speaker. Mena looked at Seky and approached nervously. She heard the old half-Elf at the same time as she saw him lecturing the Drake [Trade Captain].

“—one does not make a [Mage] walk down pieces of wood. Not for a returning [Grand Mage] of Wistram! At least I see my reception party is down there, but I expected coordination with the docks! A [Light Bridge] is the least I could expect—not to mention the rain!”

“I am terribly sorry, Grand Mage Eldavin. It’s just that—the—the rain?”

The Drake had a terribly put-upon look. Reflexively, they all glanced towards the horizon; rain was pounding the bubble of calm air and sunny skies.

“Exactly! I was rained upon on our trip here! They couldn’t send a [Weather Mage] to whirl it elsewhere?”

“I—I—I can only apologize again, Grand Magus. But we have arrived! Perhaps you’d care to disembark at this time and put our inferior service behind you?”

The Captain looked like he would like that very much. Eldavin sniffed. He rummaged in his bag of holding.

“It seems it is time. I will not say this was a pleasant trip, [Captain]. Bear in mind proper service next time. However—for your trouble.”

He dropped a ruby the size of the Drake’s palm in the [Captain]’s hand. The Drake’s eyes popped. The half-Elf turned away. Mena began adjusting her doublet. She wished she had a hair-comb.

 

—-

 

The week-long delay had been good for something, at least. After a week, Teriarch had stopped tripping on his toes, and he’d refamiliarized himself with most aspects of having a humanoid body.

What a ridiculous design. Two legs? There was no real support there! He’d fallen too many times, forgetting he had neither tail nor two more legs to keep him stable. Even Drakes had a tail—he should have gone as a Drake.

But half-Elves got to be old without question, so Eldavin had managed. He’d also gotten back into casting spells as…well, [Mages] did it. Put the magic in the box and it worked. Boring, but there you went and it was bad to do magic any other way here.

And he’d arrived. The Dragon—no, half-Elf, he had to be in character—inhaled. Ah, what a relief. The Drake was spluttering, no doubt at the shoddy tip. Well, that was what one got. A real [Grand Mage]’s gratitude, now…

“Um—um—Grand Magus Eldavin? My name is Mena. I and Sekiyas are delighted to welcome you to Wistram Academy!”

A young, Human woman greeted the Dragon with a bow. The Drake beside her did the same, wide-eyed. Teriarch—no—Eldavin—smiled. Then he stopped.

“I am delighted to return. And I see my reception is…?”

He peered past Mena for the rest of the greeting party. But a Lizardman was taking the new students up and to the Academy and the rest hadn’t bestirred themselves.

He frowned. The young [Bard]’s smile desperately widened.

“I’m so sorry, Grand Magus. But we are having [Mages] arriving each hour and we are a bit—understaffed.

She nudged Seky. The Drake nodded rapidly.

“Extremely. Too many boats, not enough [Mages]. Er—even Archmage Valeterisa had to wait to come into dock!”

That was true, if only by virtue of her not having announced herself. Teriarch read it as a mixed truth, but let it slide.

[Mages] were used to telling truths or not at all, since most learned [Detect Truth] or [Detect Lie] in their first year. Smart ones learned both.

“Even an Archmage? I see, I see. Wistram must be in the throes of chaos, then. Or maybe it’s improper management. At least they sent someone.

He grumbled. Mena felt sweat running down her back. Oh no. This was a crotchety old [Mage], worse even than the old woman who made Mena walk her all the way into the academy and her old rooms! She had to turn up the charm offensive.

And as it happened—[Charm Smile], a good ear, and a willingness to accommodate went a long way. She made her smile vanish into one of apologetic dismay at once.

“I am so sorry, Grand Magus. I only knew you were arriving and I’m not in charge of the reception affairs. If you could pardon the lack of decorum—I am sorry again.”

“Well, I suppose it’s not your fault. These things happen.”

The half-Elf harrumphed, but he was already looking more mollified. Seky gave Mena a nudge and look of approval. Good job! Mena was happy herself; she was training as a [Bard], but that last bit had come from the plays they were putting on. She was a lead actress in one.

Flattery and respect. That was what Teriarch desired. He could tell the young woman wasn’t being entirely truthful, but he could well understand that she wasn’t in charge.

He might have a temper. The Dragon had to admit that. Millennia had passed and well, he was who he was. Not that he was a brash young Dragon who’d burn a city to ash for being snubbed. No, he was past that stage of life…

And he was Eldavin. Remember that. The Dragon scolded himself as he walked onto the docks. People were admiring the [Light Bridge]; he had copied the design from a quite nice one he’d once seen. But he reminded himself to tone down the overt magic.

He was not a Dragon here. Eldavin had limits. Actual, physical limits that Teriarch did not. The two legs aside, his mana pool was a lot weaker in the simulacra than a Dragon’s. Still considerable, but Teriarch couldn’t just cast Tier…damn. Those damn Tiers were going to be a pain.

And he had to be more accommodating. He was a [Grand Magus], but not one most people would be familiar with, hence the ruse. Be a bit more diplomatic, T—Eldavin, old chap. Obviously, Eldavin should have a proper respect for himself! But…

“Have you your old rooms for a prolonged stay, Grand Magus, or would you like us to take you to your faction’s headquarters?”

“My rooms were not assigned to me?”

“Er—I don’t—well, I don’t know if anyone recalls your rooms, Grand Magus. I’m terribly sorry…”

The half-Elf lifted a hand.

“Ah, it has been at least a century since I last visited, hasn’t it?”

Longer still. The two young [Mages] gaped at him and the half-Elf amended his words.

…Visited more than a week, that is. I suppose I’ll rediscover if my rooms are extant. As for faction? None.”

“O-oh? Well, then, Wistram must have changed…a century?”

“I am a half-Elf, my dear. Time passes differently for us. I’d imagine some of the better [Mages] would remember me, although I was hardly an active presence. Who are the new Archmages? The ones present.”

Mena blinked.

“Archmages Feor, Nailihuaile, Viltach, Verdan, and Valeterisa are all present at the moment, Grand Magus. We might get the remaining two…and Archmage Amerys was removed from her position, of course.”

“…I see. New blood, it seems. Well, I remember Feor…? Do I? [Recall Memory].”

Eldavin frowned and tapped his head. He brightened.

“Ah! Yes! I do! He was that scamp who once upended three entire tables with that misfiring spell! Ah, good to see him rising to the class of [Archmage]. I must remark on that.”

Mena’s mouth opened and closed. She looked at Seky. She had definitely heard the [Archmage] class. She wondered if she should say something as they walked onto the docks.

Eldavin stopped then, and the two [Mages] saw him blink upwards. Because some of the other parts of the welcoming committee had impressed themselves on him.

Giant metal Golems stood sentry, their armor polished and gleaming, their swords and shields reminiscent of [Knights]. But only a half-Giant [Knight] would be twelve feet tall. These ones were part of Wistram’s reminder of power for all guests. They just stood there of course; Cognita had been asked to post them.

“Ah.”

Eldavin gazed up, and Mena decided that the Golems could have been here specifically for him. She was about to tell the old half-Elf this when he strode up to the nearest one and halted in front of it.

“No personal baggage to unload. However, you may escort me to my rooms. Here is my bag of holding.”

He proffered the object at his side to the giant metal Golem. The [Mages] on the docks stared.

The huge guardian’s sentry head slowly turned. It stared down at Eldavin. Mena hurried forwards.

“Grand Magus—those aren’t really escorts so much as—”

“Not escorting us? Nor to unload? What are they supposed to do, kill intruders?”

Eldavin was much upset. He put his bag of holding back as the Golem returned to staring ahead. He looked around, then blew out his cheeks.

“Wistram’s sense of decorum really has gone downhill. Is this Zelkyr’s work? No—wait—he’s ‘gone’, isn’t he? Hah! When Archmage Chandler was still present, we would have proper service! Not even skeletons or Wights, but a proper staff. Trust a Drake to be too stingy to pay for help, or even send proper Golems to greet the guests. A real shame about him—but that was before your time, young lady. Now there was someone who understood manners.”

He shook his head. Mena’s jaw dropped open and stayed there. Because it had taken her a second—but then she recalled whom Archmage Chandler was.

Eldavin rapped his knuckles on the Golem’s arm and winced. He’d forgotten how fragile bodies were! Pain, bladder issues—oh, what a mess.

“Tell Zelkyr I’ve seen better, even for reception. Golems of metal? Pah.”

The Golem stared at him again and then went back to staring ahead. Eldavin shook his head. He noticed the [Bard] staring at him and smiled.

“Don’t look so alarmed, my dear. One does rib at the Archmages. It’s traditional, even if they have passed, and I don’t know the new ones. Some can be touchy—ah, well, Zelkyr himself. But he might as well come down and object himself then, eh?”

She nodded slowly. Everyone was staring at Eldavin as he sighed. He proceeded up the hill, talking nonstop. Mena slowly and covertly sent Seky to run ahead to tell someone else in charge they were getting a really troublesome old man. The kind who they did not want on display tonight.

 

—-

 

Soner was a Naga and part of the Revivalist faction. Also, in charge of coordinating rooms, seating, and so on. With Cognita. But his job was to do what the Golem would not, which was make sure Wistram looked good.

They had given the job of sorting the new arrivals to the dock-group. There were the Archmages, trusted friends of the Academy, and so on. Then there were the guests.

The guests who would not know more than what was told. Who would be impressed yet not privy to Wistram’s secrets. Some would mingle with Councilmembers, but there would be rank.

For instance, Fissival would not sit with the Archmages, for all they had sent a number of their Drakes. Just because it was Fissival.

Soner was a [High Mage], and whilst not being specialized in this class, was high-level enough to get a good estimate of most people’s levels and he was also a political animal and knew who was noble and who was not.

He’d only had trouble with the Drowned Folk’s representatives. He couldn’t get a read on the [Depth Mages], and their leader, a very old woman with a bunch of daughters all in veils, had apparently come to represent the Undersea Crews.

Were they [Pirates], then, as the Drowned Folk often were, or esteemed guests? He’d put them at a separate table not too far from the high table to offend, but definitely sectioned off as they were.

Now, he was annoyed as he turned to Seky.

“Grand Magus? We can put him in the third setting. If he’s not of a faction, he’s fine. So what if he cast [Light Bridge]? I can cast that!”

“He’s a bit…weird, Magus Soner. That’s all.”

The Drake couldn’t explain. The [High Mage] sighed, adjusted his suit; not all [Mages] had to wear robes! And found Magus Eldavin.

“I remember a time before Zelkyr came to power. We always had Golems, but there was an actual cleaning staff you know. Well, in times before that Wistram used automated magics, but they get tangled up. Easier just to pay for it and be done. So no one’s seen Zelkyr? No hints he’s alive?”

Mena looked up with a put-upon look as the Naga slithered over.

“Not a one, Grand Magus. But—oh, here’s High Magus Soner. Magus Soner, the Grand Magus has just arrived and we’re not sure if his rooms are still, um, unoccupied. It’s been a hundred years since he was last here.”

She stressed that last part. Soner blinked. A hundred…? He hadn’t missed the half-Elf’s ears, but this was something.

“Grand Magus Eldavin. I am honored to meet you. Forgive me for not coming in person—we’re extremely busy at this moment.”

He bowed gracefully, and Eldavin inclined his head.

“These things happen, Magus Soner. However, I would not mind re-accommodation of my rooms. I was on the twelfth floor, but it seems that area is quite out of my reach, wouldn’t you say?”

He laughed. Soner froze.

The twelfth floor?

In theory, there were more than twelve floors from ground level to the ‘twelfth’. But Wistram didn’t count the hidden ones, or the ones squished together. The Twelfth Floor—if it was what Soner thought Eldavin meant—would be above the testing floor.

The ones locked by Zelkyr’s final test, and Cognita.

The death of mages.

“You were here before Archmage Zelkyr locked the higher floors?”

“Indeed I was. It must have been…no, I don’t think I actually visited since then. More than a week, that is! I should love to see it. But I will take a modest suite below.”

“Thank you for your forbearance, Grand Magus.”

Mena bowed. She hesitated, then cleared her throat.

“I—ah—think Wistram may have changed quite a lot, Grand Magus. Magus Soner, Grand Magus Eldavin was just saying how he recalled Archmage Chandler’s superior etiquette.”

Soner blinked. Then he nearly swallowed his forked tongue. Eldavin was nodding sagely.

“A different time. I would like to remember it with Archmagus Feor. I understand he’s finally achieved the rank! Will there be a social gathering?”

“Tonight. Er—Magus Eldavin—”

Grand Magus, Magus Soner. We must keep to proper decorum—at least before we know each other!”

The Naga caught himself as Eldavin chuckled.

“Yes. Yes, my apologies Grand Magus. Er, we will certainly have a banquet tonight, and small, unofficial gatherings thereafter. I am certain Archmagus Feor would be delighted to meet you. However—did you say ‘Archmage Chandler’? You are, of course, aware that the, ah, Necromancer has become a touchy subject in the last hundred years?”

Where had this fellow been, hiding under a rock? Well, half-Elves did have their villages and Valeterisa had been completely out of it for a decade or so they said. The Naga waited, but Eldavin just arched one white eyebrow.

“Of course I recall Peril Chandler’s fall. And the…death of Az’kerash. Yes, of course I know that, young Naga. But he was still Archmage Chandler. Archmagus of Death. And let us not forget—he and Archmage Zelkyr were friends! The Archmage of Golems. The Archmage of Death. Izril and Terandria. Should we not remember that?

He looked around pointedly at Golems—virtually identical to a [Maid] or [Butler]—cleaning and polishing, made of ceramics. Soner just blinked.

“…Yes, certainly, Grand Magus Eldavin. But that was a hundred years ago and memories fade. For the sake of decorum, perhaps do not bring up Az—Archmage Chandler as much?”

“Perhaps, perhaps. I shall take it under advisement. I suppose it would ruffle feathers in Izril and Terandria. Now, about my rooms…

Eldavin nodded to Soner. The Naga smiled and quickly found a nice suite for Eldavin. And he made a huge mental note:

No way in all of Baleros’ jungles was this [Mage] going to be let anywhere near the guests.

Whether Eldavin had known it or not, he had just kicked himself so far down the rankings of Wistram’s society that he was already into the catacombs. And for [Necromancers] and those who practiced that magic, there was always further to sink. Some magic should not be practiced.

 

—-

 

Beatrice Stogrehn stood in the company of an Archmage. One of the two Archmages of Baleros, in fact.

Archmage Nailihuaile was energetic, friendly, and silly as could be at times. But if you underestimated her, you were a fool. Because she was a Star Lamia, one of the rarest of Lizardfolk evolutions in this world and she was still an Archmage.

A master [Enchanter]. Head of a faction and one of the most important people in all of Wistram. Beatrice a few years ago couldn’t have imagined being in her company. Not at her age!

She was barely thirty. A few years ago, she’d still been a student! And she had been in love, she had debated going home to work after graduating…she had even wondered if she might marry.

Now, Beatrice looked at her dark skin, her armored body of metal covered by runework in the blank scrying mirror and recalled that she had once smiled.

The [Runemistress] remembered Calvaron and it still hurt. It still tore at her insides, the memories of those old days. She still recalled that night of horror, as well as how the cursed study group had formed. Ceria, Calvaron, herself, the traitor, and later, Montressa.

She never forgot. Some nights the memories filled her head. So—how could Montressa, how could Ceria forget? Allow that monster to walk about, even journey and fight beside him as a team?

“Montressa lied. That’s clear in hindsight. Well, it was pretty clear at the time. Clear as my neck-frills, but I thought she was still on our side. That’s the problem with traitors. You really like them, right, Beatrice? She was your friend. Any idea why she did this?”

Naili spoke at last. Beatrice shifted.

“She was my friend, Archmagus. She and I ran our secret broker business. I stood by her even after all that happened. And now? I do not know her.”

She held her head in her hands and turned it to face her torso. Naili looked sympathetic.

“This has got to be hard for you Beatrice, is it? It looks like it. Listen, if you want, you can do it yourself.”

“No, Archmagus. There’s too much to do here. And Montressa—no. Thank you.”

The Lamia nodded. She tapped her staff, the relic-class artifact, the Serkonian Lance, to the ground. Not to cast a spell, just to be official.

“Then, as leader of the Revivalists and Archmagus and all of that, I expel Montressa du Valeross from our faction. I can’t do it from Wistram alone, but I only need one more Archmage’s support. And Feor won’t object. Because of her, someone from Earth was lost. And there are more children there. She isn’t ours. Bezale—I’ll let the Scriptels handle her. But she had no authority, do you understand, High Mage?”

“Yes, Archmagus.”

“Sort it out.”

Nailihuaile nodded to the blank scrying orb. There weren’t visuals since they only had a speaking spell on. The other end produced an affirmative sound.

“I’m ending the spell. Let me know what happens.”

It was done. The Archmage turned away from the mirror and slithered across her personal chambers. Beatrice stayed there for a second, then fastened her head to her body.

Good riddance. The Horns remained. But at least someone would pay. She came to stand behind the Lamia as the Archmage sighed.

“I don’t get it. She was right with you, Beatrice. I was going to make her my apprentice—or find her a good master for an [Aegiscaster]! What could have happened? She was begging me to go after that Pisces fellow and…”

“I don’t know, Archmagus. May we change the subject?”

Beatrice looked ahead. Naili nodded.

“Speaking of [Mages]—we’ve got some interesting guests. The Drowned Folk have sent some, there’s Drakes from Fissival—I’m really sad. Do you know why I’m sad?”

“No, Archmage. Why?”

Part of being Naili’s trusted helper was indulging her. Naili flitted around her room, getting ready for the banquet. Lamias and other snake-body type Lizardfolk didn’t dress like normal. Pants were impossible, and dresses were more for the look rather than a great need for modesty.

“I wanted Grimalkin of Pallass to attend. But he’ll only be watching via mirror. Do you know him? Did you hear about his duel with Archmage Feor?”

“Yes, Archmage. But I didn’t see it. Was it entertaining?”

“I would have loved to see him do it again! He kept trying to punch Feor’s lights out—ah, well. This is our first big banquet. Maybe Grimalkin will arrive later. And speaking of big names—Valeterisa’s back! I wasn’t even an Archmage when she left.”

Naili added some earrings to her attire and checked them out. Not her ears since she had none, but her neck-frills.

“She’s weird. And I know weird. I’ll introduce you, if you want. She’s here, old Verdan is here, probably to get in on the secret—we can’t stop him, but none of the guests should know if possible. Or if they do…they had better be allies.

Allies to Wistram. Beatrice nodded. The Academy was making big moves. Earth was an inevitable idea that would get out, they’d concluded. But they were going to get the head start on using the ideas and technology.

Thus, the conclaves. Naili led the way down the halls, calling out to people, waving, navigating Wistram’s strange layout by heart.

“And we also have a Grand Magus returning! I hear he’s an old half-Elf. No—wait—there’s a retired one from Chandrar too. Old Garuda. They’re all old.

“Grand Magus Eldavin?”

Beatrice had heard he was very old, enough that he claimed to have rooms on the twelfth. She had added it as a small secret to her collection, but she wanted verification before she sold it.

She was a secret broker and secrets were her income. One of the reasons why Naili liked her; the Archmage got all of Beatrice’s secrets.

“Yes, that’s the one. If he’s as old as he claims, that could be useful if he was a good [Mage]. We need those old [Mages]. Some have spells we’ve lost since Zelkyr sealed the higher floors. We might be able to persuade them to hand over their knowledge before they croak, for the Earth stuff. Anyways…oh, here she is! Valeterisa! Valeterisa!

And there was the Archmage of Izril. Valeterisa was an older woman, at least in her mid-sixties, grey of hair, thin, and the most normal-looking of all the Archmages Beatrice had met. She looked like, well, an old widow.

Except for her aura. That was power. Beatrice bowed respectfully, taking her head off as she did. Naili just slithered over. Valeterisa gave the Lamia a long look, and her eyes flickered.

“Oh. And you are…Archmage Nailihuaile. Who I met yesterday.”

It was as if memories suddenly became accessible to her—or parts of her mind found the information, like sifting through a cabinet. It was subtle, and very fast, but disconcerting if you didn’t know what was happening. Valeterisa straightened. Naili peered at her.

“…What are you doing, Valeterisa? Why are you sitting?”

“I was investigating this bug.”

The Archmage vaguely pointed to a beetle with a glowing abdomen—yellow—and shell-wings with holes on them. It was crawling around in front of them.

“Ooh! What’s that?”

“A bug. Mutated by magic. I wondered what it did. It turns out it eats [Light] spells. It is storing light in its abdomen.”

Oh, those little things! Gah! I hate them! They’re the ones that eat our [Light] spells so we have to renew them! Take this! [Stone Fist]—aaah, my eyes!

Naili had squished the bug with a little fist made of stone that thwacked the insect into paste. But as it squished, the abdomen let out a flash of light. Beatrice and the others in the hallway cried out.

“Hm. It was storing all the light and converting it to magic or energy.”

In her blindness, Beatrice heard Valeterisa speaking. Naili was cursing.

“Did you know they did that?”

“No, but I wish I had a sample to breed and inspect. [Remove Blindness].”

“What? That works? Do me, do me! Fine, I’ll do it. How did it go? This is where I’d like to look at my spellbook…[Remove Blindness]! Aha! Beatrice!”

A staff touched Beatrice’s shoulder. She blinked, and the afterimages went away. Valeterisa reappeared, taking a sample of the dead beetle. She looked at Naili.

“Did you want something, Archmage Nailihuaile?”

“I was just wondering if you cared to join us after the banquet. You have a lot to catch up on in Wistram, and I hoped to get to you first.”

The Star Lamia smiled coyly. Valeterisa just sighed.

“Politics. I do not care to socialize, Archmage Nailihuaile. And Archmages Feor and Viltach have both approached me already.”

“They did? Those sneaky…can I persuade you to join me?”

“I would prefer to learn what there is to learn outright. Will you tell me?”

Valeterisa turned to Naili. The Star Lamia shut her mouth and smiled. Another sigh.

“Then I will attend one party afterwards and join whichever faction seems to be in charge. Now. I would like to find another bug. Goodbye, Archmage Naili.”

She walked off. The Star Lamia shrugged at Beatrice, who was a bit taken aback at how…non-interested Valeterisa was! She really didn’t care for Wistram’s politics and power. She was only Archmage because her magical abilities were top-notch.

And then Valeterisa turned.

“Archmage Naili. Perhaps you will answer me.”

Yes, Valeterisa?”

Naili brightened up. She looked back. The Archmage of Izril gazed at her.

“Where is Amerys?”

The Star Lamia’s eyes narrowed. Beatrice froze. Naili just chuckled, though, and made a beckoning motion with her tail.

“We really must talk, Valeterisa. The Archmages will convene after the parties. But we can be on the same page before then. What about it? Party, then my quarters later.”

The older [Mage] just sighed and walked on.

 

—-

 

Valeterisa had little power. She was an Archmage, but one without faction or friends—at least, many over the decade she had been away. Power, in Wistram, was more than just magical talent.

Telim explained this all to Aaron over a private lunch.

“Power is more than magic, young Vanwell.”

The young Vanwell, the [Magictech Engineer], nodded, then caught himself and frowned.

“…Isn’t that wrong, High Mage Telim?”

The man chortled. Telim was a big-bearded man with red hair, and a big…belly. He was a lifer for Wistram, and was eating a rather large lunch. Aaron was saving himself for the banquet tonight, but Telim clearly thought he’d have room.

“Not in Wistram, lad. Archmages were always good at politics as much as magic, even before Zelkyr. Valeterisa’s been away for too long. Not that she’s poor at politics, mind you. She hates it more than I hate running about—but she’s a cold serpent, even more than Nailihuaile. Although she does love new and fascinating magical things, so she might well like you.

Aaron had not met her. She was not in on the secret. He picked at some deviled eggs, which even had little tiny horns on them made out of some hard corn batter.

Telim was an odd friend for Aaron to have made, but the young man felt like he was one of the first. Because Telim was not as nakedly ambitious as Naili or some other [Mages]. They had met when the man heard about the therapy sessions for the Earthers who had come here and helped supply them with potions.

After that? He’d gotten to talking and now he and Aaron and some of the other Earthers and [Mages] were creating the world’s first real-life combat simulations. Their name for it was Magical Reality—a play on Virtual Reality.

But in their product, you’d step into a room or building and fight monsters, experience dungeon raids—do anything you could envision, perhaps! All without the fear of death.

Telim was also a good sort. Magnanimous and prone to fits of indulgence. He’d introduced Aaron and some of the other older Earthers who’d been here a while to his friends, like Vhedel, Sa’la, and the others. Who were people to know if you wanted to meet someone who could create potions, or get you Dreamleaf, or…

Kindly [Mages]. As Elena had described them, ‘happy to be where they were’. They didn’t dream of using Earth’s tech beyond making fascinating things for themselves. They didn’t want to rule the world; they just wanted better canapés. If they were all Wistram was, Aaron would have been more relaxed.

As it was, Telim was a fine information source. Aaron helped himself to another cookie at the man’s urging.

“So they’ll all know after tonight?”

“Within the week. Some might pay for secrets, but most will turn to the Archmages. They’ll give something, and be let in on the secret. You see, it really is them coming to Feor, Naili, and Viltach, who have created an alliance.”

“They hate each other’s guts. Naili once said she tried to hex Viltach impotent.”

Telim nearly sprayed his mouthful out across the table. Sa’la and Elena both started laughing. The Selphid and [Beautician] found it much funnier than Telim and Aaron. The young man turned to Telim.

“That’s impossible, right? You can’t just hex someone from afar?”

“M’boy, you’re learning why I don’t make enemies.”

The man patted at his mouth. He shuddered.

“Let me tell you about the time a particularly vengeful [Swarm Mage] put a talisman in a friend’s laundry pile when it was being washed. Only activated when he put on his underwear, poor fellow. I still think about the bites.”

Aaron put down his cookie. [Mages] got up to a lot of weird things. And again, if it was just that, he’d love it. But Wistram had a grand scheme. And they intended to use the secrets they had to further their agendas.

Still, he had secrets of his own now.

The young man went back to munching on his food.

“So, the Earthers don’t get to attend the banquet?”

“You do. Just inconspicuously. You see—the banquet hall will have a strict hierarchy. I’ll probably take a mage-picture, just to know how things stand. Where you sit matters, so all the jockeying for position will tell us where the smart [Mages] are.”

“Really? It’s that easy?”

Elena put in. She saw Sa’la shrug and toss back her drink.

“Sort of. It’s more like—do you have the clout to sit with an Archmage if you want to? Who’s sitting together. Telim, do an illusion.”

“Very well.”

He grumbled; he was good at illusion spells. He flicked his fingers, casting a few spells and muttering while the others ate in silence. After two minutes of his hard work, a bunch of seats and glowing icons appeared.

“There. See? This is the high table, where the Archmages sit. And the most important guests. That’s obvious, so it’s not as important…no doubt a [Lord] or one of the nobility will earn a place. Below it? We’ll have tables per faction. So the Revivalists here, Libertarians here—this is just an example, by the way.”

He made long tables, coloring them by faction. Aaron nodded. It was based around the high table. Power to the front, less important [Mages] to the back. The main factions were in the upper center. Telim pointed to the edges.

“And here are independents whom you can’t offend. Other parties too. The Drake contingent from the Walled Cities, for instance.”

“It seems really isolating. Don’t they mix?”

Elena put in. Sa’la nodded.

“Of course they can change tables. But this is where they’re seated.”

“And beyond that? Some organization—students will have tables here, but it’s a free-for-all after that. You’re not assigned a table if you were never important enough to have one. And here is where I will be.”

Telim pointed all the way across the room, away from every faction, towards the furthest end. Elena and Aaron peered at the spot blankly.

“Why there, Telim?”

“Because they have sofas and other delightful modalities of sitting there, young Vanwell! Status be damned, I’m stretching out whilst I eat!”

The [High Mage] chuckled, and Aaron grinned.

“I guess we’ll be split up, Elena. We should try to sit together after the banquet starts.”

“Hm. Yes, you Earth-folk should be given a spot of your own. Maybe the Archmages would allow it.”

“Oh, they’re doing that, Telim. Silenced, protected, so they can talk without eavesdropping.”

Telim snapped his fingers.

“Makes sense! There you are then, Aaron. Far to the back and to the sides I’ll wager, but that’s a good thing.”

“Why—oh. It’s because we’re closer to the buffet tables, right?”

Exactly. I knew you were sharp! Now, you’ll want to be on your toes. There are always secrets and money to be made when the banquets take place. If you weren’t…well, from Earth, I’d say you could make a powerful friend. As it is, take a bag of holding for the good foods. They always run out.”

“Because of you. You know, he made an entire table disappear one time? I saw it. Took a bag of holding, ran it down the table, and walked off.”

Sa’la gave Telim an affectionate, but exasperated look. The man just winked at Elena and Aaron, who laughed. They liked him.

“How are the new Earthers doing, by the way? I heard we had a real talent in uh—uh—what’s his name? The one with the actual magical ability.”

Telim snapped his fingers.

“Troy?”

That’s the lad. [Sand Mage]. He’s a good student.”

Aaron nodded. Troy was a bit standoffish, but he’d been warming up. He was still getting his legs in, but he actually went to classes which was why he had less time than the others.

“Good foundations, that boy. Someone taught him properly. And I heard that other boy who came with him got in a bit of trouble. For his pet.”

“Oh. Right. Someone sat on Prickly.”

“Poor thing. Is it okay?”

Sa’la made a sympathetic noise. Which she wouldn’t have if she knew Prickly. Elena shook her head.

“Prickly was fine, just startled by the screaming. She’s a Needlehound and—”

Telim and Sa’la winced. Half-porcupine, half-dog, and worse than either if you ran into it and she got nervous.

“I hope it was a Selphid. Imagine…gah! Well, I am glad. And your ah, therapy group, Miss Elena?”

“A lot better. Everyone’s sleeping and—a lot better.”

Elena gave Aaron a tired smile. He felt proud of that. Telim looked around, almost fondly. He’d never had children, but he’d begun remarking that he felt like the ‘Earth-children’ as he called them were the children he wished he had. Sa’la would then point out that this was because he hadn’t had to raise them from babies and Telim would retort that was the entire point.

Well, it would be an interesting banquet. Aaron stretched out. He wasn’t the one who this mattered for. He was in Wistram, but apart. The children of Earth had no power. Yet.

He intended to change that as soon as the opportunity arose. The knowledge from the Summer Solstice burned in Aaron. Even though the Archmages were still in a panic. They’d suspected him, but they couldn’t trace who had sent the mass-text, and given up suspecting him because how would he have done it?

Elena now…she eyed Aaron as he sat, chatting with Telim about what might be on the menu and the entertainment. She had seen it too.

The Gods are alive.

She desperately wanted to return to Cara and talk. Until then, she looked forwards to the banquet. What else could she do? She was surrounded by [Mages]. Even the kind ones.

 

—-

 

Troy Atlas gave up searching for Amerys today. He kept being bothered by, well, friends. Flynn wanted to meet all the new people coming in, Elena wanted him to join the ‘talk it out’ group after lunch, and even if classes were cancelled, the hallways were packed.

“Maybe that’s what I’m doing wrong.”

Trey frowned. He looked around and tried to navigate away from people. He found empty corridors, and hurried down them.

However, weeks of searching had availed him little. Was it weeks? At least two, so plural was fine.

“I think I know what the problem is, don’t you, Minizi?”

He commented. A little head poked out of the pack he was carrying on one shoulder and nodded.

Minizi, or Mini-Gazi, as he had named her, was the little Lifesand Golem he’d taken to carrying about. To remind him of what he was doing here. Trey had taken to talking to her, although it was nothing like the real Gazi.

“The problem is…I think I’m never going to find it this way. Right?”

The Golem nodded again. She understood Trey’s thoughts and even if he thought she was limited in intelligence, it was comforting.

The problem was, Trey continued internally, he doubted Amerys was in any space he could find. Why have a top-secret prisoner where anyone could find her?

There was a finite amount of space in Wistram, for all it was vast, a city’s size or more compressed by dimensional space. Amerys could be deep in the bowels of the academy, but Trey thought he knew where she really was.

Down a hallway I will never find, because it’s magically sealed or lost or I don’t know the way in.

He’d learned some of the secrets, like the whistling music classrooms. And he’d learned Wistram’s ways. You bought and sold secrets, you gave allegiance to certain groups…

It was like the world, and not. A caricature of the world, maybe. Trey didn’t know if he hated all of it. Some people were quite nice, and meeting other people from Earth?

…But it wasn’t Chandrar. The [Mages] were removed from war and they had a superior attitude about them. That was why they collected Earthers.

Well, he had come of his own will. Trey sighed. Still, he was definitely ‘their Earther’. He had been taken by the Revivalists—Flynn, the Libertarians. Neither young man was treated badly. But Trey felt like he was having his conversations with Flos again. It was not slavery. But it wasn’t bloody well freedom either.

He needed to learn more magic at this juncture, which was why the King of Destruction had sent him. More than that? Trey needed to make friends. Perhaps the banquet was time for that? He began heading back that way.

He’d missed lunch, to grab a bite before joining Elena’s therapy group. Which was tough because ‘Troy’s’ cover story had some danger in it, but he couldn’t very well say he’d killed people or visited A’ctelios and saw what they did there.

Before I go, I need to learn [Fireball]. But how to make one big enough for that place?

Thus, he was caught between impatience and knowing he needed to stay. Trey kicked along the corridors, letting Minizi ride on his shoulder; he’d put her away before people asked questions.

He was just reaching for his shoulder to put Minizi back in the backpack when the Lifesand Golem punched him in the ear.

Argh! What is wrong with you, Minizi?”

Trey grabbed at it. Was she becoming more Gazi-like just because he’d made her that way? Then—he froze.

On a hunch, he’d told the little Golem to look with him. Now—the little Golem urgently hit his shoulder with her little fist. Trey blinked. He looked around—

Empty hallway. He exhaled, but Minizi was banging on his skin. And staring…

The [Sand Mage] looked at a blank patch of air. Slowly, he reached out. Nothing. He took a few more steps and pushed his vacant hand into—

Archmage Valeterisa’s bespectacled face appeared as she shed the spell. She peered at Trey as he recoiled.

“That is a Lifesand Golem. How did you make one? Will you make me one? I will pay you in gold or secrets.”

Trey stared at her. The woman peered at him. He threw up his arms, screamed, and ran. He knew trouble when he saw it and he wasn’t getting his throat slashed twice.

 

—-

 

Archmage Valeterisa was terrorizing the hallways. The other [Mages] were gathering, getting settled in, exchanging secrets, giving each other gifts.

Now was the time of potential. Wistram never changed. Well…it did, actually. Quite a lot. But a clever mind could always adapt.

“Let me see. This should do it.”

Eldavin glanced down the hallway to the right and left as he fiddled with the wall. He’d cast an illusion on both ends to make it look like stone, but anyone could walk in. There were tricky [Mages], or at least, there had been when he had last come.

He had no money—at least, not his vast hoard of wealth—and few secrets he cared to enter into Wistram’s economy. So he’d have to make something from nothing!

He was a Dragon. It was easy. Eldavin straightened and regarded the handiwork of the spell-letters he’d written onto the wall.

They were in a form of writing once used by mages. A dead language used in spoken chants. It already cut down the number of people who’d be able to decipher it, but the glowing words were clearly visible to anyone who cast [Detect Magic]. Quite invisible to the naked eye.

It read, when translated:

‘The key to knowledge lies in the heart of the source of the page. To the one clever enough to descry meaning from this, I am Eldavin who offers you the clue.’

It was a proper riddle—not a hard one! But one that only a perceptful [Mage] would read. Dead language, invisible letters. Oh, and the riddle.

It referred to a key to a hidden library in Wistram. Eldavin had made it very easy to solve on purpose. ‘Heart of the source of the page’. Obviously, a tree, and there was a forest in Wistram you could visit…

He rubbed his hands together happily. He had a strong working knowledge of many of Wistram’s hidden areas. People would find the dozen or so clues he’d put around the most-populated hallways in Wistram, come to him, and he’d be in the secrets-game soon enough. Obviously, some people knew of the forest library, but the fact that he, Eldavin, was showing people the depth of his knowledge just added to his reputation.

All he had to do now was wait. The Grand Magus smugly went back to his rather small and cramped rooms to wait. He’d put them up as soon as he’d arrived. If he knew the [Mages], they were already in a furor, translating, speculating who could have put up the spells without being seen in the hallways! Gossip would have them pounding on his door. Any minute now…

Eldavin waited for three hours until he realized no one was coming. He went to check each hidden message and hit upon a flaw in his plan.

Yes, they were visible to anyone who cast [Detect Magic]. Yes, the riddles were obvious.

…But the students and [Mages] had changed. One group was indeed staring at the letters. Eldavin waited, bouncing on the heels of his feet.

“What do you make of it, High Magus?”

“Some sort of code. I can’t tell what it is. Might be one of the old written languages. Or someone’s idea of a joke. Anyone know [Translate]? No? Well, let’s erase it, then. Hm…it’s not coming off the walls…”

The half-Elf looked at the group, crestfallen. He waited for a bright mind to suggest looking up the language. The [Mages] glanced at each other.

“We could search up what it is. Maybe some of the translation books?”

“Which library? We have four. And they’re not organized.”

Fourteen.

The two didn’t hear that. One of them shook their heads.

“Too much for me. Let’s check out the banquet!”

Crestfallen, Eldavin looked at the group as they dispersed. Even the so-called ‘High Mage’ just gave it a blank look and grumbled about ‘getting to it later’.

Was this Wistram? Eldavin wanted to tear at his beard. He was about to make a sarcastic appendage to the riddle in plain writing when he stopped.

“I think it’s the spoken language. It looks like it, doesn’t it?”

A young Selphid was excitedly talking to a Dwarf. The young Dwarf tugged at a blank space and realized he’d shaved his beard for the umpteenth time. They were both young—although that was a variable age for Dwarves.

“Could be. You know, I’m studying old languages—goes with runecrafting. Maybe we search this up? We have time before the banquet.”

“Yeah! Let’s do that! Who knows? It just appeared, people said! We could find a big secret! I mean—probably not. The Archmages probably know what it says already. But I want to know, don’t you? We could sell it as like, a secret.”

“Let’s go, then!”

The half-Elf watched the two young first-years hurry off. He looked at his message on the wall.

They were not his clientele—he’d hoped to get the best of Wistram. But apparently most had just walked past the wall, or failed to be interested in it.

He raised a hand to erase it—then lowered it. Well, why not?

“Let the wise benefit from acts of wisdom.”

Eldavin shook his head. He’d have to re-think his work. That was all. And he had forgotten that Zelkyr had locked the upper floors. Now, why had he done that? He had to be alive, surely? Either way, it was a truly Draconian move, and not even Teriarch would really support it. Not unless the goal was to deprive Wistram of learning…

The banquet tonight would change things. The lack of interest had put Eldavin in a bad mood, but the two students gave him hope. He switched tacks and decided the best thing to do was introduce himself to Feor. Bring out a fine vintage, reminisce about the old days as half-Elves did, and get in with the Centrists.

He was just walking out to find the Archmage when something caught his ear.

“…Earthers to the recovery groups…”

The half-Elf stopped in his tracks. He turned. Two [Mages] were walking past and talking. They were under a [Muffle] spell, but Eldavin didn’t allow people to walk around him without him noticing. His detection spells were superior and let him hear as clearly as they did.

“Which ones? Come on, we’ll update the listings.”

They were a Drake and a Garuda. Wearing robes, clearly full [Mages]. Not strong ones to judge by their auras…then again, they stood out more than most in the hallways.

Eldavin hesitated. Then he murmured some spells and followed them.

 

—-

 

It was hard to shadow the [Mages]. Teriarch-Eldavin fretted over it as he pursued them down corridor after corridor. First he cast [Greater Invisibility], [Aura Mute], [Complete Silence], and…but that was stupid. Anyone would just cast [Spell Purge] or have the enchantment hit him!

Thereafter he used [Shadow Walk], while keeping the option of [Telehop] for bypassing checkpoints, but he realized he was vulnerable to aura-based detection. After that, he had to really think.

He wasn’t a Dragon, so he had to actually be careful! The half-Elf shook his head as he buzzed into the Drake’s robes and began to spell-meld himself with the enchanted fabric. He couldn’t cast full [Polymorph], but temporary transformations would get him where he needed to go. He could already run out of the checkpoint if…

If…

After the two [Mages] got to their destination, Eldavin concluded that there had been no magical checkpoints. No ward spells. They’d just used a secret passage and walked on through with a few sensor spells which he’d obviously been prepared for.

The half-Elf walked behind them and sighed. Well, he was a Dragon of countless years. Even an [Archmage] would have been paranoid if they knew Teriarch was lurking about. He’d done that once; raided Archmage’s homes.

The trick was that once you ran into a barrier you couldn’t dispel? Dragonbreath. Worked every time. He’d stolen a lot of artifacts and spellbooks from angry [Archmages] and then innocently hobnobbed with them afterwards in Wistram. Good times, good times…

Now he was listening, though.

“Where’re our new Earthers?”

Mainly Izril. It’s the unconfirmed. Archmage Naili wants them confirmed and got. She’s got a [High Mage] going to Liscor.”

Eldavin froze. The Garuda flapped his wings.

“Well, why do we have to update the lists?

“The other one’s tricky is why. Any group in the area should reach out. But—hold on. Excuse me! Can we get a [Scrier] here to send out one of our [Messages]? We need to re-code and have it in the Mage’s Guild in the following locations before the banquet!”

They were in a room with a lot of scrying mirrors. Teriarch sensed the very spell creating the Wistram News Network being operated here, and…his eyes narrowed.

You reversed the scrying spell? Spying on so many? You fools! It’s so obvious!

A young [Scrier] trotted over, sighing.

“How many?”

“Er…forty eight.”

Forty—that’s insane! We’ll be at it hours! We have to code each [Message]!”

Why don’t you send a spell that can’t be read by all present?

“Well, too bad. And we need it before the banquet. Don’t bother showing up until it’s done. It’s for a number of teams—it needs to get to them now. Archmage’s orders. Standing orders in the Mage’s Guild.”

The Drake was unmoved. The [Scrier] looked heartbroken. She took the coded missive. The Drake turned—and went sprawling.

“Ancestors damn it—”

“Are you alright?”

The Garuda checked his friend. The Drake rubbed at his face and looked back at the [Scrier], but she couldn’t have done that. Blushing under his scales, he adjusted his robes and stormed off.

Eldavin debated tripping him again. No, no. He stayed with the [Scrier] as she groused.

“Why forty eight? It’s normally one or two! Oh. Oh. That’s why. Wherever she is? Stupid…”

The half-Elf read over her shoulder as the young Drake turned. His eyes went round as he saw the name and reason for the message.

 

Ryoka Griffin. Alias: Wind Runner of Reizmelt. Confirmed—acquire if possible. Caution—House of Veltras is known to be affiliated. Do not offend House of Veltras, contact Archmages for negotiation. Levels unknown, speculated high-level [Runner] with possible [Aeromancer] class.

 

Acquire if possible? The half-Elf looked at the [Scrier] as she began sending the spell. Then he looked around. He walked over to a board across the room, away from the people monitoring the broadcasts.

It was a map. On it, there were pictures, sketches, pins in glowing light of places. People found and not found. The Dragon looked at it. Around the room.

It is logical. It makes sense, to find what is valuable and safeguard them, or understand what you lack. It might even be commendable, to do this rather than kill them, if they are treated well. I will know.

The young Drake sneezed and rubbed at the back of her neck. She looked around, then went back to work. The half-Elf standing there looked down at the page.

I will decide. However.

His hand reached down and gently touched the page.

I know that Human. You do not chain the wind, any more than you do the fae. And if what I find displeases, soon you will answer to me.

His eyes narrowed. He was gone when the [Scribe] stood to send the first [Message]. And now—time was not on his side. He had already understood that he had missed something. Now—he had two reasons to talk to Ryoka Griffin.

They were separated by countless miles, and he sat in the heart of the Academy of Magic. The Dragon knew [Message] spells could be easily read by all if not secured.

So…what? There were easier ways.

 

—-

 

Ryoka Griffin’s head rose as she tried to do a crunch. She was getting out of shape, or so it felt. Days of resting after being shot, plus the wind making her job easier…

“What was that?”

“A [Message] from a ‘Grand Magus Eldav—”

Ryoka was on her feet in an instant. The Street Runner in Riverfarm recoiled.

“I’ll take it! Is it secure?”

Heart pounding, she reached for the slip of paper. She read—then blinked.

“That was what I was trying to say. We don’t have one, but there are some in nearby Mage’s Guilds. So…”

The [Message] from ‘Eldavin’ was short. Ryoka had sent word to him begging for him to talk—and to Teriarch himself, with a Scroll of [Message]. Both times she’d gotten no response.

Until now. But Teriarch’s missive was odd. It read:

 

Miss Ryoka, I, Eldavin, require your services once again. To facilitate this, procure a speaking stone and send the [Message] back.

“A speaking stone?”

“One of the tuned ones. Lodestones. You can tune ‘em to other stones and talk. Like a scrying mirror. Lady Rie says we can give you one as soon as it can be found—or you can run and get one if you want. She’s hunting through her collection.”

The Street Runner explained helpfully. Ryoka blinked at him.

“No, that’s fine. I think I—if she has one. Otherwise, I know someone who might lend me theirs.”

 

—-

 

Jericha gave her an odd look, but gave Ryoka a stone when asked. Of course she had one; it was practically essential for those in the field.

“Do you need to tune it?”

“I…don’t know? I was just told to send a [Message] back when I did.”

“Ah. Then you need to tune it. Let me send the [Message].”

Ryoka hesitated, but Jericha was already involved. She nodded and smiled.

“Can you send, ‘Grand Magus, it’s me, Ryoka. I’m at a Mage’s Guild. What do I do now?’ Thanks.”

Jericha gave Ryoka a look, but sent the spell. Ryoka hoped Teriarch would know what that meant—why was he going through ‘Eldavin’? Just to be safe? Then Jericha frowned.

“Ah, he is sending me a tuning request.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a frequency of…you set it that you two can comm—hold on.”

She raised the glowing stone and focused on it. Then her eyes flickered; Ryoka knew that was the telltale of sending a [Message] spell.

“This can’t be…you can do…?”

“Is something wrong?”

Jericha ignored her. Ryoka bounced on the balls of her feet. Then she waited.

And waited.

And…

Ryoka was nervously chewing on a snack when Jericha finally lowered the now-glowing lodestone. Her brow was covered in sweat.

“I have never received a request that complex before. Hello? This is Jericha, speaking on behalf of Miss Ryoka Griffin. Riverfarm. Is the spell functioning?”

Perhaps you have never properly tuned a speaking stone before. I am T—Grand Magus Eldavin. Wistram. Kindly relay this to Miss Griffin.

Jericha blinked. She handed the stone to Ryoka. Then she stared. Ryoka held the stone up.

“Eldavin?”

Yes, yes. Please exit the Mage’s Guild, Ryoka, and find yourself a secure space at once. And tell that [Mage] that if she doesn’t bother to encrypt her speaking stones, she is providing poor service!

The voice was familiar and not. It didn’t have the bass of the Dragon’s full voice, and yet it was him. Jericha’s jaw opened. Ryoka hesitated.

“I have to—sorry, Jericha. Thank you so much, but it’s an important client and…”

She practically ran out of the room. Jericha half-rose to go after her, but she was sweating. Then the [Mage] looked around.

“I have to write that down! Where’s…”

She scrambled for a quill and paper.

 

—-

 

Teriarch was rather impatient as he heard Ryoka puffing along. He was pressing her—but waiting until she got to a secure place.

“Cast a [Silence] spell, any anti-scrying spell, hm, and obviously image-deflection spells. An illusion spell will do if you must, simply to prevent lip-reading. Oh, and check your location first. A [Rogue] can always hide within your enclosed space.”

“Is…is that you, Eldavin? Really, you?”

“Yes, yes. Hurry now.”

“I have to tell you—”

“Prepare the space first, Ryoka.”

He snapped. Ryoka hesitated. She was gulping, huffing, fumbling with a lock—he adjusted the intensity of the stone. The nerve of that little [Mage], asking him why it had to be so complex. So he could adjust volume, make sure no one was listening, and so on!

“I can use some scrolls, and I have a [Silence] scroll, but I don’t know about the rest. Anti-scrying?”

“You do not have an anti-scrying spell?”

“No. My name is good enough, isn’t it?”

“Someone can [Scry] an area even if they fail to scry you! At least check your area! Cast [Aura Detection]!”

“…I don’t have that.”

The Dragon stopped. He was pacing in his room.

“…[Spell Purge]. [Contained Room]. [Isolation Bubble]. …[Detect Life]?

“I do have that one. But uh…no, wait. I must have sold it.”

He closed his eyes.

“Very well. Walk around your room and touch every conceivable space where something could be. Ceiling, floor…then shut the window and shut the doors and lock them. We shall speak covertly either way. Is that…mundane enough for you?”

“I’m doing it, I’m doing it. Not everyone can cast magic! You are Eldavin, aren’t you? We should confirm it…”

“Where did I send you when we first met? Before that, tell me how much my price was in quantifiable units for my first task.”

Four hundred gold pieces. And the Bloodfields. Okay, we’re secure.

“Have you checked the doors and windows?”

They’re closed. I’m not st—oh, wait.

Creak. Someone closed the shutters that had given her trouble before and latched it. Eldavin was pointedly silent. After a few seconds, he spoke.

“What occurred on the Summer Solstice? I regret that I missed it, but something clearly did occur. On a magnitude I did not expect! Did you truly meet or invoke…him?

He could only think of a few reasons why the entire world had stirred in greeting. Ryoka Griffin’s voice on the other end was…hesitant.

“Yes. You didn’t come. I thought you would, and Magnolia.”

“I…forgot.”

“You forgot? I—you forgot? And why are you in Wistram?”

The Dragon sniffed.

“Sometimes one forgets, Miss Griffin! And I had business to attend to. I am in Wistram and I am Grand Magus Eldavin. As you know me.”

“Wh—oh. Oh my…really? Why? I thought you said—listen. The Solstice…you don’t know…”

The half-Elf sighed. This was why he preferred talks face-to-face. He half-debated whether it was worth seeing if his true body could be awoken…but no, he’d done too good a job. Pointedly, he tapped his finger on the side table as he reclined in a chair.

“I am calling to enquire upon that very matter. I assume my knowledge was accurate, of course? The fae were invoked?”

Probably safe to mention them. Ryoka hesitated.

“Yes—yes, they were. I was able to go…to their place. But listen, T—Eldavin. Something’s happened—”

He sat up, blinking.

“You went to the land of the—you went there? Are you mad? Also, how?”

“I bargained for it. I met someone who let me in. Eldavin. Something terrible has happened. I went there to find help. And meet Ivolethe.”

“Did you meet her?”

“Yes. And someone like you. But listen. Erin is—”

“Someone like me? You don’t mean one of my relatives, but like…I knew some went. Where? What were their names?”

Erin. Eldavin. Listen to me. Before that, Erin.

The young woman’s voice was changing on the other end. But Eldavin was too excited to notice. He was pacing the rooms now, talking excitedly.

“I knew something had occurred, but Reinhart entered into her difficulties and I have left to see how Wistram has changed. Listen to me, Ryoka. You are soon to be hunted by the academy.”

“Eldavin—”

“I uncovered it on my first day here. It wasn’t hard, fortuitous true, but shoddy spell work of these [Mages] made it easy. They are collecting children of Earth. And you will be on their list.”

“Eldavin, that doesn’t matter. I need you to—”

“Does not matter? This is Wistram, Ryoka Griffin. Faded they might be, but a threat they are still! I have told you I do not interfere, hah, well, I would hardly trouble myself to oppose them. However, in light of our relationship and that we are exchanging secrets, I have taken upon myself to inform you, and I will make a few subtle gestures in—”

Teri—Eldavin! Erin Solstice is dead. And the gods are back.

 

—-

 

Ryoka Griffin’s eyes were running. They’d turned on and hadn’t stopped as the Dragon began to chatter, sounding happier—more involved than she had heard him.

She spoke again.

“Erin’s dead. And not dead. She was hurt. I need your help, Eldavin. The g—they’re back. We saw them there. The fae fled. It’s all ruined. Erin…I need your help. Please. I’ll do anything. Just please help.”

She waited.

“T—Eldavin?”

“Hello?”

 

—-

 

“Hello?”

But he didn’t respond. The old half-Elf…the [Grand Mage]…

Eldavin…

No, Teriarch, the Dragon, was huddled in a corner of the room, his body contorted, as if it belonged to someone else.

His head was in his hands. The voice spoke again, asking. Pleading.

And there he was again. He had looked away for a second.

In his arrogance, in his complacency. Rhir’s beautiful daughter died. Died, to shame them all, as Crelers filled the land, sea, and skies.

The last Empress of Harpies, Sheta, fell. And all that she had built fell to ruin.

The first and only [Dragonprince] died, he who had charmed them and given even them something to believe in.

Gone.

The old Dragon had seen it. Heard it all, so many times.

There they were. Bright stars, beautiful souls, blazing bright. Fading in moments. Gone—gone—taken in a moment. An accident. A blade in the dark.

He thought he had seen it all. And still, they surprised him as they died. Still, it tore a piece of him away, as if there had been barbs.

Suddenly, all the little joys and petty annoyances were gone. The half-Elf uncurled by fractions.

…He was Teriarch again. In this moment. And he wanted to be back in his cave. To sleep, and not wake until all that he had known was changed again.

He listened to a familiar sound. Sobbing.

The young woman was crying, pleading with him. Begging and offering trinkets from another world. Knowledge.

She thought he was gone. Slowly, he bent and picked up the little stone.

“Child. I’m here. Speak to me.”

The old man sat there, on the bed. And he listened. He listened to how the [Innkeeper] had—

 

—-

 

“Checkmate, I think.”

She smiled at him during the third game. Not a smirk, but a small, pleased smile. She couldn’t help it. Nor was she gloating, not really.

It was such a genuine smile, of someone truly pleased with herself, that he couldn’t be mad. Well, for a moment. Then he’d tossed the board.

But he’d gone to her later, and looked at her again, even as she made comments about being a bad sport. And she knew more of him then. And he knew her.

He remembered her name and face. For here was someone who had bested a Dragon.

 

—-

 

Erin Solstice. Eldavin’s head rose suddenly.

“Say that again.”

“She’s not…dead.”

“How?”

We froze her. Listen, listen, please…

He did, with heart pounding. And it changed again. In his mind, he saw a broken body. A great warrior-queen, laid low. Preserved by a grieving [Archmage] who called for someone to heal her.

A Dragon who knelt after slaying the greatest filth Crelers had ever wrought. Her kin, who labored to save her…

“Alive. No. Neither alive nor dead. You are sure?”

“I haven’t…haven’t seen her. But I know what they did.”

“Freezing. Why ice? She’s no [Cryomancer] or Ice Dragon…”

Yet there was a kind of logic there. Teriarch listened, mixing analytical disbelief with hope and…

“The fae think she’s alive. Or she can be healed. Ivolethe was trying to help me, before…and [Detect Death] and [Detect Life] both don’t work!”

“That does not mean she is safe. Is she warded? Against ghosts?”

“I…I don’t know? I’ll ask.”

Teriarch thought.

“If she lies in the [Garden of Sanctuary], she is. And this news…you met with him. You travelled to another world. You met with the King of Chivalry?”

“I have his autograph.”

Eldavin sprayed the mana potion across the room. He stared; he’d been running low on mana and had to sip one of those odious things. He stared, affronted, as mana potion ran from his nose.

Bodies!

“Please, Eldavin. Help her. Help me. I have…other things. Whatever you want.”

“You know what I have said, girl.”

Yet…that was just automatic. He was thinking. Ryoka gulped loudly and wetly.

“I do. But please? I can’t…I did my best. And I…”

“Hush. Before I speak on that, say it again. What did you say before that?”

Another gulp.

“They’re back. I…Laken got a text. He’s like me. Haven’t you seen…?”

“I am not close to that—device. You saw it? And…describe the meeting with the fae again.”

She did. And now Teriarch conceived a mortal horror the like of which he had not felt since the Creler wars.

Oh no. How? Why now?

But he knew.

Earth.

The Dragon thought. And he feared…more than the worst. This was pretty much it. Yet he sat in the rooms of Wistram and realized—he was where he needed to be.

Now, the Grand Magus spoke, and he was sincere in his words. His tone was steady, his eyes distant, watching mana potion drip down the far wall.

“Listen to me, Ryoka Griffin. I have business in Wistram. I am Grand Magus Eldavin and I now know I can do more good here than anywhere else. I must. But this is no time to be idle. There are…no. Allies?”

He thought and shook his head.

“Not for you to find. But listen to me. I will see about Wistram hunting you. And I will investigate your claims. I do not disbelieve you. But if what you say is true, this ‘text’ came from here. And I will uncover the truth of it. You may reach out to me as you wish.”

“Yes. Thank you. But Eldavin…Erin…”

“I cannot help her now.”

No. Please. I know you—

The pleading voice was silenced as he adjusted the volume. The Dragon spoke sternly.

“Listen. Be silent, Ryoka Griffin. I said, I cannot help her now. As I am. Do you understand me? I am inconvenienced. Far from my…usual abode. And means. Do you understand?”

An indrawn breath.

“Yes. Does that mean…?”

Again, he wavered. What had he told her? But then, he spoke.

“My aid is not so easily bought. But you may have something…I want. I must first conclude my work here. Then return. I cannot so easily make my way back, but there are ways to effect it quicker than by boat.”

Teleportation. They had to have at least one circle remaining. He spoke, sternly, but trying to get every word to her.

“When I do, I promise you, I will call you. And I shall uncover the means to help Erin Solstice. If it can be done, I can do it.”

He heard his own words and coughed.

“If you can pay for it, of c—”

Thank you! Thankyouthankyou—

“That’s quite enough. I said, ‘if’. I have work to do, and I cannot simply…wait. Yes. I promise. Do not make me repeat myself. I promise, and I do not break my word. Stop crying, child…”

And after a long time, he rose. He felt tired, but those painful tears had turned to ones of hope.

Wait. He could not go now, no matter how much she pleaded. He would—he had sworn it. But a shadow weighed upon his heart.

“Tamaroth’s beard.”

He shook his head. And that old curse seemed so sinister. The Dragon turned.

He really didn’t want to go to the banquet now. But it was more important. He shook his head. And hoped Ryoka Griffin would listen.

Wait. It might be painful, but wait. If there was hope at all, even the smallest spark of life, he would find it and bring it back. So wait, and do nothing hasty until then. It would not be long.

She had a Dragon’s promise.

 

—-

 

The first of many banquets in Wistram was a grand affair. Not that Wistram didn’t have lavish events each night.

Buffet? That was the staple. Exotic foods from around the world and master-class [Chefs] hired to produce treats at all hours? There would be riots without.

So when [Mages] threw a ball, they threw one.

Possibly even the now-infamous party in Riverfarm couldn’t compare in sheer expense. Certainly not to [Waiters], the rich and exotic foods like the aforementioned Phoenix wings (a debatable issue since they did grow back, but the Phoenixes really didn’t appreciate losing them), and more.

Each group who knew the score had brought gifts. For instance, there was rich fish roe from the [Depth Mages] sitting veiled and separate from the main tables. As Telim had told Aaron, the hierarchy was in full effect; the main factions sat closer to the head tables, with notable outsiders on the periphery and the general [Mage]-public to the rear of the banquet hall.

This was actually agreeable for the general public who didn’t care to be waited upon. They swarmed the buffet tables, talking, casting little spells and generally having a great time while politics and dignity engulfed the more important guests. Telim himself repeated his bag of holding trick, much to the umbrage of everyone who was lined up for cream puffs and many of the Earth-style desserts.

It was debatable whether expense = better, but that was [Mages] for you. Even the food was a kind of code.

“And what is this?

A Fissival [Mage] pointed at one of the pizzas, now a staple in the diets of [Mages]. He looked at his fellow guests, noticeably shoved off the main gathering. They were displeased, but that was rivalry for you. One of the Oldblood Drakes sniffed; she was a [Wardmistress].

“Looks like cheese on bread. The things they come up with. Why…is that pineapple?”

Some people were depraved. But the symbolism wasn’t missed. A [Combat Mage] folded his arms and exhaled a bit of frost.

“New food. Plays. This is an echo of what was going down at Pallass. Your thoughts, Magus Grimalkin?”

A voice spoke from a scrying orb placed on the table. One of six; other Drakes were observing the banquet, symbolically here.

Don’t eat the pizza. It’s quite unhealthy. Yes, this is exactly like Liscor. They have at least one.

“Odds are—dozens. We’ve fallen behind. If the damned secret-thing these idiots have is any indication. I bought a ‘medium’ secret which…paugh. We have to get one for Fissival. If Pallass won’t share?”

He raised one brow. Grimalkin exhaled.

“I am Pallass. The only reason I am communicating is because this is a shared interest, Magus. Now—do you see Grand Magus Eldavin anywhere?”

The [Combat Mage] glanced around the room.

“We’re still filling up. So—not the pizza? What about the gelato?

“Even worse.”

The other Drakes rolled their eyes. One went up to get a triple scoop. Magus Grimalkin was a graduate of Fissival, but he did preach so.

“When are we ‘allowed’ to mingle?”

“I think it’s the fourth course.”

The [Wardmistress] rolled her eyes.

“Wonderful. Where’s our [Waiter]? Excuse me—wine. Lots of it.”

They were one faction, and outliers at that. Other groups also observed their tenuous position in the pecking order, as set down by High Mage Soner.

“They’ve exiled us to this table, mother. What do we do? Are they insulting you? Testing?”

One of the [Depth Mages] from the sea-faction leaned over. Their leader, veiled in both aura and clothing, sat very still. She occasionally put a fork or bite under her clothing.

“In times past, they knew the worth of our magic. Perhaps since Zelkyr they have forgotten. Either way, the landfolk have what we need. Endure indignity.”

Her daughters nodded. Each one was quite peculiar—but Soner hadn’t noticed and the sea’s representatives were content to observe. For now.

Other new arrivals were in far better standing. An old Garuda for instance, Grand Magus Erkika, was included right in the circle of tables around the Archmages. He was known to all the [Mages], and they were plying him with wine as his apprentices and the serving staff fetched whatever he desired.

“Tell us about Qualve—Quelvekky—the Shield Kingdom, Erkika. Is it worth not visiting Wistram?”

The old Garuda was losing some of his plumage, but his eyes were still sharp enough. He drank lightly, as alcohol tended to affect Garuda far more quickly than others. He kept tossing up snacks and snapping them out of the air, never mind that it was bad manners.

“Qualvekkaras. And it’s a lovely place. You should all visit. Almost exclusively Garuda, but why mourn Wistram’s halls when I’m a [Prince] among my people?”

A portly half-Elf chuckled, one of Feor’s Centrists.

“True enough. If I could go back to my people as a hero and one of the greatest [Mages]…but we don’t have an empire or nation of our own.”

“Anymore. You thinking of starting the half-Elf kingdoms back up, Demerial?”

A Selphid—Sa’la, mingling before she headed back to Telim—got a kick from the half-Elf and a few snacks levitated at her. Everyone laughed, though.

They were [Mages] before species, most of them. And the notable ones were those who had left Wistram, to put petty nations or groups before magical solidarity.

“Archmage Verdan. How is the old Iron Vanguard doing? I heard you got put on the back foot by the Forgotten Wing Company. First the games at Daquin, now the loss with Maelstrom’s Howling.”

Nailihuaile was ribbing the elderly Human, who wore armor like Dullahans. Beatrice listened uncomfortably; she had great respect for the most venerated Human in Dullahan society.

Verdan Blackwood was unmoved. Like Dullahans, his face was blank as his body slowly turned to face Naili, rather than turn his head.

“We have suffered defeats, Archmage Nailihuaile. So does any great organization. Tulm the Mithril is confident we will soon enter a glorious new phase. We regroup and keep vital aspects of our strength. Unlike the lamentable fate of the Lizardfolk’s Great Company.”

Naili’s eyes narrowed.

“That’s very hurtful, Verdan. I thought we were being friendly!”

“Then draw your fangs, Archmage Naili. Are we at odds, or the representatives of Baleros?”

The man gave her a level look. The Lamia’s eyes flickered—then she smiled and was laughing with him.

“I guess we are! Baleros should stick together. Speaking of which…are you referring to the rumors about the Titan?

Her eyes glimmered with interest. Verdan smiled politely. Those listening leaned in, because of course the rumor had begun to circulate already.

Niers Astoragon was missing. And the fact that he hadn’t been visible up close—just from a distance—only added to that claim. People said…he had suffered an accident. There were rumors. But the telling part?

Peclir Im had vanished.

It didn’t take a genius [Strategist] to figure out something might be up. And if one of the two pillars of the Forgotten Wing company was gone…

But that was politics outside of Wistram. Naili leaned over, just as symbolically as Feor and Viltach clearly vying for Valeterisa’s support.

“In the following discussions, interests should be aligned, should they not, Valeterisa?”

Feor was calmly indulging in the first course as Valeterisa poked at some veal. Viltach raised one brow.

“Of course they should, Archmage Feor. But perhaps Humans would understand the issue more completely.”

“Does magic distinguish itself by race, Archmage Viltach?”

Feor gave the Archmage a long look. Viltach shrugged eloquently.

“Perhaps not, Archmage Feor. But we find ourselves divided too often despite the fact that we are both Archmages of Terandria. Archmage Nailihuaile and Verdan are quick to ally. Chandrar’s Archmages—Archmage has yet to appear. But as it stands, there is one alliance.”

The half-Elf’s finger tapped against his plate slowly.

“Insofar as Terandria’s interests are represented, we find common ground, Viltach. However, Terandrian and Izrilian interests would provide a majority in most discussions.”

“True. What say you to that, Valeterisa?”

Both looked sideways at her. Valeterisa sighed. She selected Item #4 from the list she’d been composing with her multiple minds.

“That would depend on the nature of the discussion, Archmages. I have yet to be informed of what is necessary.”

“Ah.”

“Quite. But in the event that we come to odds?”

“No doubt Terandria should ally with Izril since we are closer to each other than Baleros.”

Valeterisa’s face was smooth. Viltach and Feor looked at each other and nodded. They pressed Valeterisa, innocently pretending to argue. She proceeded to ignore them. She was—distracted. She hadn’t made the mistake of getting lost in herself as she had before that fascinating young woman had woken her, but she was still devoting only a third of her mind to the present. And even that was really too much.

One third was performing analysis on that light beetle, speculating about the political acts she might need to take…and another third was busy deciphering a puzzle. Her eyes flickered across the floor. More guests moved in; it was hardly as if there was a set time for the banquet to occur.

And that was when Grand Magus Eldavin appeared.

 

—-

 

It was about forty minutes after his discussion with Ryoka Griffin. The Grand Magus had collected himself since then.

No—what was there to collect? He was perfectly calm. The half-Elf strode into the banquet hall and exhaled.

Erin Solstice was…not dead. Wounded, yes. And he had learned that Maviola El had also passed. The young [Lady] with fire and an older soul.

These things happened. He had seen better mortals die. Had he not lived so long as to know the fragility of their lives?

He was Teriarch, Lord of Flame.

No, he was Eldavin—

It mattered not. The half-Elf looked around, waiting to be announced and escorted to his seat. He had promised Ryoka Griffin to help, and he would keep his word. That was all.

They burn bright, like fireflies. That is why we do not grow attached. I did not even know her.

Eldavin remembered a hilltop. A garden he had thought he would never set foot in again. An absurd movie on a screen, inaccurate Elves…popcorn and a Gnoll child with white fur.

It meant nothing. He looked around then saw the High Mage hurrying over. Eldavin frowned with annoyance. But he controlled himself.

The young woman was dead. Not dead. Either way, it mattered not.

He was fine.

“Grand Mage Eldavin, apologies. Your seat is just over here…”

Eldavin looked towards the High Table. But the Naga was gesturing to…Eldavin stopped.

He was placed about midway across the banquet hall, away from the buffet. He eyed the Naga.

“What is the meaning of this?”

High Mage Soner winced. But he put a huge smile on his face as he turned, coiling upon himself.

“Regrettably, the Archmages must entertain some Terandrian nobility—as well as Chandrarian, Grand Magus. We—thought that you would appreciate some peace and quiet without disruption in Wistram politics on your first night here.”

“I have business with Archmagus Feor. With the Archmages, for that matter. I am a Grand Mage. This seating seems far below my stature.”

Soner thought quickly. He held up pleading hands.

“Would you consider it, for the sake of the—the students, Grand Magus? Everyone at the table has expressed a keen, keen desire to speak to you.”

“…They have? Ah, well, that does change things…”

Soner urgently gestured and the mix of students and younger [Mages] he’d bullied into filling this table stood up and all bowed slightly. It was Seky, Mena—and some of the junior representatives of each faction.

“It would be exceedingly kind of you to share your wisdom, Grand Magus.”

“I—well, hrmpf. This is highly inappropriate, Magus Soner.”

Teriarch glanced at the high table. The Naga was soothing, though, and the young [Bard] bowed.

“Grand Magus, I’m terribly sorry for asking Magus Soner to do this. But we hoped you might tell us about Wistram as it was—I should have thought better.”

“I can of course prepare another seat, Grand Magus. Ah, but where…?”

She and the Naga exchanged glances as Eldavin wavered. At last, the half-Elf sniffed.

“I suppose this will do. I will prevail upon the Archmagi later in the meal. We must present a unified front, after all. Very well.”

With ill grace, he seated himself at the table. Soner exhaled and nodded at Mena. She made a face, but he’d promised her personal lessons with one of the older [Mages] for this favor. And she had suggested this, so…

He slithered off as Eldavin sat down. The half-Elf let the others introduce themselves, smiled, and noted the factions around the room at a glance. He frowned.

“[Depth Mages] from the seas and Fissival’s Drakes? This is indeed a large banquet. I should introduce myself…”

He stood up and all of the table urgently talked him back down.

“Not yet, Grand Magus! Its customary to do so after the fourth course.”

“Fourth course? Who thought that up? Wait…is that one of Zelkyr’s little dinner rules? When I was present, [Mages] went where they pleased. If someone wanted to talk to the Archmages, they got themselves noticed.”

Mena sighed. She looked at her friends whom she’d coerced into doing this. They grimaced. This was not going to be a fun night. The old half-Elf was already upset. Even as the first course was joined by a second, he raised his voice, objecting to the layout of the room—and the placement of all the guests. Himself included of course, but he had salient points on the other seats.

“It’s the dignity of the thing. Perhaps there’s a good reason for it. But if I were to lay out the room? It would go like this.”

Telim was edging around the tables, trying to avoid the wrath of one of the [Chefs] who’d stormed out of the kitchen.

Who took the entire roast duck?

“Cover me, lads.”

He whispered to Troy and Flynn. The young man holding Prickly, the Needlehound dog, was grinning at the prank-theft. Trey was just shaking his head at the mischief, but Telim had promised a share of the duck for Prickly.

They were moving away from the scene of the crime by heading across the room before cutting back to the rear where Telim had set up a lounging dinner party at the sofas. As they did, they passed by a table with a very angry, very old half-Elf.

Troy paused because why wouldn’t you? Not only was the half-Elf tall, he looked well, a lot more fit than most of the [Mages] here. To Troy, he was like one of Parasol Stroll. There was a confidence about the way he gestured. Also, if Troy knew his species, a half-Elf with white hair was super old! Even Feor was only greying!

…Not to mention he was really loud.

“Respect, young [Mages]! Respect levels! Put that [Depth Mage] at the high table. The one in the center, right there, you see?”

He was pointing at the veiled woman surrounded by the other ones. Trey turned his head; she was a subject of high scrutiny of course; each [Depth Mage], and there were eight total, was covered head-to-toe in dark fabric such that you saw only their eyes.

It was an odd look, especially for Drowned Folk. Trey lingered as Telim looked around and ducked behind the Libertarian’s table. They all laughed at his antics as Mena turned to Eldavin.

“How do you mean, Grand Magus? Because she represents the Undersea fleets?”

“Because of her level, young woman. Are you blind?”

Eldavin picked up a chicken nugget and stared at it for a long moment before savagely biting into it. The others at his table stirred. Telim’s head poked up.

“You can see how strong she is?”

“Naturally. Oh, I suppose for young [Mages] you rely on, what, [Appraisal]? [Aura Reader]? But it takes more than that to suppress your nature. Let’s see. Her, that [Grand Mage] Garuda over there—I see a [Wardmistress] of Fissival—and maybe those two. Who are they?”

“Er—[High Mage] Teura of the Centrists and [Solar Mage] Vedufien.”

“Yes. Half-Elf and Centaur. Put all of them at the high table. And myself of course. And why at that end of the room? Put them in the center, here. And the hall around them.”

“But that’s not as dignified, Grand Magus, surely. People should approach the high-table.”

Seky protested. The half-Elf waved a finger at her.

“You’re speaking like a Drake, young woman. Everything has to go in order of superiority, does it? Why an arbitrary direction? The room revolves around you. This is Zelkyr’s style, claw marks all over it. Must we sit on decorum? Why, in times past there was even elevated seating!”

“You mean…bleachers?”

Eldavin gave the offending [Mage] such a long look the man turned red.

“I mean, floating tables. Separated levels—artificial light structures. Completely egregious, incidentally. That is what happens when rank takes too much precedence. Not that I am saying it shouldn’t factor in! But it was ridiculous.”

“Must have been a sight to see.”

One of the Drakes murmured. Eldavin’s brows rose.

“It was. It looked like—well, this.

He snapped his fingers. Telim, head rising like a submarine’s periscope and swiveling to and fro, froze. Trey blinked. Then he stared.

Slowly, a shimmering table appeared over the heads of Eldavin’s group. Everyone around looked up and gasped as they saw lifelike people—[Mages] of old, wearing shimmering robes and made of light—eating, talking, and waving down at the people below. They sat on a kind of [Light Bridge], like Mena had seen, with a staircase leading down.

Then it was gone. Eldavin calmly took a sip of wine.

“That takes more magic than I remember it doing. But you see? Completely inefficient. Only useful if the banquet hall was filled.

Everyone was staring. He looked around.

“What?”

“That was a magnificent illusion spell, sir.”

A voice broke the silence. It was Telim. The High Mage had approached the table. He’d brought a chair with him. He placed the stolen duck on the table.

“High Magus Telim. And you must be Grand Magus Eldavin. I’m a fan of the Illusion school myself, and I have to say—that was exceptionally crafted!”

“Well met, Magus Telim. And it was hardly exceptional. Just a few memorized replications. You understand how it is. Memory is far easier to replicate than anything else.”

Eldavin nodded calmly. Telim blinked at him.

“Still, extraordinary. Aren’t you from Izril? A little bird told me that.”

“I have come from there, it is true. And it has been long since I last attended Wistram’s halls. Much has changed. Lack of decorum, you see…”

His voice rose again. And with it, some more illusions. Other [Mages] were showing off too. One conjured a Wyvern; someone else threw a fake spear through it.

Behave yourselves! There will be no large spellworks without permission!

An irate voice shouted from the front. Some of the [Mages] laughed, others fell silent. Eldavin meanwhile was getting more and more looks from the Libertarians and nearby [Mages].

“I have half a mind to bring up my complaint with the Archmages at this moment.”

“Tricky, Grand Magus. They will be swamped with people and it will be hard to get a word in edgewise…”

“Then I will insist upon it. Who represents Izril up there?”

“That would be Valeterisa. But the Archmages to know are Feor, Viltach, Nailihuaile at the moment…”

“One of them, then. Feor perhaps. Really, he should have come to me. We are both half-Elves, aren’t we?”

For a [Grand Mage] no one had heard about, he had an ego as large as well, anyone else’s here, and a voice to match. The mostly-Human group began joking as he continued to rant through the second course. One of them leaned over.

“That old hermit-mage seems to think he should be right up next to the Archmages, eh, Charles?”

Charles de Trevalier gave Eldavin a none-too-friendly look. He nodded at Timor du Havrington; they were both Libertarians under the watchful eye of Mage Rievan. The teacher and senior member of their faction cautioned them.

“Do nothing that might embarrass Archmage Viltach, you two.”

They hesitated in front of the warning tone. Charles looked innocently at his mentor.

“That old half-Elf is rather full of himself, Rievan. Half-Elven superiority right there. Shouldn’t someone take him down a notch?”

The [Mage] pursed his lips. Eldavin’s voice came carrying to where they were seated again.

“And the reception at the docks was simply shoddy. One impresses guests with effort, not with half-hearted groups—no offense to your hard work, Miss Mena. But you should have had ten times your numbers, music, personal touches like that make all the difference…not some ragtag group of metal statues. You might as well drag out some actual statues for all the effect the Golems had! What use is one if they act no different than the furniture?”

Rievan’s lips pursed. He’d suggested the Golems on display! He nodded to Charles and Timor.

“Words only.”

They grinned and began composing their work as some more of their fellow students and [Mages] leaned in for the fun. It was clear to them that Eldavin was a Centrist in all but name, and would soon be in Feor’s faction. And the enemy deserved to be embarrassed, especially if they were all talk.

 

—-

 

Trey had abandoned the back table. Telim had made introductions, stayed for a minute to talk illusion with Eldavin, but he had to scamper once the [Chef] honed in on her missing duck. Flynn ran off too, since Prickly was drooling and following the [High Mage].

But Trey was fascinated. This old [Mage]…Trey had no reading on his aura, like some of the better [Mages] here. He seemed like a lot of hot air. And yet—Trey had met the Quarass of Germina. He got the same feeling from this half-Elf as her.

His instincts told him to stay, so he was the one who retrieved food for Eldavin. The [Grand Mage] gave him an approving nod as Trey sat.

“Respect, young man. Troy Atlas, is it? It goes a long way.”

“Yes, Grand Magus.”

Trey also had a lot of experience handling people with huge egos. Fetohep, Flos, the Quarass again for that matter…Trey inclined his head.

“You were saying about the reception, Magus Eldavin?”

The [Bard] sitting next to Trey gave him an exasperated look. She and the others kept trying to get Eldavin to talk about the floors above the Golem’s test. But the half-Elf latched onto Trey’s question.

“Thank you, young man. I’m simply confused. Perhaps you can illuminate me as to why no [Weather Mage] provided clear skies?”

“I’ve only been here two weeks or so, Grand Magus.”

“Ah. Then you, Miss Mena?”

The [Bard] coughed.

“Well, sir, we don’t want to cause another magical typhoon…and once you arrive to Wistram, everything is peaceful.”

“They could have at least extended the bubble of weather.”

The [Bard]’s fake smile was accompanied by a lot of head nodding. She took another long sip of her cup and a bite, then spoke.

“But it’s surely something for a guest, to see a sphere of perfection even out of a storm. That’s impressive, isn’t it? More impressive than clear skies all the way here?”

Eldavin looked at her as if she was mad.

“A localized bubble spell is more impressive than perfection and a satisfactory voyage?”

“No—I just meant—people expect Wistram to be like this, though, so why not let them sail through some bad weather? ‘It’s always sunny in Wistram’, after all.”

“What?”

The [Bard] looked at the others. One did a covert ‘he’s nuts’ gesture with her claw. Trey winced.

“It’s what people say. It’s always sunny in Wistram, Grand Magus. Because of the calm air? Perfect skies? Didn’t they say that when you were here? A hundred years ago?”

The Drake, Seky, gave him a patient smile. Eldavin slowly gulped down another chicken tender.

“I have never heard that in my life, young Drake. And you will drop the patronizing tone. What do you mean, it’s always sunny? When we care for it, we’ll have rain! Tam—dead gods, the flora surely enjoys that! And what about when [Aeromancers] practice? Gale winds. Come to that, they should lower the temperature a bit. It was altogether too warm for my tastes.”

The table blinked at him.

“Lower the…”

“The weather spell. Has no one changed it since…”

And then Eldavin stopped. He looked around incredulously.

“You must be joking. Has no one changed the weather for the last hundred years?”

A silence fell on the table. No one quite wanted to reply. Eldavin began tapping the wooden surface rapidly.

“This—this is incredible! Even if the higher floors are locked, it is not that difficult! Even a junior [Mage] can do it. Do they just not bother to change the setting?”

“I don’t—I didn’t know—”

Mena was flushing, looking around as if Wistram itself were being impugned. Indeed, everyone in earshot was uncomfortable.

Except for Trey. That was, Troy. He was happily eating the imitation of fast food fried chicken and enjoying this.

“So there was different weather when you were here last, Grand Magus?”

The old man looked at Trey approvingly.

“Exactly. Why, we had glorious days where we’d turn the weather to fall and sip drinks in Somela’s Forest. Wonderful trees, blooming in every color; damned petals kept getting in the drinks, but half the academy would be there. Rain for [Hydromancers], baking sun for [Pyromancers] and so on. Weather informs magic. Well, the reverse was also true; you’d get miserable [Pyromancers] in torrential downpours who had to cast [Fireball] before their masters let them in to eat! One time a poor [Pyromancer] camped for two weeks in the rain. Had to survive on fish and donations and a quarter of the student body gave him tips until he finally mastered the spell.”

He laughed heartily at the memory. Trey nodded. He’d had similar training from Gazi and the [Mages] of Parasol Stroll. The students, though, looked appalled.

“That’s barbaric!”

“What? He learned the spell. Adversity! Don’t tell me they don’t throw [Aeromancers] off the high balconies anymore? That’s how you learn to fly. Or at least, break your fall.”

At that, Trey shuddered.

“I learned how to cast [Slow Fall] that way.”

Mena gaped at him. Eldavin beamed.

“There you are. The old ways! Not everything old is wrong. Not everything…”

He lapsed into silence for a moment. And he looked terribly sad for a moment.

“I remember a time when Archmage Chandler roamed these halls. Is it anathema to speak his name? There was a time when Terandria boasted of their Archmage!”

Charles de Trevalier’s head slowly turned incredulously. The Libertarians froze up. Mena gulped.

“Grand Magus—”

Eldavin wasn’t listening. He turned to the [Sand Mage].

“You seem to have decent foundations, young man. Who taught you? Er…”

He squinted for a second.

“Trey Atwood, isn’t it?”

Trey began to choke on his food.

“W-what? No, it’s Troy Atlas.

“Oh. My mistake.”

Eldavin gave Trey a look and casually sipped from his drink. Trey felt a huge pit burning in his stomach, but no one seemed to have noticed. But he had an anti-[Appraisal] ring and everything! They had told him—

 

—-

 

Valeterisa was growing increasingly antsy. She did not care for this seating. Moreover, she had just spotted the young man with the Lifesand Golem.

He had run away from her. Screaming. It was not a unique experience, but now she saw him sitting at a table with what her internal notes identified as Grand Magus Eldavin, affiliation unknown, level unknown, apparently older than Archmagus Feor.

That would have already interested her. But in her head, one of her thought-processes attracted the attention of all the others.

Ding! Translation complete. The mysterious note on the wall finally sorted itself through her translation.

 

I am Magus Eldavin and offer you a secret of fire…

 

Viltach was sighing. Someone had brought up the Necromancer, apparently. Magus Rievan was pointing and the Archmage glaring.

“If they’re over there, the better for it. Let them talk. No, just let them talk, Rievan.”

He shooed the [Mage] away. Some old [Mage] who had as many memory issues as incontinence ones? It didn’t matter; no wonder Soner had put a [Grand Mage] over there. He turned.

“As I was saying, Valeteris—”

He looked around. She had left the table in the third course and wandered off. Viltach cursed and sighed. Lack of decorum everywhere!

 

—-

 

“I actually think they’re not going to approach us. Which means we have to go begging to them. Ridiculous.”

The Drakes were glowering from their isolation table. The voice from the scrying orb was patient.

“Wistram owes the Walled Cities little. Go to Grand Magus Eldavin. I can vouch for his superior knowledge.”

“I’m getting up. Fourth course is nearly done; I see Archmage Valeterisa.

The Drakes stiffened as they saw her picking her way through the crowd. Half glared; she was the Human Archmage of Izril as far as they were concerned.

“How did someone wake her up? Better if she stayed silent.”

Grumbling, they watched her move. Then they noticed whom she was moving towards.

 

—-

 

“Who’s that half-Elf?”

Galei of Ullsinoi was eating in the company of his faction…or maybe not. Charles de Trevalier was offering Cessic, one of Beatrice’s few remaining friends, a tureen of gravy. In fact—most of the [Mages] here looked like ones from other factions. They had doppelgangers—or they were actually here.

“No idea. But he had a splendid illusion spell. Looked almost spontaneous. You interested, Galei?”

The Bear-General of Ailendamus was eating at his table. Yerzhen—or rather, the [Mage] stealing his name and look—glanced around. The others murmured.

“As good as I could do it. What was that, light magic?”

“Lovely containment; I barely saw any magical leak. Where’d he come from?”

The High Passes. And Liscor. And the inn.”

The Ullsinoi faction stopped. They gave each other significant looks.

“Ah. Then we had better say hello. Old man sounds very upset. Did you know we could change the weather spell?”

Bemused, most of the table shook their heads. A few nodded just because. So did Galei. And Taxiela, both of whom might be Palt’s master, or neither. The Centaur bit into the Hawaiian pizza slice.

“I did. I was wondering if anyone would remember.”

The others laughed. He might have been telling the truth. They all looked over as someone raised their voice.

“Excuse me, sir. Would you mind sharing your wisdom with us?

Charles de Trevalier glanced over and saw his twin rising from his seat and calling out to Eldavin. The Ullsinoi [Mages] stirred.

Oho.

 

—-

 

Eldavin’s head turned. His ire had faded a bit, and he was actually beginning to enjoy himself as he ate; he’d sent Trey to collect a sample of all the dishes.

“Yes, young man?”

He called out to Charles de Trevalier. The young man was smiling—but not in a happy way.

“We—the Libertarians—”

“The who?”

Eldavin blinked at the Humans. They looked at each other.

“The Libertarians? Who believe Wistram should involve itself in the affairs of nations? One of the largest groups in Wistram?”

“Ah. You must have called yourself something else the last time I was here.”

Eldavin’s eyebrows politely rose. The young man looked uncertainly around, then flushed.

Charles de Trevalier. Beatrice glowered from her seat. She knew him. A troublemaker, decidedly pro-Human and anti-most species.

Once, he had been Ceria and Pisces’ enemy, having come in on the same boat and year as they did. He stepped away from the table and everyone heard the silver chime.

A silver bell and a rapier hung by his waist. Proof of mastery, or the first step to such.

He didn’t deserve it. But that was long, long ago…

“You seem to have a number of old memories, sir. Such as that of the Necromancer of Terandria. Or are you forgetting Wistram exiled that kind of foulness?”

Eldavin stirred. His eyes locked on Charles’.

He recognized uppity tones when he heard them. Young Dragons now…

Ah, once. Once, he had walked among his kind. Endured challenges, their testing of him—what a pain.

What he wouldn’t give for those days once more.

The young woman who bested a Dragon. Shot by crossbows. Lying frozen—

He blinked. Forget about it.

“Young [Mage]. Your tone seems to indicate that you object to me using his name. And title. Archmage Chandler.

Charles flushed. Another young man shot to his feet.

“He is not an Archmage! He was exiled and his name stricken such that it is never uttered nor remembered in all of Terandria!”

The half-Elf sighed.

“If it is never remembered, how do people remember not to utter it? Quite a contradiction in terms…but I digress. He was still an Archmage. Strip him of his titles as the world will—I thought Wistram, Academy of [Mages], would at least give history the courtesy of being correct. He was an Archmage, for better or worse.”

Charles ground his teeth. Timor was beet red; the fool had no gift for words. He snapped.

“That is inconsequential. The point is that—that brand of magic is both repugnant and worthless. Or have you not heard what necromancy has wrought since?”

More people in earshot stopped laughing or talking. Troubled faces among the older [Mages]. And even the younger ones who remembered the events that had led to a [Necromancer] being expelled.

“I have not, young man. Nor do I care to be illuminated at this time. I am here to speak to the Archmages. Necromancy is just a type of magic. That it should have fallen to such a state of neglect here—that is legacy for you. If Az’kerash could have seen it…”

Eldavin sat there. Trey felt himself nodding. He had been to Khelt. The old man’s eyes caught the gesture.

“You won’t apologize for invoking the Necromancer’s name to sons and daughters of the lands he terrorized?”

The Grand Magus did not turn around.

“Young man, if a name were all it took to terrorize Terandria, your ‘Necromancer’ would have conquered it long ago. Nor do I require lectures from a lesser [Mage]. I am Grand Magus Eldavin and my understanding of the magical craft is second only to the Archmages.”

The listeners tittered as he calmly speared a baked eel and chewed it happily. Charles was incandescent. Rievan was hurrying back as Viltach rolled his eyes.

 

—-

 

Feor glanced down the hall.

“Who is that half-Elf, Teura?”

He motioned to his second-in-command. She grimaced.

“Grand Magus Eldavin. He wished to see you. He claims to be a contemporary of Archmage Zelkyr.”

“Truly? Grand Magus…I don’t recall him. But then, the higher [Mages] came and went.”

Feor looked around. It seemed like he was arguing with a young man—Charles. One of Viltach’s troublemakers. Feor grimaced. Perhaps the half-Elf wanted to reminisce? He did not recall Eldavin, but the argument was getting louder.

Meanwhile, a serving Golem’s eyes lit up. No one noticed. But somewhere in the academy, a Truestone Golem paused. Someone remembered.

 

—-

 

Eldavin was sitting, chewing the eel and savoring the taste. It all tasted better when you weren’t well, the size of a Dragon.

However, he was recalling the times of old. He had been here when Zelkyr was made Archmage of Golems. He had talked to the Drake.

To the Archmage of Death too. Before and after. He knew his story. There was no sympathy from the descendants of his victims. Of course not. They had vilified him.

But how they forgot.

They forgot to change the weather. They forgot how they used to sit, even some magics. That [High Mage] didn’t even understand preset illusions you just summon.

How things changed. In an instant, so much was lost.

The [Garden of Sanctuary] will be lost again. Her legacy. The [Innkeeper] is dead.

The food turned to paste in his mouth. Then the arrogant young man spoke.

“For such a venerable, wise senior mage, sir, you don’t seem to be in the right company.”

Slowly, Eldavin looked up. Mena hurriedly stood.

“Mage Charles, don’t you have your own faction to attend to?”

But it was too late. Eldavin had turned in his seat again. He fixed Charles with a look.

“What do you mean, young man? I am in the company of [Mages] seeking my knowledge. As befits wisdom, which you appear to lack.”

The words stung and provoked chuckles, but Charles just sneered at him.

“I’m sure that’s the reason you’re sitting here, Grand Magus. After all, someone else with your class is right over—oh.”

He nodded to the old Garuda sitting practically next to the Archmages. Eldavin’s eyes slowly narrowed.

“I am tired from my journeys and sit where I choose, boy.

“Of course, sir. And I did not hear you object at length to your position? You were certainly not placed here because everyone felt it would be an embarrassment to have you utter your ramblings in front of our esteemed guests.”

He nodded to a [Mage Lord] of Terandria, some of the Chandrarian nobility and other guests. More laughter, louder, from the Libertarian faction. The half-Elf looked around, and then saw Mena’s abashed expression. The other people sitting around the table save for Trey bit their lips and he read the truth of it on their faces.

Slowly, the tips of Eldavin’s ears turned red. Then his face. He opened his mouth to respond—and then stood up.

“We shall see about that.”

He began to stride away from the table. Mena rose.

“Grand Magus—please, it’s not even the fourth course—Grand Magus!”

High Mage Soner was already moving on an intercept course as Eldavin stormed towards the high table.

“Out of my way. I have words for the Archmages regarding my business—”

“Sir! Grand Magus, Grand Magus, please, there is no need to cause a scene…”

It was hardly the only interesting thing happening in the hall, of course. At this very moment, one of the Earthers at the private table where Aaron was sitting was juggling flaming chicken nuggets to laughter. Another [Mage] was dueling a rival far to the back of the room in a grudge match, and a fiery debate had just ignited between the Libertarians and Centrists about which side was right in the Ailendamus vs Dawn Concordat battle.

But Eldavin was certainly part of the scene. The Archmages noticed him arguing with Soner and some of their representatives. They affected not to notice, except for Naili, who was watching with amusement.

“Grand Magus, the Archmages are not taking unsolicited meetings at this moment!”

In the end, Soner burst out with the truth. The full truth, the whole truth, and, to Trey, the wrong truth. He saw Eldavin stare at the Naga.

“So I am refused admission?”

“Later, I am certain they will all have time for…”

For you. The Libertarians were all chuckling. Eldavin stared at the Archmages—all of whom were looking away. Naili waved apologetically.

Trey waited for a detonation. But it never came. Never let it be said Dragons didn’t respect rules…except when they didn’t. But Eldavin just adjusted his robes.

“I see.”

He turned, and slowly, with great dignity, went back to his table, ignoring the laughter. The tips of his ears were red, but he was calming down.

It might have ended there. But then—it could have been a leg, a sneaky spell, a bit of something on the floor. Or his robes.

He tripped and went sprawling. Charles, Timor, even Rievan, and everyone in sight howled with laughter as the half-Elf picked himself up.

“Grand Magus—are you—”

Mena and Seky went to pick him up. Eldavin brushed off their hands. His face was pale now. He walked over and sat down at the table. Trey Atwood gave him one look. Then he stood up.

“I have to um…it was a pleasure to meet you, Grand Magus.”

“Thank you, young At…las. Your company has been most enjoyable. Where are you sitting?”

Trey pointed. Eldavin’s head turned as the laughter died out. He nodded.

“Good. Stay there.

He sat still in his seat, not eating, as the other students and mages sat silent around him. For a minute. Valeterisa watched Eldavin’s back and then looked at Troy Atlas. She understood it was probably politically inexpedient to talk to him. Even if she had just agreed with everything he said. She drifted after Troy. She wondered if she could buy that Lifesand Golem.

 

—-

 

“Troy! There you are! Where’ve you been? Did you see Telim steal that duck?”

“I did. Where’s Prickly?”

“Over there.”

George pointed. The Earthers were at their own tables; some were mingling like the group with Telim, but here they were allowed to talk about, well, Earth.

“This is amazing. It is Hogwarts!”

“Would you stop saying that? This is reality!”

Elena rolled her eyes at one of the newcomers. She looked about.

“Where’s Sidney? Is she okay? She got a scare.”

Trey sat down as the others looked around. He vaguely recalled Sidney, one of the youngest girls. Very timid, part of the therapy sessions in that beach-room.

“What happened to her?”

“She saw one of the items they were serving. Roasted rat…she freaked out.”

“Aw. Damn. Is someone…?”

“Saif and Malia went after her. I—oh, there they are. Quick, someone give me a calming tonic. I’m going to put some in her drink.”

“Is that drugging…?”

“Shut up, George.”

Trey sat among the Earthers, most of whom were relaxing without restraint. They thought this was an adventure story. Some had seen enough to know better, but they were a minority. He saw Aaron glancing at him.

“You doing okay, Troy? You don’t have to study so much.”

“It’s what I’m good at. Thanks, Aaron. But we want to level up, right?”

“True enough. But hey—if you want help, Naili can probably arrange some private tutoring.”

“That would be…great, actually, thanks.”

The young man smiled.

“You should take some more time to hang out. We haven’t properly welcomed you with all this…”

He waved his hand.

“…But we’re trying to all get together more often. How about tomorrow?”

“Sounds good. I don’t have more than a morning class…”

Trey relaxed. But he noticed some of the new, 1st year students were eying him at his special table. The new group, including the surly young man from Hellios…he wanted to blend in, but he couldn’t.

Well. It was his job to find a way, even if he had help…Trey busied himself with his food. He had a feeling he should try to talk to the Grand Magus when he cooled down. Did no one else think someone that old would have the most knowledge to spare?

“Oh no. That poor old guy’s getting embarrassed again.”

Elena groaned as the fourth course rolled around. Trey’s head rose.

“What old guy?”

“The half-Elf. Look, he’s…”

As waiter-Golems, the living [Waiters] and [Servers] and the 4th course—Chandrarian themed, rolled about the head tables, Grand Magus Eldavin stood up. Instantly, Mena and the others beseeched him to sit down.

Now was the time when guests circulated, but it was still on the Archmages to make the first move; one could hardly just run up to their table. They would usually send someone to ask for a chat.

Moreover, since it was Eldavin, the Naga High Mage Soner was already prepared to intercept. He’d already been fending Valeterisa away from Troy Atlas and the Earthers, and he was miserable as he signaled to make Mena keep the old troublemaker there.

And in that, he underestimated Eldavin’s wrath. The Grand Magus had been forced to endure the Libertarian’s loud jokes, not to mention the insults and his splendid fall. He had realized he’d been shuffled off to the side.

A lesser man might have left altogether, or caused a scene before being escorted out. But Eldavin…

He was a Dragon. And Dragons did not forget so easily.

Archmages of Wistram! Esteemed guests! It is my honor to return to the halls of Wistram after a century’s time! I, Grand Mage Eldavin, have elected to perform a magical working in honor of this occasion!

The booming voice cut through the air and the entire hall looked up. Soner put his serpentine face in his hands as he slithered forwards. The Archmages looked around. Trey inhaled.

Eldavin was standing away from his table, arms outstretched, magnifying his voice. Now people looked at him, really—looked at him.

“Handsome half-Elf.”

Sa’la whispered to Telim. He pushed her.

“Don’t tell me that. What am I supposed to do with your input? I hope he doesn’t embarrass himself.”

“Should I stop him, Archmage?”

Feor grimaced.

“Let another faction—or we shall see what he does.”

He glanced down the table, but the other guests looked amused. Eldavin went on, casually ignoring Mena and Seky.

“It has always been custom for [Mages] to attract the attention of Archmages so! And be it so humble, but my magic may speak for itself. Behold!”

“What custom is he talking about, Feor?”

Naili leaned over. Feor frowned.

“I hardly remember anything so elegant. It was all…more chaotic back in my day. With…”

He bit back the words. Archmage Chandler and the rest. Those had been different times. He watched with resignation as the half-Elf prepared to humiliate himself. Certainly, the Libertarians were jeering.

“Stop him! Would you two do your jobs for—”

High Mage Soner hurried forwards. Then he saw why Mena, Seky, and the other minders couldn’t drag Eldavin to his seat or make him leave the hall. They were pressed against something.

“A barrier spell?”

“We can’t get through, High Mage—”

“Gah. That old—[Dispel Magic]!”

Soner pointed a wand at the invisible space. He slithered confidently at Eldavin and went thunk into the invisible barrier. Dazed, the Naga recoiled.

“What the—?”

He tried again, but to no avail. And Eldavin now was lifting his hands. He had no wand or staff. Like a maestro, he waited as the hall gazed at him.

“What a silly old man, mother.”

Watch.

The leader of the [Depth Mages] stirred. Valeterisa had turned to watch. The Drakes from Fissival were gazing at Eldavin and one had lifted Grimalkin’s orb up obligingly so he could watch. Everyone else was gazing out of the corner of their eye, or idly. The smart ones were more intent. Ullsinoi were already taking bets on what it would be.

Eldavin stood poised, eyes closed. Concentrating. Naili hoped it wouldn’t be some old-style long-form spell chanted with like, a six-minute casting time.

She watched as Eldavin lowered his open arms. And then he stomped his foot.

Lines of light radiated out across the banquet hall from his foot. Intricate patterns, flashing across the stone, glowing a gentle blue. Forming an elaborate…magical circle nearly sixty feet by sixty feet.

Feor sat up in his seat. Naili started choking on her roasted rat.

Telim rubbed at his eyes and checked the alcohol content of his glass of rum. He turned to Sa’la.

“Did he just—is that a spell circle?”

“It can’t be. It looks like one, but—he stomped his foot?

Incredulity. Some of the [Mages] stood up. It was so fast! But it was a circle; they sensed the complete power in it. It engulfed the tables around Eldavin—it didn’t seem to be doing much, but it was a beautifully complex pattern!

“Magnificent.”

Someone murmured. Inscribed magics like spell circles weren’t as common as direct-action spells and this one was elegant! Complete, without perceivable gaps or ebbs and flow in the structure of the spell. It was, well, perfect, such that if you were trying to break or interfere with it, there was no good place to start, no weak point.

Applause. A few [Mages] began applauding Eldavin, standing up to clap. Some of the others hesitated. Eldavin just inhaled.

The Libertarians were caught in the middle of the spell circle, along with Mena, Seky, Soner, and the others. They were beginning to sense something, but it wasn’t apparent.

“What is this spell circle, High Mage?”

“I don’t know…”

Eldavin was murmuring something under his breath. He was drawing magic to him, and now all the Archmages and guests; indeed, the entire hall was staring. The Golems and staff were standing as well—well, that wasn’t accurate. They were in different positions. The staff were frozen uncertainly, but…

Feor snapped his fingers and laughed. Teura turned to him.

“Archmage?”

“Oh, I just remembered. There was a custom before Archmage Zelkyr became the undisputed master of Wistram. A silly thing. If you wanted the Archmage’s attention, in the old days, you just cast a spell and…”

His eyes focused on Eldavin and his voice trailed off. Feor began to stand. Then he saw the serving staff. The mortal, living ones were just staring. But the Golems had moved.

All the Golems were standing against the far walls.

The doors blew open. Cognita, Truestone Golem, a giant marble figure, strode into the banquet hall. She turned to Eldavin. The half-Elf’s head turned.

“Rievan. I don’t feel well. My mana feels like it’s…”

Timor plucked at the [Mage]’s sleeve. Rievan stood up.

“He’s draining our mana!

He shouted and pointed at Eldavin. The [Grand Mage] pointed back.

“[Blooming Fireball].”

A gigantic orb appeared. It struck the table where the Libertarians were sitting and sent them flying. The plates, tables, and people all went soaring. Charles de Trevalier crashed into a table where the [Depth Mages] were sitting. One of them pushed him off.

Silence. Then, Eldavin pointed at the head table.

“[Valmira’s Comet].”

The second burning spell arced across the floor. The Archmages stared. Viltach raised his hands.

“[Force Sh—]”

Naili dove out of the way of the table. Feor raised his finger.

“[Lightning Bolt]! [Barrier of Scintillation]!”

A shimmering force field appeared around him as the spell hit the comet. It detonated and Viltach went crashing back over the edge of the table. Verdan was knocked back, but his anchoring spell protected him.

Feor stumbled as his shield caught the blast. Eldavin waved his finger around.

“[Firefly].”

Glowing sparks of fire appeared in the air. They dove at the Archmage’s table.

Chaos in the banquet hall! Half the [Mages] were on their feet. The Libertarians not blasted away stared at the [Grand Mage].

“He’s lost his mind! Defend the Archmages!”

That was an extraordinarily stupid comment from a lower-level [Mage]. She pointed her wand and Eldavin pointed a finger.

“Protect yourselves first. Let’s see. [Greater Spellshield]!

The jet of lightning streaking towards him vanished before it struck him. The Grand Magus saw the [Mage] check herself.

“[Arrows of Light]!”

“[Ice Spike]!”

“[Fireball]!”

The [Mages] not immediately paralyzed and nearest to him with a line of fire shot spells from their wands or fingers. All of them vanished before they could touch Eldavin. Even Tier 3 spells! As soon as they crossed the lines of the barrier, they dissipated.

“I return to the halls of Wistram! Are there no true [Mages] to greet me? Have you forgotten so soon what you used to be?

Eldavin thundered. The first barrage of spells ceased. [Mages] lowered their wands. The half-Elf turned.

“[Lancearrow of Light]!”

Teura aimed her spell at him. This time, Eldavin moved.

“[Stone Wall]!”

A thick wall of stone six feet wide shot up and blocked the spell. Teura blinked. That was fast! She saw more [Mages] aiming, but Eldavin was already widening the wall. He created a semi-circle around himself, then spoke.

“[Ice Wall], [Light Wall], and er…no, that should do it. [Fivefold Arcane Barrier]!”

Layers of ice, stone, and light sprang up around him, and a central magical barrier appeared. He was lost from vision.

“—must be mad—”

Viltach was on his feet, fury in his eyes. He spotted the barriers and lifted a finger.

“[Ray of Shattering]! [Lightning Tempest]!

The first pale ray struck the wall of rock and shattered it to pieces. Bolts of lightning followed, drumming beats that blew the wall of ice to bits, then the light barrier. And behind it, the arcane barrier shimmered as Eldavin held up his hands, chanting.

“Evacuate the hall. Viltach! Don’t kill him! Vilt—”

Too late. The lighting burst through the barrier. Feor saw Eldavin illuminate as the bolts struck him. There was a flash. Feor was blinded for a second and cursed.

Was he dead? Surely he had—

Viltach lowered his finger. The bolts of lightning subsided. Everyone saw the broken shell of defensive magics was empty. Eldavin? A pillar of rock vaguely shaped like him was broken down to the base, molten stone cooling.

Where—

Aaah! Help, h—

Mage Rievan whirled around. He saw Timor and Charles de Trevalier. The two young men were alive and…floating? Behind them, Grand Magus Eldavin pointed a finger.

“[Stone Fist].”

“Wh—”

Rievan received a punch to his chest from a block of stone. He went over another table and didn’t rise.

“You! Put them down!”

“[Arrow of Light].”

Eldavin flicked a huge bolt of glowing magic far larger than Trey could muster under Charles’ body. Viltach flinched and it burst on his personal shields. He raised his finger—hesitated.

“Get them out of the way!”

The half-Elf calmly adjusted Timor as Libertarians, the nearest group to him, scrambled to spread out. He was flicking more jets of magic out.

“[Stun Bolt]. [Shock Orb]. Um…[Arrow of Light], again.”

He tagged a dozen [Mages] who went flopping down, paralyzed, shocked, or just knocked silly. One aimed a wand at him—he put Timor’s flailing behind in the way.

Stop that! Are you mad?

A [Mage] shrieked at Eldavin. He just turned his head and pointed a finger. She deflected the glowing bolt of magic and aimed a wand at him. He sighed and flicked his finger.

“Not many [Battlemages] here.”

The wand in the woman’s hand flicked across the room. She faltered and the spell she had been casting dissipated.

“My w—”

Flick, flick, flick—half the [Mages] with a poor grip on their wands promptly lost theirs. Eldavin regarded them, and then tossed them telekinetically across the room.

“I told those Bronze-rank adventurers they were poor spellcasters. But at least they could grip their wands.”

“Someone get Charles and Timor!”

Then Viltach called out. Naili and Verdan were standing back, but he and Feor were confronting this mad half-Elf! Feor was muttering fast, his fingers working on a complex spell, but Viltach was too irate to cast a large spell. He strode across the ground and jerked his wand.

Charles went soaring left—then screamed as he was moved right in the path of Viltach’s next spell. The man cursed and the orb went sideways. It detonated, and some of the students close to the battle too slow to get out of the way screamed as magic peppered their skin.

Eldavin’s head turned. His eyes widened.

“Are you mad?

He motioned and Charles and Timor flew at Viltach. They hit his barrier, but slowed the Archmage up. Eldavin whirled on the other [Mages].

Barrier spells! Put them up!”

He pointed at Telim. The [High Mage] had already erected one around his group, but at Eldavin’s furious finger he reflexively began to cast them on the other students in the way. Eldavin scowled. Then—turned.

“Ah, oop—”

The next spell from Viltach blew him across the ground.

Valeterisa watched. The [Greater Spellshield] had dissipated the force of the explosive orb, as had some other barrier spell, but Eldavin still had to pick himself up. The half-Elf looked up and blinked out of existence. The second explosion made Viltach’s head swivel.

“You have the audacity to attack an Archmage?

Eldavin reappeared on a table, half of which was burning. His eyes flashed.

“You have the audacity to call yourself an Archmage? I knew the Archmage of Golems! How many challenges do you think he endured, boy?

Viltach wavered. Then he aimed—

“[Blue Lightning Bolt]!”

Again Eldavin vanished. [Lesser Teleport]. He popped back into existence, raised a hand, and blocked the third bolt of lightning.

Frost and electricity. He grimaced. Half the hall was in the midst of evacuating; the [Mages] more preoccupied with slapping down barrier spells. But this—his eyes narrowed as he saw a contingent who hadn’t fled.

Drakes, standing behind a layered barrier spell. That reminded him of something. The half-Elf smiled.

“Ah, yes.”

With one hand he kept up the barrier against Viltach’s furious onslaught. With the second, he began chanting.

“[Bubble of Air]. [Bound Compression]. [Stone Armor]—”

Viltach! You’re blowing half the hall apart! Stop!

Nailihuaile called out. She was watching the half-Elf, edging out for her shot with her Serkonian Lance. She saw the Archmage snarl—then saw the half-Elf move.

“[Bear’s Strength]. [Haste]. And…[Flash Step].

He blurred straight at Viltach. The Archmage hadn’t expected that. He’d been laying down a volley of spells that an entire squad of [Mages] would have been hard-pressed to match, but Eldavin had been blocking it all.

Magnificence. Because, Valeterisa, watching, had noticed the barrier the half-Elf was applying was still being reinforced by the mana drain circle. Viltach hadn’t realized. And now, the Archmage saw Eldavin speed at him. He tried to dodge, trusting to his personal barrier—

Magus Grimalkin of Pallass saw Eldavin collide with Viltach at top speed. The Drake—who really could have used some popcorn at this moment, despite the health qualms he had with the condiments—saw the half-Elf was covered in the [Stone Armor] spell.

It was rather like being body-checked by a brick wall at high speed. Viltach was protected, but he went over hard. He scrambled up, aiming a finger up at Eldavin—

The half-Elf grabbed his arm and it went wide. The other [Mages] hesitated, afraid of hitting Viltach. The Archmage was cursing. He hadn’t been in a brawl since he was a student. Eldavin on the other hand, swung a fist down.

He probably hadn’t punched something in…the windup was long, the arc far from compact to Grimalkin. But the tip of his fist still hit Viltach’s chest with commendable force. Then the bound spell detonated.

Pop. The sound was more like a vast pop of air suddenly uncompressing at once. It blew Viltach into the air. He landed behind Feor, Nailihuaile, and Verdan.

“Bubble of air? He just compressed it and used it like—”

Grimalkin of Pallass! Eldavin flexed one arm, then [Flash Stepped] into another [Mage] trying to aim at him. Step, step, step—he bowled into [Mages] like bowling pins.

“Are you all insane? Clear out of the way and let us deal with him!”

Teura barked at the lower-level [Mages]. Her eyes narrowed as Eldavin turned. His [Spellshield] was still intercepting all the low-level spells. She raised a hand.

“[Siege Fireball].”

A whirling vortex of fire knitted itself out of the air. Eldavin’s eyes locked on it.

“You want to use fire on me?

He saw the swirling strands of fire knitting together like a ball of yarn, creating a burning, swirling mass of fire. It took seconds for a [Mage] of Teura’s strength where multiple [Mages] had to create it themselves. Eldavin saw other [Mages] dashing clear as she aimed it at him.

“Surrender or perish!”

She warned him. The half-Elf just shook his head. He was murmuring. Teura unleashed the spell and it rocketed across the floor.

“Woven-style [Fireball]. Fire. Against me.

He stepped sideways, blinking left. Teura swung the fireball around to home after him. Hers was not a simple spell that couldn’t be aimed! But the half-Elf simply stepped around it again. And then—

He reached out and plucked a fiery strand out of the [Siege Fireball]. As it shot past him, it suddenly—Teura gasped—

Unwound. Even the Archmages stared as the fiery strands making up the [Fireball] suddenly unraveled. Eldavin held a burning strand of coiling fire—then it compressed into his hand.

His eyes were glowing. The fire compressed into a dot and then burned there.

“Compression-style [Fireball]. Considered inefficient and outdated compared to modern spell formation…”

Valeterisa murmured. Teura was gaping. Eldavin held a mote of light the size of a baseball, blazing white-hot. He flicked it back at her.

“Spells cast the same way. Magic recited and memorized by rote. Magic is more than a Tier. More than a level!”

He bellowed. [Mages] running for cover or aiming at him went sprawling. Nailihuaile jerked and saw Beatrice fall over as she tried to step forwards and aim at Eldavin. A little snare of green had wrapped itself around her foot without her noticing.

“[Grow Grass]? Are you kidding me?”

The Star Lamia blinked at Eldavin. Then she raised her staff.

She had been watching him, holding back like Verdan, who had enmeshed himself in barriers and just…walked away. Eldavin was taking on all comers, but only a fraction of the hall of [Mages] was actually taking him on.

Naili wasn’t so nice. Or timid. She raised the Serkonian Lance overhead.

Grand Magus! Catch!

A gigantic lance of magic appeared. She tossed it across the ground. Eldavin whirled. He took one look at the spell and vanished.

[Lesser Teleport]. Naili saw the spell, but couldn’t trace where—her neck rotated. She saw Eldavin pop up behind an overturned table.

“Got you! Expand, the Field of Serkonis!

Around her a similar field of magic began to expand. Feor hissed as his spell and own aura refused to be ensconced by the magic. Naili let him do that, but everything around her began to take on the properties of the relic-class artifact.

In other words, turning into an area where everything was on her terms. Eldavin’s counter-attack fizzled out halfway towards her.

“Ah, the Serkonian Lance. An [Enchanter] carrying an artifact worthy of an Archmage, at least.”

He didn’t look put out by the field. Naili waved at him—then sent crackling lightning bolts at him. He blocked them and the flashes of light blinded the audience.

“Why don’t you come and try tackling me, Grand Magus?”

She was laughing.

 

—-

 

From their spot in the audience, the students and [Mages] were watching the magic fight take place between the second Archmage and Eldavin. Viltach was either down for the count or had removed himself and Feor was still preoccupied.

“He has to be an [Elementalist]! High level!”

Telim was babbling to the other [Mages] watching. They were hardly as good at commentary as Drassi, but they were watching as Eldavin took cover. This time—he raised huge pillars of stone out of the ground around him.

Like a forest of stone. Indeed, ‘branches’ shot out of the central pillars, decreasing their mass, but blocking the spells Nailihuaile was sending at him. Trey thought it was fascinating. And intelligent.

“That’s just [Earthen Spire]! He’s blocking all her direct spells with just—one spell!”

Sa’la was staring. Naili was growing frustrated; she was looping the vast lances she was conjuring, but the expendable pillars of stone kept rising and sacrificing only miniscule bits of themselves to block each spell.

“Elementalist. He has to be.”

“But that spell circle—hold on, what’s he doing now?

Eldavin was hunting around the ground as the stone pillars—the [Forest of Stone] spell if any of the [Mages] had correctly identified it like Valeterisa—blocked the incoming fire.

“[Enchanters]. So reliant on artifacts. She’s not even using more than the lance spell.”

He grumbled. At last, he finished his work. He stepped out of cover as Naili blew apart the last pillar of stone. She raised her staff.

“Done yet?”

He looked up at her. He was holding…an orange. He’d hunted around for a proper object and this was the best he’d come up with. She blinked at it as she angled her staff.

“You are wearing a barrier, aren’t you?”

Eldavin called out. The Star Lamia’s eyes narrowed.

“Yes. Why—”

He tossed the orange at her. For a second, the orange just flew with all the throwing power of the half-Elf. Which was decent; far from a fastball since he had terrible form.

Then the first compressed spell fired. And the next—and the next—

[Directed Compressed Burst of Air]. [Frictionless Surface]. [Flash Move]—and so on. To the audience, the orange appeared to go lazily flying, and then, in an instant, speed—

 

—-

 

The sonic boom, if that was what it was, was deafening. Trey saw the entire glowing field of magic flash around Nailihuaile. The Lamia cried out and raised her staff—but the orange never reached her.

It had probably disintegrated halfway to her. But the air, impact—all of it non-magical—not to mention the little seeds flung at insane speed hit her magical field like, well, a supersonic orange.

It tore into the magical field and stopped. Trey actually saw the magic filling the space, ground, and air, tear apart.

Naili’s expanding field was torn open in a wedge. Again, only halfway towards her, but Eldavin had erased that section of magical field which had sacrificed itself to stop the attack. The Star Lamia stared at the rupture in the Serkonian Lance’s magic. Then she looked at Eldavin.

He was reaching for a fallen roast duck, the twin of the one in Telim and Prickly’s stomachs. She stared at her torn magical field, already re-knitting itself and came to a quick decision.

“Okay, I’m out.”

She slithered out of the way fast. Eldavin watched her go, smugly. He turned his head across the ruined floor; only a few figures remained. His eyes locked on one across the hall.

“And now. I believe my kindred is finally ready for me.”

Feor looked up. The half-Elf’s eyes were glowing and Eldavin turned to face him. This entire time, Feor had been chanting soundlessly. The two looked at each other. Slowly, Feor lifted his staff.

“Magus Eldavin. There are some things even a [Grand Mage] should be wary of. We are still [Mages] of Wistram, no matter how much we change. Even in the days when [Mages] challenged Archmages, it was never done lightly.”

“Lightly, Archmage Feor? I should repeat the same to you. Even Archmages did not lightly tread in other [Mage]’s affairs. You are interfering in my business. Stay away from Ryoka Griffin. She is not yours.”

Feor’s eyes widened. The words the two were exchanging were incomprehensible to anyone not standing close to them. The Archmage raised his staff.

“Grand Magus. Enough.

The glowing orb set into the ancient ironwood sparked. Eldavin looked up and saw the air open. He saw the spell that Feor had been working on for the last six minutes activate. And his smile flickered.

[Valmira’s True Comet Storm].

The Tier 6 spell activated. The first glowing comet burst out of the air. It was not as fast as most spells. But it had a terrible glow about it. Each one the size of the first spell Eldavin had flung at the high table.

Each one—aimed at Eldavin. The half-Elf blinked across the room. The comets began to follow.

“He’s going to blow the entire banquet hall to smithereens! Sa’la, help me reinforce the barriers!”

Dozens of the spells were shooting forwards. Individually, they were Tier 5. But Feor was throwing dozens through the air, and dozens more—

Not even Grand Mage Esiela came close to this. Trey shielded his face as they began to detonate. This was an army-killing spell! He saw the Minotaur’s siege weapons firing in his mind. A reflection of that, if not the same way.

 

—-

 

Eldavin flung himself across the ground, moving to the back of the hall. He threw up barriers and saw them explode as a comet hit them. There was no using the same [Forest of Stone] spell—nor evading the hail of meteors.

He retreated as Feor made comets land around Eldavin, cutting off places to [Flash Step] or teleport to. The half-Elf began throwing up repeating barriers of magic, just—single-hit deflection shields. Layers and layers of them.

The comet storm converged on him. He could see Feor past the flashes of light, eyes glowing, staff raised. He was simply channeling power into the spell, unleashing the kind of magic that had once made [Archmages] feared.

Ah. He stood, throwing up magical barriers, enduring the onslaught. But at last—at last—

He was no longer mocking the [Mages].

There were spells he could cast. Attack spells, indirect ways of fighting this kind of magic. Evade, attack from far away while staying undetected or ahead of your foe. But he had not come to kill.

And if he did not run, or turn spells deadly? Eldavin looked across the ground.

Ah, this reminds me of why we died. This reminds me of why we ruled them. Because we feared them.

The Dragon recalled other battlefields. Other places. And he felt his magic burning out in his body.

The Archmage half-Elf had more mana than he did. A vast supply. Skills. Even if his comet storm was far less efficient than Eldavin’s spells—he was winning by sheer, limitless power.

The explosions of magical force were slowly pressing in on the half-Elf as the comets hit his barriers faster than he could make them.

“He has to surrender. Feor will blow him to pieces. He can’t even teleport out in that much mana density!”

Telim breathed. Everyone was watching as Eldavin’s barriers slowly dwindled and he was forced back.

Teriarch, Eldavin, gritted his teeth as pain began to lance through his body.

If I had my body—no, this is my body. This is my limit. There is always that hero and army on the horizon.

But how frustrating. He made a sound like a roar through a different mouth. Look at me, boy! He stared at Feor. You think you know magic? Then why have you forgotten who you are?

If only there was a way—he saw the comets bursting, each one deadly—his eyes narrowed. His hand began to move.

“That old half-Elf is insane! Half-Elf versus half-Elf!”

“He’s going to lose. That’s what all the [Mages] are saying.”

Elena was listening to the commentary amid the roar of battle. George looked at her. The young man rubbed at one ear.

“Really? Then why do I hear boss music?”

Elena opened her mouth. Then she just slapped him on the back of the head. But George was right.

 

—-

 

“What is he doing?

Feor was still unloading comets on Eldavin’s position, until the [Grand Mage] gave up. But Eldavin was—moving. He was throwing something, detonating one of the comets before he could hit it.

Trying to trigger them before they reached him? Valeterisa shook her head. Feor was channeling his mana into an optimized spell! Moreover, you needed an equivalent amount of power to stop one of Valmira’s comets. You couldn’t just cast, say, [Light Arrow] and expect it to explode one. They ate lesser magics, hence the spell’s power and Feor’s love of it.

Another comet exploded as the half-Elf began to weave, throwing barriers up, forcing Feor to home in on him. He was clearly running out of power. Valeterisa watched. She did not want him to die. But then—

Boom, boom, boom.

Three of [Valmira’s Comets] exploded in the air. Three amongst dozens. But they detonated well before reaching their target. Feor noticed and a frown crossed his expression of concentration.

The [Mages] stirred. Then—Eldavin pointed and half the incoming comets exploded. But Valeterisa hadn’t seen a spell! The Archmage of Izril drifted into the firefight, staring. Invisible magic? What was—

She realized what he was doing. Only a handful of [Mages] could even comprehend it. Grimalkin of Pallass’ eyes were wide. He breathed the answer at the same time as the [Wardsmistress] of Fissival.

“He’s…unraveling the spells as they come at him!”

Eldavin’s eyes were closed as he stood there. What use were eyes to magical sight? His fingers twisted and plucked

A dozen comets exploded seconds after forming. Feor stared up at them and then at Eldavin. His eyes were wide.

The same spell. The same spell! The half-Elf was panting, his robes scorched and damaged. Sweat ran down his brow. But Eldavin was still standing there. As if he had walked other battlefields.

The comets began to explode in the air. Now, Feor and Eldavin were wrestling with the magic, the half-Elf Archmage trying to reconfigure the comets that Eldavin had figured out how to trigger mid-flight.

The [Mages] of Wistram watched. Viltach, Verdan, Naili—no longer laughing, or raging, or mocking. The [Grand Mage] raised his hand as Feor’s comet storm winked out. The Archmage whirled his staff down.

“[Greater Tremor]!”

The world shook past his staff.

Eldavin’s feet left the ground. He looked down at Feor. Then he raised his hand. The two exchanged spells; a burning lance that cut the air and a flurry of doves made of light that left afterimages like razors. One dodged; the other threw up a shield.

The [Grand Mage] was panting, an arm cut by the spell that went through his barrier. Still, he raised his hand.

He stood here, in these very halls! The great Archmage of Terandria! The Undying Shield of Calanfer! The Archmage of Death! Remember his name! [Summon Spectral Skeletal Warriors]!

And then the figures broke the stone of the banquet hall. They pulled themselves up, lifting blades of energy. Feor’s eyes went wide. He blew three to bits; the others charged.

Eldavin whirled as the [Mages] cried out. He lifted a hand.

“They were both here. Now—[Zelkyr’s Emergency Golem].”

The splintered wood and broken plates—even bits of food rose in a whirling arc. Cognita, shielding the students, slowly rose. She saw a ten-foot-tall being assemble itself. It began to run at Archmage Feor. A Golem made of bits of wood and detritus.

The scrap Golem charged. Feor was fighting off both the spectral skeletons, which kept trying to reassemble, as well as the Golem who hit a magical wall he created. And now—he was unable to cast another grand spell as Eldavin flicked a [Shatterbolt] at his face.

The old [Mage] was winning! Eldavin looked around like a hunting predator. His eyes alighted on the Drakes. He pointed a finger.

Evasive!

Grimalkin barked. The Fissival Drakes scattered as the [Siege Fireball] burst on the [Wardmistress]’ shields.

“He’s gone mad!

One of the Drakes shouted. He lifted a wand and Eldavin flung an orb of light at him. It detonated in the Drake’s face and everyone went blind.

Complacency! Is there no one who respects magic?

He roared. The half-Elf turned again—and a shadow wrapped around his leg. He went cross-eyed.

“Dr—”

The tendril flicked him through the air. The half-Elf got up with a growl, looking at—

The eight [Depth Mages] were all standing save for one. The veiled woman pointed at him and bolts of anti-light shot across the ground. Pure darkness, eating up visibility. They passed straight through a table and a broken [Wall of Stone].

Eldavin just flicked eight [Arrows of Light] up and they burst. The [Depth Mages] wavered.

“He knows our magic, mother?”

“Surprising.”

The eighth, their seated leader, went to grab Eldavin with the tendril again. He saw it coming, somehow, and slashed the shadow with a glowing sword of light. He pointed.

“[Lightning Bolt]!”

It shot across the ground and vanished. The air was dark; a dome around the eight women which had absorbed even one of [Valmira’s Comets]. One of the Drowned Folk’s [Mages] smirked behind her veil.

[The Midnight Veil]. A spell that belonged to their class and nature. Even an arrogant land-mage wouldn’t understand—

Eldavin took one look at the dome and sighed.

“Darkness mage. Appropriate for the deeps. Let’s see. [Light Orb] crossed with…”

He muttered and then flicked a glowing orb into the barrier. The eight saw the light vanish, as all things d—

Two dozen bursts of light tore at the veil. Their leader gasped.

The veil flickers. She heard the warning siren in her mind, and how many times had she ever heard…?

Her daughters cried out in dismay. She rose—and a tide of black water shot across the ruined floor. Eldavin levitated over it; it surged upwards and he cut the spell at the base. The water flooded around and then began to vanish.

“A powerful [Mage] indeed. Daughters—go.

They hesitated. Then all seven stepped back. The [Depth Mage] stood up—and all eight removed their veils.

What they presented to the [Mages] of Wistram was the same face. One far older than the rest, who were sequentially younger. The same face.

Not just—related. But exactly the same. Just in different stages of age. Half-Human, exceptionally pale of skin because she crewed vessels that sailed dark currents where the sun’s rays were forgotten. And she had learned a magic fitting to that place, supreme in darkness.

The other half of her face? A starfish’s rough skin, reddish, hard. Her daughters, clones of one self.

“Grand Magus Eldavin. Do you pick a fight with the representatives of the Drowned Folk?”

“I pick a fight with anyone and everyone in this moment!

He snapped back. The half-Elf’s blood was burning. He was half-smiling, half-furious. He strode about the destroyed banquet hall; the woman turned to face him, her fingers moving shadows around her.

I am Grand Magus Eldavin. And that seems to mean more than it did when I left. I knew Zelkyr of old and Chandler both! They do not even dare to say his name here. But you will respect my will!”

Feor had destroyed the summoned things and was watching Eldavin. His staff poised. Viltach was ready to jump back in, having geared up, furious. The [Depth Mage] was drawing from her daughters. Eldavin was panting, reaching for a mana potion. Both his opponents tensed—

And Eldavin whirled.

“[Spell Purge]!”

He pointed. Both Feor and the [Depth Mage] raised their guards—but Eldavin wasn’t aiming at them. He aimed at a patch of air to his left. It rippled—then vanished. The old half-Elf traced it across the ground.

“Come out before I force you to.”

He growled. The air seemed to quiver—

Then a Centaur trotted out of the air. He looked extremely put out. Everyone stared.

None more than the Ullsinoi. For as he had appeared—

Galei and Taxiela had vanished. And this Centaur was far older than Galei. Moreover?

He had scales amid his fur. On his skin, even face and arms. A product of mixed species. Eldavin’s eyes narrowed.

“Who are you?

“Call me…Gaxiela. I was just admiring talent from up close.”

The strange [Mage] winked. Eldavin aimed a finger at him. Then whirled left.

Feor, ‘Gaxiela’, the [Depth Mage] of the seas, and Eldavin saw Valeterisa walk towards Eldavin. The half-Elf opened his mouth.

“Y—”

Valeterisa spoke.

“[Bound Fireball], [Bound Fireball], [Lightning Bolt], [Gust of Air], [Burst Arrows of Light], [Thunderclap], [Roving Silent Sickle], [Stone Lance], [Stone Lance], [Stone Lance], [Stone Lance], [Tidal Wave], [Spray of Needles], [Darkness Pool], [Burning Floor], [Merda’s Push], [Multiplied Stone Fists], [Enhanced Flame Spray], [Caustic Acid]—”

Her voice was layered multiple times, such that she was casting multiple spells—and sped up. Feor saw Eldavin—vanish in a spectacle of lights.

Everyone clapped their hands to their ears, except those smart enough to have used spells already. When Trey could see and hear again, he saw Eldavin, panting, laying sprawled on the ground.

He’d gotten to safety—just. But his robes were simultaneously on fire, dissolving from acid, steaming wet, and suffering from multiple effects. He’d also taken a number of injuries to his legs and right side.

In the silence, Valeterisa’s head turned. Her face was composed, even blank. She looked at Eldavin.

“I am Archmage Valeterisa of Izril. The authority of Wistram’s Archmages does not submit to a lone [Grand Mage]. Will you relent?”

Eldavin stared up at her. His eyes sparked—and then he raised a hand, palm up.

“I do. I throw myself upon the mercy of the Council of [Mages], and apologize for my indiscretions. I will, of course, make amends.”

The Archmage of Izril gazed at Eldavin as he groaned and reached for a healing potion. Uncertainly, Feor adjusted his staff. After a moment, Valeterisa nodded.

“Very good.”

She turned and walked off. The audience stared at Eldavin as he groaned about actual pain and fumbled with the cork, then smashed it on the ground and levitated the liquid up to tend to his wounds. They looked at each other.

So camest Eldavin, [Grand Mage] of Wistram, to the Academy of Mages.

 

—-

 

The next day, Grand Magus Eldavin woke up sore.

Where?

Everywhere. And it wasn’t just physical pain. He was suffering from mana burnout. He felt sick, nauseated, and nearly tried to blow up…reality…that he might not suffer this.

He eventually stumbled to his feet after downing a healing potion and mana potion because he was hungry.

The injustices of a body that didn’t run on mana or generate it for himself! He was halfway out the door when he realized two things.

Firstly, that he hadn’t put his robes on, forgetting once again that he was supposed to wear clothes almost at all times. He was only in his undergarments, which was well because an entire crowd of people was waiting for him.

The half-Elf stopped as they all admired his abs.

“Whoa. Dude’s ripped.

Someone muttered in the crowd. Trey thought it was George. Eldavin did not blush—he just tapped his body.

“Excuse me.”

Cloth covered him in a second, attiring him like some scholar-adventurer. He still walked back into the room and came out a moment later in his robes. Then he looked around.

“It seems I have guests.”

“Grand Magus, I come from Archmage—”

Eldavin raised a hand and the speaker was [Silenced]. He looked around—the hallway was packed—and then strode off. The crowd followed.

Trey knew exactly where Eldavin was going. So he took a shortcut, ran, and beat the others to the banquet hall. Eldavin settled himself down at a table.

The hall was still being fixed, but Golems were remarkably good at fixing up stuff good as new. So too with magic. He investigated the buffet, and food dishes levitated after him.

Half a dozen people wanted to show him to a seat, or had one waiting for him. Eldavin regarded the crowd, motioned them all aside, and pointed.

“Young Troy. And you. And you.”

He pointed. Three people, including Troy came to sit at the table. The others found themselves excluded by ten feet or more, unable to hear or see what was being said within.

Trey found himself sitting with Teura, Archmage Valeterisa, and Eldavin at the same table. He definitely felt like the odd one out. Eldavin politely raised his brow.

“Do neither of you have the desire to breakfast?”

Teura hesitated. She rose slowly, but Valeterisa did not. Trey already had his food.

“I do not require food. I wished to talk with you, Grand Magus.”

“It seems many do. Quite a difference from yesterday, when I was unknown. But as I believe it was said, ‘magic walks and talks the halls of Wistram—’”

“—little else does.”

The half-Elf stopped. Valeterisa looked at him. She was scooted to the edge of her seat, and, Trey noticed, almost vibrating with excitement.

“You recall the same expression. And you knew Archmage Zelkyr and Chandler.”

“Are they speaking his name again already? How does Wistram’s morality change.”

Eldavin snorted, but he gave Valeterisa a second look. She shook her head.

“I have never stopped. Your spellcasting yesterday is the talk of Wistram.”

“Is it now. I will no doubt be fined and censured by the Council. Ah, well…I understand the Academy now. And who to appreciate. Isn’t that so, young man?”

He looked at Troy. The [Sand Mage] ducked his head.

“Thank you, Grand Magus.”

Valeterisa jumped in as Teura returned through the bubble.

“Your spellcasting, Grand Magus, was exemplary. No spell you cast or theorem of magic you applied was unknown. Each spell alteration was replicable by some [Mage]—however you combined all elements in ways not thought of. Even emulating the school of physical magic postulated by Magus Grimalkin of Pallass!”

“I had cause to meet him. And he did not postulate it. He rediscovered it, if anything. Contextualize it properly, Archmage.”

Eldavin waved a fork as he chewed and spoke. He patted his mouth with a napkin.

“I am a highly-trained generalist practitioner, as befits my [Grand Mage] class. I do not consider myself overly valued for my class—but few [Grand Mages] exist, and it seems Wistram has…overvalued some forms of magic over the time I have been gone.”

Teura looked uncomfortable. Valeterisa just nodded and pushed up her spectacles.

“That is what I observed, Grand Magus. I would like to speak with you more on spell theorems and your recollections of lost magics to our current lexicons. I can provide you with compensation. I am also an Archmage and can probably waive the fines. Or pay for them myself.”

She added the Archmage bit like an afterthought. Eldavin didn’t immediately reply. He just gave a slightly mysterious smile and tapped the table.

“I certainly have time for an Archmage, Magus Valeterisa. And it seems the other factions may wish to speak with me. Certainly, my request to Archmage Feor is not being ignored?”

He looked at Teura. She gulped.

“Certainly not, Grand Magus. And Archmage Feor would deeply appreciate a conversation in his personal quarters at your earliest convenience. He apologizes for the delay.”

“Naturally, naturally. I will, of course, meet with him as soon as is germane.”

Teura’s mouth opened, but Eldavin was enjoying himself. He looked around, and then focused on Troy.

“It seems magic has changed a great deal since I last came to Wistram. And yet—this is still the academy of [Mages]. I see talent, even if it can be honed.”

He gave Valeterisa, even Teura a slow nod. Then he looked at Trey again.

“Perhaps—and I do not know the status of the Council or all the new factions in Wistram as of yet—but perhaps there is room for me to give some small lessons on magic. In exchange for appropriate compensation, of course.”

He looked at Trey, then Valeterisa, and then Teura. And the Dragon smiled internally.

This was it.

Somewhere, the person who had sent the dangerous message was lurking in Wistram, or so he believed. Certainly children of Earth had come here. And the academy had changed. Perhaps it was inevitable.

But he knew what it had been in glory and decay and corruption and greatness. So, the Dragon put his half-Elven foot upon the rudder and began to move it slightly. He looked up and saw watching [Mages], appraising, fearful, enraptured—

And the Golem, standing and looking at him. He nodded at her.

Wait but a while longer, Ryoka Griffin. For I will surely return. But right now…I am a [Mage] of Wistram. And magic needs my help.

Only one thing really remained. Eldavin frowned.

…What was he going to call his faction?

 

 

 

 

After Chapter Thoughts: This was the first chapter voted for, and the last chapter this month. There’s some kind of symbolism there, I tell you what.

Obviously it’s not the end. But I will be taking my one-week break after this, since I’ve written a lot! Hope you like the start to Volume 8…

It was this or Niers, and Teriarch won, and it might be his was the ‘happier’ chapter. Or more rewarding at this stage. You’ll be able to judge once I write a Niers-themed chapter whether this was the better option.

For now? I’m tired, I hope you enjoyed, and I’ll put out the side story poll for February soon! But this is all from me for now. Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next month!

 

Ceria, Pisces, Yvlon, Dark Souls Yvlon, and more by Zelanters!

https://twitter.com/Zelanters

https://zelanters.tumblr.com/

 

The Wandering Inn Logo by Dthorn!

 

Wind Runner and an Erin-mod for Hades (not a real thing, sadly) by Miguel!

https://ko-fi.com/cmarguel

https://twitter.com/cmarguel

 


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103 thoughts on “8.04 T

  1. I liked it. I’d have liked it better if Feor had gotten a bit more of a butt whupping, because he needs one.

    Trey, I can see why he was chosen. Valeterisa, too. But why Teura?

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