Book II - Chapter 28

Chapter 28

[Farstrider Guild]



When morning came, Eveth had to acknowledge that she hadn't slept well.

More accurately she hadn't slept at all, but on a morning like this, there was at least a fairly good chance she wouldn't be alone in this. If she was the normal sort, the lack of shut-eye would have easily been attributed to the disaster that had befallen the local districts of the city. Sleeping through a night that was filled with Royal Skyships, intent on bombarding whatever slum riots hadn’t possessed the sense to cut their losses early, all but guaranteed exhaustion for anyone this side of the city.

Indeed, as the sun came up and the shutters were pulled back from the kitchen windows, it wasn't hard to stretch one's imagination for reasons why many within the city walls might have found it difficult to rest.

There were still several columns of smoke rising out over the skyline. The sight, mixed with a scent of burning on the air, and quite a number of localized scorch marks on the street below, provided more than enough residual proof. Neither civil unrest or military crackdown were exactly a lullabies.

Still, that wasn’t why Eveth was tired. It should have been, would have been: but, Eveth wasn't the normal sort.

Normal girls born in small farming villages, don’t leave them. Even if they did, rarely do they head out, alone, walking on the road towards the famous City of The Emperor. No, those women live and die no more than a few days march from wherever they were born: married off to the first man who offered more than a few plots of land. Growing old while having child after child, harvesting whatever few crops might still be stubborn enough to grow: never having so much as set foot inside the Royal Academy, never having grasped the art of spellcraft or theory…

She let out a long sigh, at the thought.

Being born as an [Adept] was either a blessing, or a curse. Puzzling out which, seemed to be more and more difficult, recently. Being tired like this didn’t help matters, either. The harder Eveth tried working her focus towards something more productive, the more it felt like she was marching her way through sludge, and the tea she brewed was hardly a help. So far, at least.

Perhaps, it simply needed more time to take effect. Like a weakened stamina potion…

No, for now, she was left with tired and arrogant thoughts. Irritated, spiteful things that skimmed along the surface like storms over the inland sea. Especially angry, considering it was such an early morning. Typically, it took Eveth a full day of human interaction to even come close, but in fairness, her state of mind was almost justified.

With all the extra mana in the air, she’d had to call off her studies early: unable to focus on her research at all, much less write accurate notes on the experiment she'd planned on performing. Besides, the field of underlying mana-mechanics and capacity analysis seemed utterly trivial compared to the impossible nature she'd witnessed, just hours ago.

Someone had casually kicked down their front door, and then upended her understanding of almost everything that mattered to her: and no one else noticed.

Should she be even be angry?

Would astounded make more sense in the grander scheme?

There was a question.

She'd felt that very same she'd found herself awake long into the hours which the riots were settled. Not because the city had been aflame, or because the sky was filled with bursts of light and thunderous roars of magic: but because she'd seen something considered to be totally impossible.

Her very foundation of worldly understanding had been dragged right out, like a rug pulled beneath her feet. Before her very eyes there had been a paradigm shift in reality itself, and apparently she was the only one willing to ask the most obvious question available:

"How the hell did they do that?"

The omelet waiting in quiet sizzle upon the pan provided no suitable answer.

“The first magic, with Water… maybe that’s possible.” Eveth lifted the iron, watching as the yolk ran along the surface, solidifying as it went. “States of matter can change, but from the air? It wasn’t as though they were sitting in a steam bath… so, how?”

Still, the omelet remained taciturn.

"You know, it would be a lot easier for me to answer if you'd tell me what you're talking about." Eveth jumped, as behind her, a muffled reply coughed. "You- Ack" Another bout of gagging interrupted the words, choking on a mouthful of breakfast. "Ack-darn it all. Also, you're going to burn that omelet if you leave it any longer."

“Morning, Dren.” Eveth didn’t bother turning around to respond. “You’re up early.”

“Am I?”

“Yes.” Eveth stated, frowning.

“It’s really burning, you know?”

So much for a quiet morning, alone with her thoughts.

Adventuring folk were an odd mix. The veteran soldier here, an intrepid explorer there, a few treasure hunters of varying capacity churned in. Every so often, though, one might find something else in the pile. Such as, the occasional ignorant youth who was making terrible life choices.

"I like it burnt." She muttered.

"Good morning Eveth, Dren." With a loud creak, Eveth heard another unwanted intruder enter the small kitchen, passing behind Eveth with heavy steps. "You're both up early enough, can't say I'm not impressed."

"Good morning Alem." Behind her, Dren replied with his mouth full of what Eveth presumed to be stale bread he'd scrounged up from the pantry, yet again. "I couldn't sleep after all that happened, so I thought I'd start the day. Contracts won't stamp themselves!"

"That's the spirit!" Alem chucked, taking a seat at the far head of the table, just on the edge of her vision. "Same for you Eveth?" He reached for the bowl of dried fruit, pulling free a runty-looking example of patea, biting right though, skin and all. "Empire's got a healthy bid on rat tails, four copper a piece, or a ten silver for a wagon-load."

"I'll think about it." Eveth grimaced.

"She's got bigger things on her mind than rats, Alem." Dren swallowed the last of his bread, greedily reaching for another loaf. “Talking to herself, like a loon.”

"Ghouls then?" Alem took another bite of the patea, as he too reached for a portion of bread. It seemed that Dren had dragged an entire loaf out to the table. "Standing order of a three silver a head for those, but they're not easy to deal with when they're fresh."

"Not sure- but she's been muttering since I came in here, like some sort of mad-woman."

"Shut your trap, noble boy." Staring down at the crystal-tuned stove, Eveth let the heat dim-out with a wave of her hand before dropping her breakfast onto the waiting plate. "Honestly, if you had half a brain to go with your talents for healing, I imagine you'd be in the same state I am."

"No need to be so rude Eveth.” Dren replied, wiping his mouth with his sleeve. “Lesser men than I might take offense, you know?"

"You can call yourself a man once your beard comes in." Eveth scoffed, picking up her plate to take a seat at the table alongside them. "Or, when you actually learn to use that mace you lug around for more than just a prop."

"I'll have you know, Rat-crusher and I have dealt with more than our fair-share of threats together."

"I'm sure. What a tough Paladin you are." Eveth replied dismissively, digging a fork into her breakfast as she mentally tuned the boy out. "A real expert, doesn't even bat an eye at the impossible."

"I still don't know what you're talking about. What's something impossible got to do with this? Eveth?"

Eveth ignored him.

Dren might intrude on her morning meal with his presence, but she didn't have to listen to him. At the very least Alem was intelligent enough not to test her this early. Faith healing, or no: for all the Light, the boy did realize she could set him on fire, didn’t he?

"Now... how did they manage to make the spell work?" She muttered, flipping the slowly charring lump of egg with a rough motion. "It still doesn't make sense..." Three bites in, Eveth pushed aside the plate to reach for her notebook. Quickly, her fingers began flicking through the pages.

She had scribbled her thoughts on this already, several times over, but she felt as if she was on the edge of understanding "something" on what had been witnessed last night.

The water magic, for example.

At the very least, the element being pulled from the air was a recognized theory, so long as it was spoken with a heavy emphasis on the title of "theory." For an esteemed Mage, privileged enough to peer into the few existing books of experimental water-craft, this exact type of spell had long been presumed a possibility. Prying the liquid from air without outside assistance had been demonstrated on several fields, but only in the presence of pressure gradients. Sudden shifts could assist in manifesting the needed condition, which then, relying on the corner-stone foundations of Air and Soul magic: could indeed prompt vapor if the properties and atmosphere met the conditions.

Yet, that wasn't what Eveth had seen.

There were no pressure gradients or Air magic of any kind. In place of some repeatable and practiced function, there had been some sort of… improvisational pattern. Something which seemed much more instinctive, as it worked through the spell. If Eveth wasn't [Adept] Eveth knew she never would have been able to follow even a portion of what had passed along in those seconds.

"It was as though they were reaching for tiny pieces the eyes can't see..."

She stopped on the final page of her notes. The title of a book she’d once read.

It was much more a body of work and study than it was a direct conclusion, although it certain did reach several assumptions that appeared to be well-supported by lengthy and complicated ritual and runic-pressed tolerances, if simply not by many mages in the field.

Details on the cooling rate of heated liquid when compared to that of average resting temperature. Summaries of vapor formed directly from the solid of ice, and several personally designed spells that seemed almost trickery in their deviousness to produce a specific and exact result. Somewhere, in the lengthy library of Eveth's memory, she was dredging up one particular ritual. Though Eveth had never been given permission, directly, she remembered skimming the final thesis of the Archmage Qoules Artanis: properly titled as "A summary of the weakest Element, and the strength that lies within." In it, there had been carefully crafted technique, recorded as replicated twice by a circle of mages with excessive mana reservoirs and controlled conditions. Intended to draw out the elements of water from the elements of air. In the end, it had worked... somewhat. Perhaps that was why Eveth could temporarily forgive a total and unnamed stranger's blatant use of the very same concept in her presence.

Taking water from the air wasn't thought to be completely impossible, just extraordinarily difficult.

The problem was that they decided to follow such an outrageous act up with some sort of augmented and free-form healing magic, and they did so with their mana unconstrained by so much as a simple framework of faith or ritual to hold the portions together. Half of it wasn't even tuned properly, straying back from faith, to the element of Soul.

That broke rules: a lot of them. So many, Eveth wasn't even sure how to count them all.

In magical terms: it was very much like she'd dropped something, and it had decided to fall up and not down.

"How in all the hells below did they do that?" She muttered, again.

Had it been the brew? How many glasses had she finished, four... five? Had she simply imagined it?

No, that couldn't be the case. Logically she'd seen them do it, she just couldn't wrap her mind around exactly how.

"Whatever it is you're stuck on right now, just remember we're still ten gold short this month. Val and Tuth should bring in half of that from the full-sum of their escort missions, but unless I start pawning off Guild property, we’re barely going to make the interest payment..." Alem drained the last of his mug before glancing about the table. "Dren, did you take my bread?"

"No, but now that you're asking: did you take my cut of cheese? I purchased that at the far market last week, and I really don't appreciate-"

"Mother of Gods!" Eveth looked up, startled, as Alem grabbed Dren by the scruff of his robes and moved backwards from the table. Quickly enough, that his chair fell back with a loud crash that continued skidding for several paces.

Then, she froze in shock, as her gaze inevitably moved to what now sat just outside her line of sight. It hung there, faint impression of blue… and… scales…

"Eveth..." Alem said, voice falling into a false-steady sort of tone. "Do not move."

"Ssss…” Beside Eveth, a quiet noise issued. Before she could help it her eyes turned towards the source.

Sitting in a perfect coil: a live basilisk stared back.

"Ssss..." It stared at her.

In that instant, an eternity might have passed. Time slowed, as it always did when life was flashing before one’s eyes. She could see the world so clearly: Dren and Alem's expressions widening in shock, the strange scales of the serpent glowing almost like glass in the morning sun from the window. The panicked look on its face, and the charred half-swallowed remains of her omelet hanging from its mouth.

Of course, Eveth only managed to process all these facts in retrospect: after her instincts had kicked in, and she’d hit it point-blank with the largest fireball she could muster.