Book II - Chapter 43

Chapter 43

 

[Eveth]

 

Eveth wasn’t normally much of a risk taker.

Life or death combat, Dungeon expeditions, monster hunting... As an Adventurer, the list went on, but Eveth was certain that she could give it all up without any sort of residual longing. Desperately yearning for something and being forced into a role by necessity, were two different things. Each with very different mindsets.

The simple fact was that Eveth had never craved this kind of life.

Not one bit.

From a scholar with a bright future ahead of them, to a risk-taking, unlicensed, outcast of a Mage. The years had changed her: from someone who lived in books and logic, study halls and lectures: to someone who got shot with arrows. In a rather short span of time, what had been meant as a temporary refuge of convenience and necessity, had corrupted her. Still, if she had the power to make things match her ideal vision of life, she would gladly shut herself away with her research.

She would gladly regress, back to what she'd once been, because if anything was worth taking risks, it would be for the sake of new discoveries. To study and learn the forgotten arts of magic, who always hold precedence.

Or, at least, that was what she had believed at the start.

That was the puzzle of things in life. Much as one might wish to choose their own direction, Eveth was painfully aware the winds of fate cared little for mortal whims. It had never been more apparent to her then now.

One stray and distant cloud was swept away by the sun, as Eveth stood in silence. Witness, to the heavy scene of charcoal and burnt timber.

There were no heavy doors.

No more dusty tables, cluttered storerooms, or empty stools waiting by a quiet bar.

From the entrance steps, there was nothing but an empty husk of stone. Heavy bricks which somehow still loomed, walls standing against the odds with open gapes where doors and windows once resided, but everything inside their territory had been reduced to nothing more than ashes. Where the Farstrider Guild hall had once stood, there was only wreckage.

Around her neck, even the Basilisk seemed to be stunned into silence.

“Those fucking bastards.” No matter how she cursed, Eveth did reality little justice. All she could do was stand and stare.

“Sss.” The serpent replied.

 “Just the floor, the tables, the roof… that’s a fortune. More than fortune, just wasted. Never in a thousand years did I think it would come to this.” Eveth stared at it, watching the faintest trail of smoke as it continued its way towards the sky. “It was an old building, you know? Almost everything was wood. Alem… he always said someone burning it would be like throwing a bag of gold in the sea, that no one would dare.”

“Sss.”

“I guess he was wrong.”

“Sss.”

“I swear, it’s as if this entire city has lost its mind.” Eveth let out a long sigh, crouching down to run a hand through the ashes. “Maybe it was always this way and I was just too ignorant to realize it.”

“Sss… Sssssss.”

“Ever since the crops started drying up a few years ago, folk have been saying the world’s coming to an end, like that God-forsaken prophesy. Can you believe that?”

“Sss.” Beside her face, the Basilisk’s questioning hiss persisted. “Ssssss…”

“It’s just something that’s been passed down.” Eveth muttered. “Thousands of years ago, they say the Empire was founded on something like that, and now every farmer thinks they know better than the Royal Seers. Couple bad seasons, and they start saying it.”

“Sss.”

Eveth pulled her hand away to see the serpent watching, slowly leaning out in front of her hood.

“It’s not just the city, though, you know? There are rumors coming in from the Eastern fronts along the Blood Ridge Mountains, and that’s not even half as mad as what I’ve heard about the West. Over the ocean, I’ve heard people say the Northern entire continent is…” The snake stared intently. Eveth stared back. “What am I even doing, talking to a snake?”

“Ssss.” It replied. “Ssss.”

“I really need to get my head on straight.” Eveth adjusted her hood as she stood back up, glancing about her surroundings. The Guild was on a dead-end street, and most of their neighbors had run out of business over a year ago. That hadn’t changed overnight. She was alone, without another soul in sight.

Just her, and the scent of smoke.

“Sss.” Blue scales nudged her back to reality.

“Light, this is a mess. Whoever was after us yesterday must have come here, too.” Taking a step forward, Eveth crossed beneath the empty threshold to peer down at the wreckage below. “Alem... he should have been the only one back last night. Hope he made it out.” The faint rise of smolder still lingered there, carefully drafting up on currents of air and the faint traces of mana. There among the rubble she could see the foundation still mostly intact, stone walls and supports outlining what had once been familiar. Nothing else seemed to have even remotely survived the flames. “We’re not going to find help here, though.”

“Sssss?” Around her neck, the Basilisk voiced concern as she approached the edge, feet only inches from the drop towards the rubble below.

Eveth considering the distance.

“I need to go down there.” She replied to the presumed question, raising her staff as her focus narrowed down the familiar paths within her mind. Beneath the rubble, stone began to rise. Very slowly.

“Sssssss.” The serpent turned towards the magic with interest, flicking its tongue as it watched. Around them, much to Eveth’s surprise dust began to swirl. Odd spirals spun about in unorganized patterns, but unlike the water magic she’d seen it manifest, nothing further seemed to happen. “Sss.” It gave up with that statement, letting the dust drift off on its own.

From the corner of her eye, Eveth thought it looked rather disappointed.

“Well, Earth has never quite been my strong suit, either. The element is a tricky one, not to mention the weight of it all…” She concentrated as the slender pillar finished directly before them, barely wide enough for both her feet to fit. Carefully she stepped on. “I think I’m probably better than most, though.”

“Sss-” The reply cut off as they suddenly began to drop as the pillar began moving.

“I’ve learned that the secret is to save your effort.” Eveth continued as they descended. “Creating even a small platform out of solid stone is difficult, yes. If you hollow out the base below, and craft it ever so carefully-” With a slow rumble, the pillar finished its slide back from where it once emerged, slowing to a halt as it reached the ground below. “You save yourself half the effort.” Eveth finished, wiped the sweat from her brow and pushed back her hood as the magic faded. “Just build it carefully, and all you need to do is let it drop back into place. You can conserve your mana.”

With a light hop, Eveth dropped the remaining step or so of distance, down to the waiting ground a pace below. Beneath her boots, ashes crunched with light puffs of gray.

“Sss.” The snake bobbed its head, appreciative.

Or at least, that’s how Eveth choose to interpret its motions.

Over the morning, she’d been starting to pick up on some of the creature’s mannerisms. Especially since their close shave near the trader’s markets, Eveth thought some pieces were starting to fall into place. For one, she recognized that the Basilisk possessed intellect far outside most of its species. How far, exactly, was what she was still deciding.

“Ssss.” The Basilisk murmured, turning about beside her as it eyed the scenery. “Sss…sss…” It continued with quiet flicks of its tongue before looking to her, expectantly.

“Imra speaks to you as if you can understand, so I’ve been acting on that assumption.” Eveth stated as she began to trudge through the ashes, mindful of her steps around larger clumps of rubble. “I’ll make a guess that you’re wondering why we’re down here.”

“Ssssss?”

“Well, I never planned to stay in the Guild forever.” Eveth moved with purpose as she made her way across the debris. “I needed people I could trust, a safe place to study, legally.” She stressed the word, as her foot found safe purchase on a charred beam. “To make a long story short, I’ve got some very important things down here, and they’re the type I’d risk someone else finding.”

“Sss.” Some of the ashes swirled around her boots, before dropping back down. “Sss.” It repeated.

From the tilt of its head, Eveth felt the look was meant to seem skeptical.

“Well, it’s not as though I left them out for just anyone.” Eveth muttered defensively as she stopped by the far corner, sweeping a light breeze of air along the exterior wall to clear away the grey dust that had settled there. “But then again, it’s not just anyone that I’m worried about.” She let the magic drop away, reaching out to knock lightly against the stone. “Here.” She said, raising her staff again as the crystal affixed to it began to glow. “This might take me a minute.”

“Sss.” The snake watched with interest as the foundation wall began to part, stone sluggishly shifting in on itself to widen into a doorway. “Sssss…” It said, swirling more dust in an odd rotation around them.

Eveth eyed the dirt as it lifted. There was something strange about the motion, now that she looked closer: a weak use of the magic wouldn’t bring about even half of the reaction. There was some bizarre level of talent hidden in the useless cycle. Like a real spell, stretched over itself and trapped in some never-ending loop.

“Sss.” The magic ceased.

As it dropped its head. Again, Eveth almost thought the snake seemed disappointed.

“You’re an odd one, you know that?” The wall continued to part, as Eveth felt the sweat on her brow once more. “I’ve heard of Dungeon creatures having magic on occasion, some even being intelligent in a few respects, but with you… I’d say just the magic makes you unusual.”

“Sss.” That seemed to be a reply. “Ssssss.”

Two replies.

In her present state of mind, Eveth found that was enough to continue.

“If you were a Mage, I’d rate you highly. Of course, there’s your apparent talent for... Fire.” She paused, grimacing at the memory, “And Water is clearly mastered, however unorthodox the methods. All while you’ve got more than just a touch of Earth- though it’s apparently unrefined.”

Sss.”

“What really gets me though, is somehow you’ve managed to achieve all this along with some type of Faith magic. Even the best of Mages in the Academy are really only functional with two or three elements, and none of them can cast a form of [Heal] worth half a damn-” Eveth coughed at the shock running through the skin around her neck, flooding down into her veins like ice.

Tiny aches and pains she hadn’t even realized were being erased as if they never were, while distantly, she could almost swear she heard someone speaking.

“___ __?”

Eveth blinked as the spell faded off to nothing, ear ringing... inside her head. An odd effect.

Sss.” The snake repeated.

“Damn.” Eveth shook her head, clearing her thoughts. “Yes: That. You really shouldn’t be able to do that.”

“Sss.”

“Healing requires Faith, requires chanting, requires… something else. I know without some sort of ritual, it doesn’t work. Not unless you’re some priest that’s been training to fix injuries since they could crawl.” Eveth refocused her spell, pressuring the stone in front of her to move. “But, Faith and other magics don’t mix well. Either the church gets you young, or you end up like me. Doesn't matter how talented you are.”

Oddly enough, the snake didn’t respond to that. For once, it stayed quiet… and seemed confused.

“What?” Eveth asked, shrugging slightly. “That’s just the way it is. I’m an [Adept] so I’ve got a bit of an edge, but Faith magic is like trying to read Dwarven script. That kind of magic requires… something else. If you’re a member of the church and they start your training young, you can learn it, but if you do things the other way around it’s usually pointless. There are some who have tried, and as a result they mostly ended up being rather pitiful at everything.” She paused, considering. “I’m not sure how a monster like you could be religious, though.”

“Sss.”

The slow grind of Earth magic continued, as the one-sided conversation began to lull. The wall was bowling inward now, but still a long-ways off from where she wanted it. Setting both hands on the staff as Eveth drew out more of her mana and ignored the pressure that came with it. After her previous use of magic, to get them down safely, she was starting to feel the strain. Still, she had no intentions of stopping to rest.

The quicker she got this done, the better.

“Ssss…”

“On the other side of that coin though, there’s Soul magic.” Eveth gritted her teeth as the center of the wall finally buckled in, revealing a small gap in the stone. “Unlike Faith, or Earth, I actually have an affinity for that element.”

“Sss.” The snake replied, bobbing its head in acknowledgement as Eveth continued her work on the wall.

“Not very helpful right now, but that was what I came to this city to study. Years ago, now.” The depression was growing deeper now, but still nowhere near as fast as she’d prefer. It would take some time. Molding this much earth after a large expenditure was costing her, and Eveth felt the magic tapped into her final reserves. “Academics call it the neglected element. People use it for a few specific things and not much else. Much more rewarding to blast something with a [Fireball] than it is to tinker with complicated logic.”

“Ssss.”

“If you’re talented, you can use Soul to fix runes, create spells ahead of time that might be difficult to cast normally. That’s all most people think of it as.”

“Sss.”

“Can you even understand a word I’m saying?”

“Ssss… sss.”

“Gods above, if the rest of the Guild could see me now: talking to a serpent, as if it’s the most ordinary thing in the world to do.”

“Sss.” The snake bobbed its head, as if agreeing.

Eveth lifted a hand off her staff to wipe away more sweat. The wall was finally opening, slowly but surely only a few minutes more. This was a lot, she realized. Quite a lot for someone to have to go through, not long after being shot. It was all she could do to keep her mind off the growing pressure of exhaustion.

“Humans didn’t always have magic, you know?” She decided to keep talking. It helped for something like this, and it also seemed to keep the Basilisk around her neck from moving around so much. “A long time ago, they say people didn’t have anything like that, not even the simplest of spells.”

“Ssss?”

“If you have access to the archives, there are some records there that say humans were the weakest of all the races.” She explained, “Humans could only protect themselves by using their own two hands and whatever tools they could come up with: we had to think our way out of problems. We had to work together, for even the simplest of things to get done.”

“Ssss.” The head bobbing returned, interested.

“When it gets down to it, that’s a lot of what the Soul element is really about, really. It’s not inherently powerful like Fire, or strong like Earth. It’s not as quick, like Air or Water. On its own, it’s not even something you can use physically. The only value it has is tied together with careful planning.”

“Ssss…” The snake seemed to think on that.

Eveth knew she was starting to breathe heavy, but the stone before her was starting to actually part now. Bit by bit opening to reveal what waited behind it. She felt the opening break through to the opposing side, a quiet flow of air drifting out over her skin with a heavy scent of stone.

“When I was born, I already had the [Adept] trait. It’s not a skill people can learn, it’s something… different. It doesn’t show up very often. Especially not with commoners: my parents didn’t have a drop of noble blood between them.”

“Sss...”

“Dren will tell you that talents like mine are given out by the Gods, but the Academy teaches that some people inherit these from their ancestors, winding back to the first generations of mankind who possessed magic. They say it’s only over time that these have spread out, but think even the most ordinary human back then, had dozens.”

“Sssss?”

“No one is born with that many anymore. I think the only people still born with that sort of talent are of Royal blood. Rumor has it that the current Emperor has as many as seven blessings.”

“Ssss…ssss?”

It seemed a question.

“Alem… he says that he has one from birth, but he’s rather quiet on the details. Dren doesn’t have any, even though he’s from a noble family. Probably half the reason they sent him off to join the church.”

The snake turned suddenly, looking behind them.

“What is it?” Eveth asked, uncertain. “Is someone there?”

She was almost done, but her reserves now were running low. Letting the magic stop a bit early, Eveth glanced back.

Along the edges of the foundation, there was only charred stone. She couldn’t see anyone watching them, no matter where she looked.

“Sss.” The snake turned back, now apparently unconcerned. “Sss.” It repeated, this time with a puff of green smoke that made Eveth jump a little.

Eveth assumed it was telling her to hurry up.

“Fine, this is good enough for now.” She muttered, once again glancing behind her. Nothing was there, but the Basilisk’s gaze didn’t stray from the direction they’d come in, fixing on the open doorway as if waiting for something. “Best not to linger.” Eveth said, ducking her head to begin climbing through.

It wasn’t exactly comfortable.

The hole in the stone was three or so paces high, maybe two wide, and several deep. Just enough for someone to step through, if they were careful about it. Ducking her head low with her free hand to steady herself, Eveth pushed her staff ahead as she moved in deeper.

“Sssssss.” Beside her face, Eveth saw the Basilisk move back to the front, flicking its tongue with interest as it tasted the air. As she stepped down in the pitch darkness on the other side of the roughly made passageway, its scales seemed to glow faintly, while its eyes remained transfixed on the absence of light ahead of them.

“Not my best work on the tunnel.” Mindful of her feet, Eveth felt her boots plant firmly on flattened stone of the hidden space. “But, not my worst either.”

[Light]

The spell burst to life above their heads in the shape of a tiny orb, illuminating the slender carved staircase down into the depths below. Eveth took a deep breath of air, exhaling with a smile.

“Mana… there’s nothing quite like the real thing.” She let the feeling of it soak deep into her bones. Already she could feel her mana starting to return, her inner reserves regaining their strength. “Deeper down you go, denser it gets.” Turning back, Eveth raised her staff again and began pulling a thin layer of the wall closed behind them, covering their tracks. The stone filled in quickly, distant source of sunlight quietly disappearing.

Only a few inches of stone: nothing compared to several paces worth, but enough to shut out any unwanted visitors. Even as she worked, Eveth felt her strength continuing to build itself back up- stronger with every breath. Soon enough, they were completely sealed in.

All around them, was stone.

“Here we are.” Eveth spoke quietly, listening as her whisper seemed almost a shout. Down ahead of them, the familiar stairs descended into the absolute absence of light, faintest breeze travelling up with a taste of saturated mana. “I imagine you must feel right at home.”

The creature around her neck didn’t respond, gaze undisturbed by the glowing orb above its head.

Eveth let her staff tap the floor, summoning several more orbs of [Light] within the passage. With ease, she molded and tuned them to her will until they were dancing around the air with vibrant motions and shapes. A wolf, a deer, a cat, several more jumped and ran as she willed them. Scampering along the ceiling and walls with warm radiance in their wake.

Still, the Basilisk paid no attention to Eveth’s little show.

Instead it waited, silent and still as death: never taking its gaze off the dark shadows in the staircase below. Even as she brought the glowing shapes of [Light] closer, the creature paid no mind, locked as if frozen about her neck. As if it were ready for danger, at any moment.

Not a terrible mindset, Eveth thought, considering.

“Well then,” Eveth announced, as she began her descent. “Down we go.”