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[Story] The Magic Arts (& Crafts) - Vol 2 - Enlightenment

Discussion in 'UO White Stag Inn' started by Gerorne, Jul 26, 2009.

  1. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Volume 2 of a planned eight volume story. Please hold off posting replies until the volume is finished. (There will be twenty-one chapters and then the Afterword, unlike the thirteen chapters of Volume 1.)


    Ever seeking knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.


    Through her own innovations and inspiration, Melfina created the circumstances to release her from her debt. A rarity in her possession, and with money to spare, the talented scribe has within her grasp the catalyst for change. Change whether she wills it or not.

    The questions are what change? and when? Only time will tell.

    The pride and joy of her life - The Magic Arts (& Crafts)


    Volume 1 - Welcome to West Luna
    Volume 2 - Enlightenment
    Volume 3 - Shades of Truth

    Part of uothief.com​
  2. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter I

    "Drop that pen right now Melfina!" yells Cadence as she enters the shop. "What are you doing!?"

    Melfina rolls her eyes at the bard. "Don't tell me you came by just to yell at me again."

    "Of course. I had another delivery for Lord Luna, so I thought I'd come by to make sure you weren't still here wasting this opportunity of yours!" says the bard as she grabs a seat right in front of her friend. "After all that you went through, you need to celebrate! Not just grind through each day as if nothing huge has happened!"

    "Just because I have a lot of money now doesn't mean it can magically upkeep the shop," Melfina says as she finishes another recall scroll.

    "That's exactly what it means! Go hire and assistant then go on vacation! Go travel the world! Relax by some lake shore! Buy some new dresses! Do something!

    "I don't really do that."

    "Go visit libraries then. See some museums. Go buy some of those rare books you're always looking for! How can you not go out and do that?"


    The sound of approaching footsteps comes through the lull of Melfina's response. They turn and in walks Stark with sword on his hip and his head held high. A coy smile graces the bard's lips.

    "Oh hello there, guard captain. Nice to see you again," says Cadence as she tosses her long auburn hair over her shoulder.

    "You as well, Cadence," nods the paladin. "If you don't mind, I saw you walk in here, and I came to ask about outside news."

    "Why not at all. We were just having girl talk," she says as she flashes a smile. "It can wait." She taps her finger on her lower lip. "Hmm... let's see... latest news... well. The plague has spread to Vesper, and the city's now under quarantine, small crime is on the rise pretty much everywhere, and of course everyone in Luna can't stop talking about the Reunification."

    "Reunification?" inquires the scribe.

    "The latest proclamation by the Archduke," Stark tells Melfina, then looks back towards Cadence. "What is it exactly? The town criers were just starting to proclaim the message as I left the city. I have yet to return."

    "You guys don't know!" Cadence exclaims as she looks back and forth between the two. "The Reunification! Peace between Luna and Umbra!" Stark's face goes blank. "A verbal agreement has already been made as a temporary truce until next year. Official papers'll be signed at that time, which place steps to eventually unite the land as one again. Plans for a giant celebration have been constantly worked on for the past month! How can you not know!"

    "Peace," Stark curses. "Why would the Archduke agree to peace with the necromancers."

    "Besides no more war with a powerful neighbor? Because. Peace will increase trade. Luna has so much more to offer Umbra in terms of trade goods than Umbra has for Luna. The net flow of gold will flow out of Umbra and into Luna. And Luna's scholars are granted access to the city and whatever knowledge that's been kept secret from Luna all these years."

    "Wait- What?" Melfina quickly asks as her face lights up.

    "Part of the agreement is to lift all the heavy border restrictions on both sides. Even paladins are now allowed to enter their city."

    "And necromancers ours?" Stark asks grimly.


    Umbra, thinks the scribe.

    The paladin shakes his head and vents. "We need more guards. No wonder crime has been rising. Their corruption is already spreading. In the City! They've been walking the streets!" He looks at Cadence. "How is the Order taking it?"

    Umbra, she thinks again, oblivious to Stark's tirade, and speaks over the paladin. "Why hasn't Lord Luna told me! Something like this will affect sales! No wonder I've been selling out of recalls unusually fast!"

    "He did. It was in the letter I delivered to you last month."

    "Oh." That "I didn't open it," she says a little shamefully.

    "Mel. Why don't you go to Umbra? See what you can find? There's probably something that'll interest you there."

    "No!" Stark says before she can even consider it.

    "Why not?" asks Melfina.

    "It's Umbra. You won't be safe there. The city is lawless and corrupt. No city guard. Just swordsmen who rent out their services to any who can pay their outrageous prices. To protect against kidnappings in broad daylight. Not for ransom, but for experimentation by the necromancers. Or you could simply be knocked out, be stripped of money, supplies, clothes, everything, while others do what they will with your unconscious body."

    "Oh come on, it's not that bad." Cadence responds. "I've been there since the proclamation. Everyone seems to just keep to themselves and mind their own business. A little quiet, especially compared to Luna, but I never felt as if I was in danger."

    "That's 'cause you won't. Not until it's too late."

    She looks at him levelly. "Have you ever been there. Have you been anywhere?" she says, irritation in her voice. "Don't tell me what's safe and what's not. Traveling is what I do. Villages, towns, and all the major cities, while this is as far as you've ever been beyond the Luna's walls! Why don't you go wander around West Luna some more and pretend you're seeing the world."

    Anger flashes on Stark's face, but he quickly suppresses it. "I meant no offense. You are right however. I should return to my duties." Turning to Melfina he has to add, "It's a dangerous place. Anywhere else. Not there." He leaves.

    Cadence shakes her head and as she watches him leave, a smile slowly blooms on her face. "Even in defeat he still has that confidant walk of his that I love to watch." Melfina stares wide-eyed at her friend. "Oh don't tell me you haven't noticed," she grins. "But anyway... you also shouldn't listen to him. He doesn't know what he's talking about. You know you want to. Do it."

    "It couldn't hurt to take a look," she says slowly. "I guess I do have money to spend..." She smiles. "Umbra! It's finally open!" No more banned books. And no more stupid laws barring the writing of new ones. "I don't think anyone really knows what it's like over there." After a pause she whispers. "I could write a book. The first book on Umbra to be written in generations. Not about how to fight Umbra, or the evils of Umbra, but actually about Umbra!"

    Cadence smiles at how enlivened her friend is.

    "I like it. I know people will want to read that. Too many people are like your guard captain, and just don't know what they're talking about. And even if the people are curious, they're too scared to go. But they'll be happy to spend golds on whoever'll go and find out for them."

    "I'll finally be published! I've gotten stuck on my other books for one reason or another. But this... this will be so easy to write. I just need to do the proper research, and it'll probably write itself!"

    Cadence says her good-bye, knowing her friend doesn't hear a word, as the scribe is already lost in thought scribbling away in her notebook.

    * * *

  3. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter II

    Even if he finds out, what would he do? the scribe thinks as she double checks her bag. Spellbook, regs, notebook, ink, pens. Go to bank for some gold, then it's time to go!

    The guard captain drops by once a day. The scribe planned to leave as soon as he left, which wasn't until mid-afternoon. Nightfall was her deadline to return. She wasn't afraid of night time in Umbra, at least not more than a little, but Stark would know where she was if there were no lights on after it got dark. And it would be dark. The shadow moon would fill the sky this night.

    He came, then went, then so did she. She popped into Luna, withdrew some gold, and stood before the pulsing blue glow of Luna's moongate.

    One step, and she'd be there.


    Her rapidly pounding heart accompanied the slow rhythm of the gate as she hesitates. The stories always sounded like stories. Exaggerations. But they were hard to wipe from her mind no matter how hard she tried.

    She takes a deep breath as the quiet hum of the moongate calms her.

    The moongates were discovered centuries ago, when Luna and Umbra were pieces of the great kingdom of Britain. Everyday gateways vanish moments after formation, but the moongates are permanent. They've stood strong for centuries.

    The first was discovered by accident. An experienced mage stepped through his gateway, much he'd done many times before on his way home. But to his surprise, he appeared on a deserted island.

    He returned through a second gateway to understand out what went wrong, only to find the original still standing, even after the second vanished.

    He stepped through again, and appeared in a swamp. Again and again he returned, alone at first, then with others. The destination would change, but the special gateway remained constant.

    Word of the occurrence reached the ancient city of Wind. The Council of Mages sent Scholars to investigate. They quickly determined it was the location that made the difference, and not the caster nor what he used and how he used it.

    Some apprentices were sent across the land forming gateways one pace after another. After some time, the second was found, and a flood of mages joined the search. One after another they were discovered. First, near major cities, then towns, then villages, and then the wilds. The benefits to trade were obvious, and new cities bloomed where none had existed.

    These gateways were connected. Step through one, and appear out of another. As each was discovered they became part of the network. The destination depended on the phase of the moon, and so they became known as moongates. Eventually even that limitation was lifted.

    Then Britain shattered, factions split, tensions flared, and the paladins and necromancers went to war. Luna tweaked it so travel from Umbra's gate was blocked, and Umbra replied in kind. But the seals have been released.

    A proposal was made, the Reunification proclaimed, and the gates have been opened.

    Well... here goes. Melfina exhales and steps through.

    She coalesces, takes a look, closes her eyes, and gives her head a little shake. She opens them again and it's still the same. Barren wilderness.

    Where's the city! The scribe quickly turns around and the city enters her view. Oh. Yeah, Melfina thinks, slightly embarrassed. Luna's moongate was the only one located in the heart of the city, right next to the bank. At least Umbra's was within the city boundaries.

    She pulls out her notebook:
    She puts the notebook away and let's her gaze fall over the city. Hmmm... which way... She shrugs and heads north.

    While she sees a few people off in the distance, the city seems as lifeless as the trees. The ringing of hammer on anvil is the only sound to prove otherwise.

    Melfina walks up to the smithy and pokes her head inside. No friendly greeting, no smiles of welcome, not even one head looking up to acknowledge her presence.

    "Excuse me."


    "Hi, my name is Melfina. I was thinking of writing a book on Umbra, do you mind if I look around?"

    "No," he says as he goes back to work as he immidiately dismisses her from his mind.

    Melfina takes a look around, and it all looks remarkably mundane. Weapons, armor, and tools. The room itself had the same charcoal look inside as it did outside.

    The biggest difference were the blacksmiths themselves. While Luna's merchants wear what they want, it seems a dress code in enforced here. They wore pants, shirts, skirts, and aprons of different cuts, but all were of the same blood red or charcoal color. They all had different styles of hair, but it was all the same ghostly white. Even their skin all looked unnaturally pale.

    She's seen all she needs, and approaches the blacksmith again.

    "Umm... I'm sorry, I don't know your name."

    He looks up. "Prentice."

    "Oh... Prentice. That looks like an excellent sword, Prentice."

    He scoffs. "I would hope so. I'm the guildmaster." He shakes his head and returns to work.

    Uncomfortable and embarrassed, Melfina quickly leaves and moves on. She takes a look inside of Gravedigger's Apparatus, apparently a provisioner. Despite the ominous name and same dress code color scheme as the smithy, she once again finds the shop filled with goods that would be at home in Luna. Boots, maps, tools, and all manner of random but useful items.

    I suppose we all need the same stuff, but I can't write about this! Maybe I shouldn't have come.

    Melfina begins to head back to the moongate in the hopes that something on the way would catch her interest. One last sweep of her eyes and she sees it - the magic shop.


    So obvious, yet it was overlooked. She soon realizes why. Each step increases her anxiety. The conditioned fear from childhood can't be ignored, but it won't stop her either.

    She enters, and while the shop has the same oppressive look as the others, it didn't have the same oppressive feeling. The building was much more spacious, and it had the familiar smell of magical reagents that always put her at ease.

    Melfina looks over the reagents. Some familiar, others new. Deamon's blood! How do they collect that!

    And then she sees the books. The necromancer spellbooks. The cover was a dull, yet dark green, with a skull embossed in the center.

    This is it. "I'll take this," she says to the nearest vendor.

    "I can tell you're new to necromancy. You might want to pick up some reagents. They're not quite the same as the magery ones."

    "Oh no. I'm not looking to actually learn necromancy. I just want to study it."

    "You can have some for free. To get you started," he says as he pulls out a matching bag.

    "Oh no. Really. I just want to read through the book and add it to my library. It's not something I want to practice myself."

    "Are you sure?"

    "I'm sure."

    "Your choice."

    Melfina looks at the empty eye sockets filled with possibility.

    * * *​

  4. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter III

    Life can give you answers, but you have to ask the questions, Brandon would often say to a young Stark whenever he had a confused look on his face. He had always hated that. But he did learn to ask.

    It's time to find some answers.

    Stark steps into the library, and Melfina shuffles papers on the desk in front of her

    "How are you today?"

    "Doing well, how about you?" she says in an innocent tone.

    "West Luna seems safe. How was your trip?"

    "What trip?"

    "After I stopped by yesterday."

    "Oh," she pauses, then answers slowly at first and picks up speed with each word. "I went to Luna. I know you haven't been here that long yet, but I usually go to Luna once a month, to check out the shops, see what's being sold, and to check out the prices. And of course occasionally I find something worth buying. Last month I even found a cookbook. I know I don't really cook yet, but I've been meaning to learn. And of course that's when I bought the Tome of Lost Knowledge."

    Stark might have been overwhelmed if he wasn't looking for any suspicious behavior. "You seem excited. Did you find anything?"

    "Oh, no. Not this time. Nothing in Luna."

    "Maybe you should leave earlier in the day next time, especially if you only go once a month," he says full of skepticism.

    "What are you trying to say."

    "You're a bad liar."

    "I haven't lied!" she says affronted.

    "But you are hiding something. You would have mentioned the trip if it was only to Luna. You went somewhere afterwards. You went to Umbra."

    The scribe has nothing to say. I was right. "You're lucky nothing happened to you!" yells an angry Stark.

    "This is why I didn't tell you!" She says as she stands up, ready for a fight. "I knew you'd be mad over nothing! There's no luck to it! You were wrong! Cadence was right! They dress a little weird, and are kinda rude, abut that's all! They pretty much ignored me."

    "And I bet they would have ignored you if you were attacked to be taken for the necromancers."

    Her eyes flick to her work area, and his eyes follow. The green corner of a book pokes out from beneath Melfina's papers. He's never seen one but knows what it is.

    "A necrobook!" he spits. "What's that doing here!"

    "It's not doing anything. I'm just studying it."


    "To learn about them for myself! Instead of relying on all the rumors and myths that people like you have exaggerated throughout the decades. So much that the truth has gotten lost, and everyone just keeps on passing on the wrong information! People should know the truth instead of passing on this unsubstantiated fear! Just a couple hours in Umbra proved you wrong!"

    "A couple hours proves nothing."

    "So I should spend more time researching until-"

    Melfina stops mid-sentence and looks past Stark's shoulder with a glare even angrier than before.

    "Am I interrupting something?" asks a distinguished voice.

    "Always," she says acidly.

    Stark looks over his shoulder, then turns and bows when he sees who it is.


    The man dressed in pure white robes stood half a head shorter than he did. An ankh hung from his neck, much like Stark's own, but more ornate. He wasn't Stark's actual father. He was the High Father. The divine leader of the holy mages of Luna. He was advisor to the archduke, on equal standing with the Keeper of All. He led the most holy of ceremonies, oversaw his holy order, and worked to maintain Luna's Library and all materials within.

    "Be at ease, my son. I didn't realize that a paladin served Merchant Vendor Melfina."

    "Not her specifically, father. I guard West Luna."

    "I see. Very good," he finishes, clearly done with the conversation.

    "Melfina, I hear you've come into some money."

    "Yes," she says challengingly.

    "Melfina!" Stark exclaims, shocked at her tone. "This is the High Father!"

    "So. I don't worship the paladin god."

    "How little you know, young one," he smiled.

    "I know how you treated my father. That's enough."

    Stark opens his mouth, but the holy mage raises his hand to silence him.

    "He was a good man. But that's not why I'm here, young one."

    "Why then, Wayland."

    "Word has gotten back to me that you are no longer in financial trouble and this shop of yours will remain in your possession."

    "Yes," she says cautiously.

    "You understand the condition of Luna's Library. The fire destroyed so much and I am still rebuilding. I was hoping to acquire your collection and merge it with mine. Lord Luna was going to allow me the first offer."

    "The books are mine," she says fiercely.

    "The High Father doesn't steal," Stark says immediately.

    "Yes of course," he replies in a calm, reassuring voice. "I won't take what's yours by force."

    "You'd just pray I'd lose my life's work, so you could acquire it at a discount."

    "Who better to take care of it," he says with his voice beginning to show signs of agitation. "You obviously don't know what to do with it. It would be safe there, and be put to better use."

    "You mean you could be in control. You'd keep it hidden away, allowing only a select few to see it. You'd use knowledge like currency as if you owned it."

    "And you'd waste it here where no one has access to it no matter your policies because no one travels out here to see it."

    "Father, I'm sure-" Stark tries to interject, but is cut off by a raised hand from the High Father.

    "Do what you want with your collection. You run a business though. I'll pay you to make copies of what I need. As quickly as you can manage. I will pay any cost for the ones I need."

    "I don't need your gold, I don't have the time, and I won't be placed under your power like my father was."

    "Your library is open to anyone right? Then I have will just borrow what I need, and have the holy order make copies."

    "People have to leave collateral to borrow books, and no one can borrow the rare ones."

    "I will send my people here to make the necessary copies."

    "I don't want your people spying on me."

    "I thought this library was for everyone. You stain your own policies already."

    Appalled at the confrontation, Stark knows not isn't the right time for questions, but perhaps he could offer the right answer.

    "If I may. I will be your witness Melfina, under God's purifying light, to any agreement made with the High Father."

    "There Melfina. Surely you can have faith in him no matter what you think of me."

    Melfina pauses, obviously struggling with her thoughts. "Fine," she says finally. "Wait here."

    She cleans her hands, opens her rare book cabinet, and spreads them before the High Father.

    "Which do you need."

    "Lord Blackthorn's A Politic Call to Anarchy," he says delightedly as he looks at the collection. "A copy of course, but an old one."

    Melfina glares at the holy mage, but knows she can't resist talking. "The owner had only added it to his collection a week before I arrived. But he quickly decided it was excessive, so he gave it to me for free."

    It took only moments for the High Father to sort through the books, scrolls, and manuscripts that he was interested it, while Melfina checked them off as he set them aside. She carefully wrapped them up and placed them into a padded chest.

    "As quickly as you can manage. I want these back," Melfina says.

    "But of course."

    "Two weeks should be plenty of time to copy some of it down, no matter how busy your scribes are. I've written down the date and time for the first drop off so you can't claim I wasn't here. We'll agree to the next drop off after I see your progress. If you take too long, I'll want them all back no matter how many you haven't finished."

    "Agreed. You've done Luna a great service," he replies. "Farewell, Melfina." Turning to Stark he adds, "Be blessed in the Light, my son."

    "Thank you, Father," Stark answers.

    Stark waits until he's gone before saying, "You didn't show him the Tome of Lost Knowledge. You know Luna's was destroyed."

    "He has no use for it. It can't be copied."

    "But if it's as important as you say..."

    "No, Stark, it was none of his business. None."

    "It's your property. To do with as you will," he gives in.

    "Does that apply to the Book of Necromancy?"

    Trapped with my own words, he thinks before answering. "Return it. Burn it. That book is evil."

    * * *​

  5. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter IV
    Various pens and paper cover the desk, and pitcher of water lies within arms reach. The comforting blanket of silence embraces the scribe as she continues to write.
    Stop thinking like a scribe Mel! How about… She considers alternatives for a few minutes then give her head a little shake. Move on!
    Why do alchemists and mages share the same reagents, but use none of the necromancy regs? I'll ask Michael… maybe.
    Assuming the same applies to necromancy. Who can I ask to confirm this?
    Melfina sighs. No one theorizes about anything anymore. No one asks questions. It’s all about money and serving the lowest common denominator. The thought saddens her and she flips through the green covered spellbook. It's so disorganized. Is it because it hasn't been widely adopted and no one has felt a need to make it more accessible? Or is the disorganization a reason why it hasn't been widely adopted? People don't want to read through confusing instructions, but is that the only reason? Or is the disorder of the book a reflection of the disorder of the discipline?
    Melfina shivers. Sitting within arms reach of the necromancer's spellbook no longer bothers her, but spirit speaking still has it mystique. Necromancy had been banned within Luna since its founding. So has spirit speaking. Reasons were given but Melfina suspected that it boiled down to this association. Other places allowed the training and practice of this craft, most commonly used by healers, but Luna would not tolerate it. With the ban lifted from necromancy now, she supposed the ban from spirit speaking was lifted as well.

    Why the dependence? Is it really part of the spell? Or is it any different than needing a wounded person to be able to heal? I wouldn’t be surprised if this book was wrong with a lot of things.

    She shakes her head. Might have to look into spirit speaking now, and add a small section to the book. Melfina wasn't sure how she felt about that. She'd spent a lot of time thinking about the nature of magic, and has plenty of notes and an unfinished book on the subject, but a book on magic in general wouldn't immediately catch the interest of as many people. A book on Umbra or necromancy would.

    Melfina tries to continue but thoughts of the nature of spirit speaking keep on invading her mind.

    I can't write like this!

    She's lost her writing momentum. Switching from words to pictures would organize her thoughts in a different manner, so she picks up a charcoal pencil and starts to sketch.

    * * *

  6. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter V

    Every step was new. Every look. This was Umbra, but not the one Melfina remembered just two days prior.

    Spirit speaking, and how it worked, had taken over her thoughts, and she left for Umbra as soon as duties to her shop eased up.

    A step beyond the moongate presented a surprise. An Umbra full of life. It wasn't the vibrant life of Luna. It was more subdued, but its heart was beating. People actually walked the streets, on some errand or another. Melfina had stopped a passerby, and asked what was going on. She got an odd look, a shrug, and a grunt, and the stranger moved on.

    The scent of stew, roasted boar, and freshly baked bread caught her attention, and she made her way to a huge grey tent, with a shop sign declaring it The Skeleton's Swill. A look inside confirmed that it was a tavern, despite its odd appearance. Long tables and benches were filled with people, much like any other tavern. A good portion of them obviously not from Umbra. The low hum of conversation swirled around her, with laughter popping up from time to time, and a man dressed in a plain, long sleeved shirt tucked into his cleanly cut pants, both of the Umbran style, stepped up to her.

    "Hello, miss," he said with a smile. "You look like you have question that needs answering."

    "What happened?"

    "I uhh... I'm not sure I understand," he replied.

    "Where did everyone come from? It wasn't like this last time."

    The Umbran laughed.

    "So you were here two days ago."

    "How'd you know?"

    "It was the night of the Shadow Moon. It's our day of worship." He puts a comforting hand on her shoulder after seeing the look on her face. "No need to be embarrassed. I'm sure that happens to plenty of people. This Reunification business has boosted tourism. Where are you from, if I may ask?”

    "Oh, pretty much from Luna," she says.

    "Oh, how interesting. Despite the Reunification involving Luna, we actually don’t get many people from there. Yet. But the news has brought people to come take a look at our great city from pretty much everywhere else as you can see, " he says as he extends his arm, presenting the tavern and its patrons to her.

    "Yes, I noticed. This is quite an interesting tavern," Melfina says as she looks out the tent flaps to the outdoor stove and cookfire.

    "Oh it is. Five years ago, a fire burned the old building down, only the bare essence of the place was left. The skeleton if you will." He grins. "And tents were put up as a temporary measure."

    "It turned out that people liked the open feeling the tents gave the place, so while the quality of the materials were improved, the owner decided to keep it as it is. All he really added was a roof over the bar area," he points out the entrance over on her right, where people are enjoying mugs of their drink of choice.

    "And of course the open air kitchen allows the smells of cooking and baking to ride the air currents, which can attract people from far off with the right wind."

    "You sound like a tourguide," she says.

    He grins even wider. "I can't claim innocence. I work for Trent's Tours." He offers his hand. "I'm Trent."

    Melfina shakes his hand.

    "I'm Melfina."

    "Well Melfina, any specific reason why you're visiting my lovely city on this beautiful day?"

    "Why yes, actually. I'm currently writing a book on... well it was supposed to be about Umbra at first, but it looks like it's turning out to be more about necromancy. Any recommendations?"

    "Oh most definitely. I'm sure you'd be interested in taking a look inside the Altar of Divination, the seat of the Warden Primus himself."

    "You allowed to take me there?"

    "Not all the way into the private chambers of course, but yes, as an officially recognized tourguide, I have permission to take people inside its walls."

    "That would be wonderful!"

    "I'll just have a small meal packed up for me, and we'll be off.” He takes a step and looks back at her. "Want anything?"

    "Oh no, I'd just like to see inside the Altar of Divination, but thank you for asking."

    He comes back quickly, and the pair leave the tavern. The tavern keeper's eyes flicker toward the two, and he can't keep a slight frown from forming on his face.

    They walk down a paved path, and every step towards the Altar of Divination, Trent spouts off fact after fact. That the entire tower is all of one piece. It was carved directly from the mountain itself. And all the original necromancers built it alongside everyone else, and each of them contributing to the creation of the pentagram that sits in the main hall with their own blood on the day of the Altar's completion.

    In the middle of one of his practiced speeches he pauses. "Oh! We have to make another stop first. I'll take you to where the Occlusion Pact was signed."

    "What's that?" she asks.

    "The Occlusion Pact is something special. It's the backbone of Umbran society."

    "We pride ourselves on how free everyone is to express themselves in their own way, and pursue whatever they desire, including research of their choice.

    Melfina looks at him skeptically, "Is that why you all dress the same?"

    "Oh, no. This," He pinches his sleeve between his fingers, "is new. As a way to take advantage of the renewed interest in our city, anyone who wanted to represent Umbra in one business fashion or another was offered very tempting bonuses to agree to help present a more singular identity of Umbra, that would play off of people's preconceptions." He shrugs. "It seems to be working."

    "But back to what I was talking about. The Occlusion Pact was an agreement signed by all the founding leaders of Umbra. All of them necromancers, of course. They all had different goals and ideals, but were forced together out of necessity. It's not like fear of necromancers is a new thing. So this agreement was made to keep a balance so each member could pursue his own individual goals while keeping a united front against any outside threat. Interference into one another's work resulted in severe penalties. That principle eventually came to encompass all residents within Umbra."

    "There are some rules we all have to follow of course. But not as strict as elsewhere, especially Luna."

    Melfina could see why Luna and Umbra have always been at odds. Their philosophies were so different from each other.

    "Here we are."

    The Occlusion Monument was a made of three pillars arranged in a triangle with a much shorter column in the center. The bordering pillars rise to a point from triangular bases, at a height twice that of Melfina's. A ring of red moss encircles it all, and the central column carries a copy of the original pact, with the names and signatures of people dead and gone.

    Melfina could just feel an intense aura emanating from the monument. She was so enraptured that she didn't notice as Trent moved behind her, or feel him take her supply of black pearl, nor did she hear him as he pulled out a short rope from within his pockets and wrap each end tightly around both hands.

    Then a familiar voice called out. "Melfina! That is you! I knew I recognized that blue dress of yours."

    She turned around and saw a familiar red-haired face approaching.

    "Draven! Look at this! Have you heard of the Occlusion Pact? Luna has nothing like this, the paladin's church I suppose. They've all probably been demolished and used for vendor space."

    Her neighbor smiled a warm smile. "Yes I know," he says as he looks up at the monument. "I've been here a couple times, years ago."


    "I've owned a museum outside this city almost as long as I've owned the Museum of One Thousand Wonders!" Draven puts an arm around Melfina shoulders and pulls her slightly away from the tourguide. "And who is this young lad you have with you?"

    "Oh, he's a tourguide."

    Trent interrupts. "Just doing my job... Draven?... is it? I'm Trent. Of Trent's Tours. She’s writing a book. Showing her the Occlusion Pact is central to her research. Every Umbran follows its principles."

    "Of course, of course. I follow it myself. Of course I’ve been associated with this city for a while. A lot of visitors these days don’t know about our way of life, and might accidentally stumble into someone's business. Some might treat that as interference."

    "But of course that's not their fault," he continues. "Which is why that decree was made to allow certain protections for tourists, especially those that may be associated with Luna."

    "I haven't heard about that," the tourguide said.

    "Of course not. It's possible that not everyone knows about it yet. It would be a shame if an incident happened that would cause the Reunification to fall apart."

    "Yes it would. It's a good thing she was with me then. Nothing would happen to her with me around."

    "No doubt, lad, but I'm sure an enterprising lad such as yourself has other business to take care of. I can show my friend around from here." Draven reaches into his pocket and presses gold into Trent's hands. "Here's payment for your services. I'm sure you neglected to tell Melfina about the costs associated with your tour."

    "Yeah... you got me there..." he glances over at Melfina, "like I told her earlier, I can't claim innocence." He faces Melfina. "Nothing personal miss. Just business."

    "Oh. Well, I would have been glad to pay," she says. "Especially if you could have taken me into the Altar."

    Draven speaks up, "I was there earlier. Today it's official business only. No visitors. It happens."

    "Oh ok. Well then, thank you for the tour, Trent."

    "No problem, Melfina," he says. "I'll remember this, Draven." And he walks off.

    "Well, I didn't expect to see a familiar face here, but it's nice to see you. If I can’t see the Altar, I just need to pick up a book at the magic shop."

    "I'd be happy to escort you there, and head back home with you."

    * * *​

  7. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter VI

    Immersed in the duel, Stark knew every eye was on him.

    Lord Luna had approved the request. Cadence spread the word. Twenty hopeful men and women showed up. He had to whittle them away to nine. That was the budget he was approved for. In two days Stark could finally be the captain his title implied, and West Luna would truly have a Guard.

    They exchanged blows in the clearing in front of Lord Luna's manor, while the potential guards whisper to each other as they watched on. They watched the big man to size up their competition. They knew places were limited and so compared the big man's skills against their own.

    Stark's opponent was strong, but not very fast. His swings were slow enough that Stark could parry them with little effort, or dodge them altogether. But he wasn't being reckless, and was waiting for the right moment against the more skilled paladin.

    He was the big guy to Stark, because the guard captain didn't know his name. He didn't know any of their names. They didn't need names until they were hired.

    The others watched the big guy, but they watched him more.

    They were confident. There were sixteen left. The others had been whittled away from the interviews. Cadence had spread the word that he was looking for men and women with relevant skill and experience, yet people still came who were hoping that skill at arms would be enough. A guard's weapon was just a tool, the guard was the weapon. A guard needed patience, endurance, and vigilance. They needed to keep the peace, yet strike when needed.

    They watched him to evaluate their future captain. To discover if he was worthy of them.

    The big man used a war axe. They were allowed to fight him with their weapon of choice. They would learn the standard weapons eventually, but he needed to see them as they were. The big man feigned a swing, then crashed into Stark with his shield instead. Stark managed to dodge the follow up swing and regain his footing.

    He'll do.

    He was ready to end it. This was the last duel, but there more to be done. He waited for one last attack, parried, pivoted, and counter attacked. The man was disarmed and the battle was over.

    "Good. Line up."

    The man picked up his axe, and went back to his place in line.

    "I like what I've seen. But I can't use you and you at the moment," Stark said pointing to two people in the middle. "Maybe during another round of hiring when we expand the guard. You have a lunch packed to take with you. Thank you for coming."

    The skinny blond took the news with grace, picked up his stuff, wished the others good luck. The stockier applicant with the poorly healed broken nose said, "Who'd want to work under a kid like you anyway."

    He was older than Stark. A lot of them were. Being a paladin gave him some respect, but he was still young. He knew plenty of them felt more experienced and more knowledgeable than him just out of habit. But at least now they all know he can beat each of them, one on one.

    "I like what I've seen, but you aren't guards yet. Contracts will be signed tomorrow, and oaths will be sworn. You will be armed and armored. Your equipment will be yours to keep and maintain so long as you remain under Lord Luna's employ for the first year. Should you remain under his employ beyond that, they will be yours to own as a thank you for continual good service."

    "And good service you shall give. This isn't Luna. There are no walls of stone telling you where the boundaries are. You will be West Luna's walls. You will become it's boundary that defends against whatever threats may come. The primary goal is to deter, and not engage. Combat is a last resort."

    "There are no teleport spells for deployment should someone cry out for guards. You will run. With or without armor. From sleep to full speed if needed."

    "You will be assigned shifts, but you will always be on guard. Luna's guard is legendary. They are the best. We will be better."

    Stark looked them in the eyes as he spoke, and they seemed to stand straighter with each word. Absorbing the responsibility of their task.

    After a pause, he nodded and said, "All follow me. I'll show your quarters, where lunch has been prepared."

    The guard captain leads them to small house just beyond Draven's museum. It had been Lord Luna's property for a while, but used only for storage. It would comfortably fit more than the nine recruits he was allowed to hire.

    There were only two rooms. The doorway opened up into an L-shaped corridor, with the short end containing racks of swords, halberds, and crossbows. Next to the equipment was the entrance to the second room which contained their beds, with a personal chest for each. The longer end of the L-shaped room contained a long dining table with benches and a stove at the far end.

    The table was covered with food. Fresh meat, rolls of bread, cheeses, hard-boiled eggs, fresh fruit, and wine and ale, all catered to make their mouths water.

    "Let's eat."

    The cloud of competition dissipated, and they all gladly served themselves and talked. Not with Stark, they were all still wary of the power he held over them, but they didn't hold back from each other.

    The big man was Stone, the short one was Edwin. There was an ex-bodyguard who's previous employer recently died of old age named Loren, and a tracker named Warren.

    Bear was the oldest, and the only one who had been an actual city guard. He was away from Trinsic when the plague hit. It was under quarantine but he was able to learn that his wife and child had died, and he had nothing to go back to. He couldn't seek revenge against a disease, so he needed work to fill his mind. Stark understood.

    Stark didn't catch the names of the others, but they all seemed to get along well. They would need to.

    After satisfied sighs filled the air, Stark took them outside.

    "Pair up. I've pointed out West Luna to you. Take a closer look and become familiar with the area. Walk beyond as well so you know what's out there. The neighbors have been informed about this new hiring, so will not be alarmed. Stay in pairs, and only in pairs. This isn't time to cluster together and make small talk. This is time to learn. Some talk is ok, but pay attention and keep alert."

    There were a few awkward moments as they paired up. Some of the men seemed to go out of their way to try to pair up with some of the women. Some of the women did the same. Stark took note.

    Stark went back inside and waited until Lord Luna walked through the doorway. Stark stood and bowed.


    "They're a good group. None are up to my standards yet, but everyone one of them has a lot of potential. If a guard was already established, I'd take every one of them if we needed the numbers. But to create a new guard, it needs to start with only the best."

    Lord Luna nodded, and Stark knew he, himself, was being evaluated.

    "What's next?"

    Stark picked up a basket of eggs and allows a smile to touch his lips.

    "I test their vigilance, and discover who is keeping watch."

    * * *​

  8. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter VII

    Nothing happens.

    Extend my arms upward, then make an outward, circular sweeping motion.

    "Anh mi sah ko," she chants.

    Nothing. Again.

    Stupid spirit speaking, she thinks as she tries again.

    Her distaste for the subject had dissipated. It wasn't as if it was necromancy after all. When she opened up the spirit speaking book, there wasn't much information within. Even less so than in the disorganized mess in the book of necromancy. It appeared she couldn't write about it without trying it.

    Since spirit speaking and necromancy were linked, understanding it would give her a better understanding of necromancy. Added to the similarities that necromancy has to magery, she should be able to write her book while still keeping her hands clean.

    "Anh mi sah ko."

    Still nothing.

    She continues repeating the motions and saying the words as she walks down the road. Walking was supposed to help. The road started at Luna, and if she continued on long enough, it would reach the bridge to Umbra. Grass intruded through the cracks along the edges, but at least it was still nice and smooth.

    She would have preferred to have remained close to home, but she no longer had as much privacy as she used to. Better security would be better for business, but there were too many eyes watching and she didn't want to be seen. She didn't know how Stark would react.

    It was fun though, watching him ambush the recruits. He told her the first day was to test their awareness of other people, so he threw eggs at them to see if he could catch them off guard. They did much better the second day, but they didn’t know the eggs were just a distraction for a different test. He would assemble or break down a pile of rocks, or move some fallen branches, or change other aspects of their surroundings. If they didn't notice the changes on their return, they failed.

    And many failed.

    He was supposed to recruit nine, but only kept five. Cadence was asked to look for more, so he could fill out the rest. It was nice seeing how thorough he was, but she needed a secluded place to practice.

    So she walked. She spoke the words. She made the motions.

    And nothing.

    It has to be wrong. What kind of spell doesn't need a mana focus or reagents? She didn't sense any resonance in the book, even though the vendor assured her that was all she needed. The spell used mana at least, but it consumed the residual mana that clung to newly dead bodies. Only if there was no residual mana at hand, would the spell consume mana produced by the caster.

    But it did use mana. So it was a spell. A spell like she'd never heard of. It also had multiple effects produced from the one set of words and motions. And for that reason an entire discipline was based off of this one spell. It would heal the body and summon the spirits of the dead. It would allow communication with that dead soul.

    Melfina shudders at the thought, but keeps on chanting. It was just research.

    How is this any better than necromancy? Why is it more accepted? It's still summoning the dead. Summoning someone's soul! Isn't that worse than animating a body? A body is just a body. But the soul... maybe there's a way to apply the healing aspects without the soul summoning.

    "Anh mi sah ko," she chants again. This time there was much more than nothing.

    The translucent shape of a man appears before her, fully formed, lacking any color but a sickly white.

    "OooOOo…llllp me! Help me!" it said as it frantically flails its arms. Her slight jump encourages him to go on. "You can see me! You can see me! You have to help! There isn't much time!"

    "Wha... what do you want?" she says as her heart pounds in her chest.

    "I was robbed and murdered. You have to hurry! I can't last much longer!"

    "Show me the way, I'll gate you to a healer," Melfina says, as the ghost reaches for her wrist in an attempt to guide her, forgetting its hand would pass right through.

    "Back this way," he says, as he leads her off the road, toward the woods in the distance. "I don't have much time... my spirit is already losing cohesion. There's no time. You need to deliver something for me."

    She runs after the ghost until they reach his body. It lies limp on top of a bush, eyes wide with fright, knife in its back. Something had gotten to the body afterwards as it was obviously partially eaten, but the noise she had made must have scared it away.

    "In my pocket. There's a key with a red ribbon. They took my gold, but they left everything else. I didn't have much with me."

    "There's no time to lead you to my house, so deposit the key into my account. We share it. I'm Forrester. My wife's Sabrina. Leave a note telling her what happened. Let her know that I love her, and that I'm sorry, and tell her that the key is for a chest in The Great Storehouse by Cove. She doesn't know about my full inheritance. Leave your name on the note. I'm sure she'll thank you."

    "I will, Forrester. But I can still try taking you back to the healers. Someone can save you."

    He shakes his head. "No... I'm losing myself already. It's too late to put me back. And look at my body. There's no way it could still contain me even if my spirit was still whole." He tries holding her hands in his own, and they both watch them pass through her own. "Sorry… it's hard to remember. But thank you. I'm glaad you walked by. You'll... saaave... my... fammm..."

    His voice fades away and he vanishes.

    Melfina pauses a moment as she stares at his body, then reaches into his pockets and finds the key. She sits and leans on the nearest tree and writes everything down. No point in hurrying now, she couldn't do anything else for him but deliver the key.

    He thanked me. Maybe talking to the dead isn't so bad.

    Melfina sits in silence after she finishes as she tries to pretend she's conflicted with what she's about to do next.

    She takes out the book of necromancy and opens it up.

    Just to look.

    "Animate Dead" was written across the top of the page.

    Ewww! she thinks as she quickly turns to another.

    Pain Spike? Strangle? There has to be something in here that doesn't sound evil! Maybe this wasn't a good idea. But... performing spirit speak is so different than reading about it. I've learned more in these few moments than I have in these past days by simply reading the book.

    There was a slight change in the way the mana was used when Forrester first appeared. It felt softer.

    How can I present myself as an authority, knowing that I've never performed a single necro spell? If some of my conclusions, or even worse, my descriptions, are proven wrong... with something as easy to confirm as this... I'll lose all credibility.

    She flips through the book again. What could one spell hurt?

    "Horrific Beast" it reads. Her resolve weakens. She reads the description and it weakens more. The names and descriptions of the spells had never really registered in her head. She had only been interested in the mechanics.

    It's not just an illusion! Why would I want to tranform my body into that!

    She drops the book, disappointment on her face. When she looks down, ready to pick it up and wipe off any dirt and grime that might have gotten onto it, she sees the pages have settled down onto a different spell.

    Hmmm... this doesn't sound so bad. And it looks pretty easy. She mutters the words and does the hand motions without thinking.

    Then an odd feeling runs through her. Melfina sits up and listens. She only hears the blood pounding in her ear drums. Her eyes widen as she takes another look at the partially eaten body. She looks at the missing chunks of flesh and broken bones.

    You're being stuipd, she tries to convince herself.

    She hears a grunt.

    Something's there.

    * * *

  9. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter VIII

    Take two breaths and get up Melfina!


    There was plenty of meat on Forrester's body. Obviously whatever began eating it wasn't finished yet.


    The missing chunks of meat were cut cleanly from the body. It had sharp teeth.


    The grunt came from behind the tree she was leaning against. It was time to leave.



    Melfina gets up and pushes off against the tree to help her get started, but then remembers the books on the ground. She snatches them up, and let's curiosity take control and she looks over her shoulder.

    As tall as her waist, it was covered in blue scales. Sinister eyes locked with hers. It stood on two stubby legs and had sharp claws on its two stubby arms ready to dig deep into her flesh. Its hunched back flowed straight to its head, with no neck whatsoever, making it look ready to pounce. Sharp, pointy teeth revealed themselves from its gaping mouth. It was hungry.

    Melfina backs away and the creature matches her pace for pace. She's never seen something like this. She's never heard of something like this.

    She turns and runs.

    Whatever it was, it was quick. Every time she looked over her shoulder, there it was. Despite its short legs, it never lagged behind.

    She runs faster. It does the same.

    She takes a quick look behind her when an intense pain flares up in her shin, and she finds herself falling to the ground. The adrenaline racing through her veins keeps her alert, but can't seem to help her move.


    Grass is all she sees while expending all her will into trying to move her arms, all the while anticipating the pain of the monster's claws in her back.

    A grunt of dominance reaches her ears followed by a rhythmic screeching noise which twists her stomach in knots. Her mental struggle intensifies as she holds panic at bay.

    Come on! she yells to herself as she feels her arm twitch.

    The noise changes to a soft ripping, as more and more of her body comes back under her control. Whatever it was doing, it wasn't eating her yet. Ever so slowly, Melfina makes it to her feet. She doesn't bother with her books this time and just wants to run.

    The ripping has stopped.

    She turns around and sees it standing amongst the remains of a crystal elemental. The monster's claws and teeth drip with blood as it grins a fearsome grin at her.

    Melfina steps backward, and again, it matches her pace for pace.

    Its eyes widen and it breaks eye contact with her to scan the ground. Melfina sees what caught its attention. The red ribbon attached to Forrester's key is easy to pick out amongst the greens and browns of the forest floor.

    In the blink of an eye, the creature snatches at the key and pops it into its mouth and swallows.

    "Give that back!" she yells.

    It spits out the key into its hand walks toward Melfina.

    "Stop!" she yells. And it does.

    She takes a step back, and it doesn't follow. She takes another. It just watches. She limps to the left, and it remains still.

    It really stopped.

    "What are you?"

    The creature grunts.

    "Why did you stop?"

    It makes grunt that sounds like confusion.

    "Do you understand me?"

    Expecting another grunt, Melfina is shocked when it nods.

    "Put that down," she says as she points to the key.

    It does.

    Ok, Melfina. It's not attacking you. Just pick up the key, calm yourself down, and recall back home. You'll never see it again.

    She slowly steps up to the creature, picks up the key, and goes back to collect her books, with the creature always within sight. She picks up the book of necromancy, then freezes. Hurriedly, she flips through the spells until she finds the right one.

    She walks back to the creature and it looks up at her with its yellow eyes.

    He heart beats faster as she asks, "Are you a horde minion?"

    It nods its head with a grunt of assent.

    "So… you're my familiar?"

    It nods again.

    "You won't hurt me?"

    The horde minion doesn't even grunt this time. It squints its eyes in confusion.

    Melfina slowly walks up to the creature, "Stay… stay…" she repeats as she forces herself to walk closer and pats it on the head. She doesn’t feel the cool touch of scales and instead feels fur beneath her palm. She takes a closer look and sees tiny hairs poking up through the scales, extremely short and impossible to see unless you know its there, but hairs nonetheless.

    "I guess you're kind of cute. But I can't take you home with me."

    Stark would kill me. Or it.

    She thumbs through the spellbook again, and performs the banishment spell. Nothing happens. She tries again, but it just stands there and stares.

    I can't just leave it here. What if it gets attacked? What if it dies?

    What if it somehow follows me home!

    She shifts her weight and a sharp pain reminds her of her injury. She looks to see a clean slice across her shin bone, and casts heal. I'll have to get this repaired again, she thinks as she fingers the ruined dress.

    She looks at the bloody carcass on the ground, and the sharp crystals that used to protrude from the elemental's back, then realizes what she tripped over. The elemental. That's what had paralyzed her. And the horde minion defended her.

    Looking upon the remains reminds her of Forrester, and the key she needs to get back to his wife. As she stares at the scattered remains, one piece in particular sticks out. She steps up for a closer look. It wasn't part of the elemental. She moved the mental image in her head, and saw that was one of the missing pieces of Forrester's body.

    She looks down the path she had come from, and sees the flattened grass the elemental had made, with signs of her footprints right down the center. She had run down the exact path the crystal elemental had used to make its escape when it ran away from the noise that she had made. It was still a juvenile and not big enough to digest a body whole, so it used the sharp crystals on its back to cut away pieces small enough to eat.

    She looks back and the remains and tries to put it back together in her head. There was too much missing.

    She speaks the command from the book, "Horde minion, purge contents."

    It opens its mouth and pieces of crystal elemental fall out.

    She performs the banishment spell again, and the sound of a tight cork popping off of an ink bottle accompanies the disappearance of her horde minion.

    Just like it said.

    A laugh escapes, taking her tension with it. The laugh builds uncontrollably until she's gasping for breath. She had frightened herself with her own spell and ran directly towards what she thought she was running from, only to trip over the elemental and essentially paralyzed herself.

    After a few moments, the gasping becomes wheezing, then the wheezing slows to a stop. She takes a couple deep breaths, then recalls home.

    * * *​

  10. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter IX

    Once again.

    Stark watches as the new group of potential guards pair up and walk out the door. The bitter scent of darksage tea stimulates his thoughts as his thoughts examine his options. Cadence had a good eye, and it would be difficult narrowing them down to four. A day wasn't long enough to get a true sense of their full potential, but neither would two or three. A day would have to be enough.

    Tulip. Anything but delicate, she was sharp, skillful, and solid all around. He expected to see a continuation of her excellent performance. She was in. As for the rest, it was too close.

    The young one had potential. He was a little brash and cocky, but he did have the skills. And everyone seemed to like him. If done well, a successful guard would minimize conflict. There would be little action to be had, and the ones expecting glory and battle instead found themselves bored and unsatisfied. A bored guard was an inattentive guard, and that wouldn't do. So it would be good to have the young one around to keep morale up as the initial euphoria of becoming a guard wore off. He would be good, as long as his brashness didn't lead to recklessness.

    The door opens and thoughts scatter as Edwin enters. Stark stares at him, knowing the question he wants to ask, with Edwin already knowing the answer. The guard's mouth shuts under his captain's stare, and he turns around and walks back outside.

    There's a loud one, he thinks. Well... opinionated He also had a temper when it came to his size. But he was good with a bow. More than good. Size has no meaning an arrow's distance away. And he was more than adequate in other areas as well. Hopefully Alan's quiet nature would help bring him balance. They immediately bonded, and treated each other like brothers, despite Alan almost having Stone's size.

    Stark looks at the doorway and wonders if any of the other guards were going to walk through. They were all so eager to participate in the choosing. Something Stark couldn't allow.

    These new potentials to the Guard, and the five already chosen, needed to be on equal footing with each other. They were all proud of their skills. They were all proud of being selected, and he could see that the current guards felt superior, simply for being the first chosen. They had a look in their eyes and a way they held themselves. If they were involved in the selection, it would only widen the gap.

    They all had asked, except for Bear. He didn't leave so much as a hint. He wasn't distracted or uninterested, and grief due to the loss of his family wasn't overwhelming him. He simply trusted his captain.

    He has potential.

    Stark had only one day to evaluate these potential guards, yet he would take his time before selecting his lieutenant. Something none of them knew about.

    Stark finishes his tea, gets up, and steps outside. He closes his eyes and listens. Silence is the response.


    They were patroling as they were supposed to.

    The comforting sounds of a gentle spring day were interrupted by the sound of someone recalling in. Stark moves. The potentials still needed time to learn the area before the evaluations continued, so he had time to address this.

    A few more steps, and the dazzling white robes of the High Father enters his view. Stark quickens his step.

    "Good afternoon, Captain Stark."

    "Father." Stark bows. "How may I assist you?"

    "I have business with the Merchant Vendor Melfina."

    Stark bows again. "Follow me," he replies.

    "How are things here, if I may ask, Captain?"

    "Very, good Father. The initial West Luna Guard will be filled out by tomorrow."

    The High Father smiles. "It sounds like you're doing well here."

    "Yes, Father."

    "It's a shame what happened between you and Captain Jerard. His punishment for you was rather harsh."

    Stark remains silent.

    "So you agree with your dismissal."

    Stark still says nothing.

    The High Father nods. "As I thought. You won't speak up against your Captain, even though you're no longer a Guard. Loyal to a fault."

    "Not to him. Luna and its Guard. He had the authority to do what he did."

    "You're a good man. And were an excellent guard. I asked about you," he says. "It didn't take long to conclude that Captain Jerard laid more blame on you than he should have." The High Father stops, and looks Stark in the eyes. "He was within his right, but what he did was still wrong. I've advised the Archduke of the situation, and he agrees with me. While your ex-captain has not been punished, your punishment has been revoked. You are free to return to the Luna Guard as you wish, promoted to the rank of Captain, as is proper for a man of your experience and skill."

    "Thank you, Father," Stark manages to say. The shame he didn't even know he carried with him was lifted. "But I made my promise to Lord Luna. I'm needed here."

    The High Father considers the young paladin, then says, "Very well."

    Stark clears his throat as they appear in the library, and announces, "Melfina, the High Father is here to see you."

    "Give me a few minutes. I need to finish this paragraph first," she answers back without lifting her head.

    A few moments pass, and Melfina puts down her quill. She looks up and sees the carefully wrapped books in the High Father's hands. She asks, "When will you be done with the rest?" as she gets up.

    "In a few more weeks. You had a lot of wonderful replacements and additions to our library."

    Stark didn't understand why Melfina was always in a bad mood whenever the High Father was simply mentioned, and now he was here in person, but he did see her mood lighten at the compliment.

    "The Bold Stranger was especially exquisite. I think only Magicinia has a better copy.

    Melfina's cheeks flushed. "Umm... thank you."

    "If I may ask, I would like to take one more back with me. I thought our copy of Spirituality was unharmed, but it turns out there was more damage than I had realized.

    "Oh... uhh... let me get that for you. Wait here."

    She turns and walks toward her rare books cabinet, and the High Father moves to join her.

    "These need to be returned there I assume," he says as he raises the books in his hands.

    "I'll take those," she says curtly, shocking Stark as she snatches the books away from the High Father. He takes a step forward to follow and she snaps, "I said wait here!"

    No one ever treated the High Father this way, yet he hardly reacts. He just waits, ready to follow Melfina to the rare books while Melfina refuses to move and defiantly glares back. Neither speaks a word until a subtle shift of the High Father's posture indicates that the merchant vendor has won this wordless argument. Only then, does she retrieve the book for him.

    She returns with the volume in hand. "Thank you Melfina," he nods, "You are very generous with your books."

    "Thank you."

    "I still believe your plan is foolish. Giving access to your library to anyone. Your books will just receive unnecessary damage from people who cannot handle them properly, and produce nothing in return."

    "If people are interested, they'll make sure to be careful, as long as I teach them how."

    "Yes, yes. We've been through this before. I know you. I know you won't change. You want to share it all. Everyone should have access to the knowledge... and yet you won't let me near your cabinet. Not last time. And not now."

    They two stare at each other for a brief moment.

    "You're hiding something."

    * * *​

  11. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter X

    So much more, Melfina thinks as her gaze lingers on her reagent storage chests which aren't even close to full. Maybe Cadence was right. It would be nice to have some help.

    It feels as if she's made a hundred trips already. Recalling out to all the major magic shops. These shops had work forces to gather and harvest reagents, something no small business could afford. So for everyone else, buying bulk reagents from these suppliers was the way to go.

    The problem is that all the suppliers seem to work off the same schedule and are only open one weekend a month. Everyone who wants to buy in bulk, does it at the same time as everyone else. And each store has limited shelf space. Once the last reagent is purchased, they close up for the hour to restock the shelves and keep track of inventory. Once they open up again, the buying spree is fast and merciless.

    Of course Melfina didn't have to restock every single month. She didn't get the same traffic as when she was in Luna. But she was fortunate enough to still be remembered from that time. When she did get low, restocking was a day long event. The limiting factor was how much she could carry each trip.

    It's not as if I'd even have to train someone. As long as they have two arms, they can do the job as long as I take them there. And if they know how to recall, I wouldn't even have to go at all. But how much would they want to get paid? It can't be worth it.

    With no resolution to her problem, Melfina brushes the dirt off her dress, ready to continue, after a quick drink. She flips through the book of necromancy while sipping from her glass. Then something catches her eye.

    Horde Minion. They carry stuff right? It's what they do? That's what this says. It's what I saw. She pauses, trying to pretend that she's considering the pros and cons, knowing she's already made up her mind.

    Why not?

    She looks over her shoulder, suddenly afraid to find Stark somehow appear. She wasn't sure if she was more afraid of his anger or disappointment. He was just so stubborn about some things. A quick look out her windows shows neither Stark nor his guards, yet she makes her way to her bedroom, where she knows the guard captain wouldn't walk in without knocking first.

    She opens the book and studies the spell for a moment. A mental picture of her pouch shows the proper necro reagents within. She closes her eyes and takes a few breaths, and soaks in the weight of the book in her hands.

    Here goes.

    "Kal xen bal" escapes from her lips, as her hand moves in the harsh lines of the spell.

    She jumps as a small cloud of smoke appears accompanied by a quick reverberating pop and the smell of sulfur. The sound echoes through her eardrums as she wildly checks to see that both the door to her room and all the windows are closed.

    How did I not hear that the last time? she thinks while her heart races.

    A look down at the horde minion reveals it standing there looking back up at her with a silly grin on its face. With its wide-eyed gaze, it no longer looked menacing.

    "Ok, I have a job for you," Melfina tries to say, but the horde minion quickly runs past her. Melfina turns to see it swallowing the hair brush on her night stand.

    "Hey! Stop that!"

    It whimpers.

    "Give that back!"

    It spits it out and happily offers her the brush.

    Melfina takes it, inspects it, and puts it back onto her nightstand.

    "Don't do-" she begins, but before she can finish, the brush is down its throat once again.

    "Hey! Give it back!"

    And it does.

    "Don't take this. Ok? No." She repeats the command as she lets go, watching the horde minion for any indication that its stubby little arms are about to pilfer her brush a third time. Its gaze focuses back on her after she snaps her fingers a few times.


    Melfina takes a quick look downstairs in the library to make sure Stark hasn't made an unexpected visit, then commands the horde minion to follow her downstairs. She leads the creature to her chest of reagents, and picks up a few.

    "Here. This is what I want you to store. This and only this. These are called reagents."

    As she takes the reagents closer to the horde minion, its grin widens, and it extends its arms, cupping its hands together.

    She giggles.

    She drops them into its hands, and it pops them into its mouth.

    "Good boy. Now give them back."

    It does.

    Melfina repeats the process twice more, and makes sure the reagents really are still usable, before she decides she's ready to try taking him out into the real world.

    "Remember. Reagents only. And please, please, please Do. Not. Attack. I won't be in danger today. If you attack anyone. I won't take you with me anymore."

    Its eyes are locked on her own, but she's not sure if it understood. There's only one way to find out.

    "Kal ort por," Melfina casts, and instantly realizes her mistake.


    She recalls back to the front of her shop. She makes her way to the second floor and finds Reagent waiting by the teleport tile. This time she creates a moongate instead of recalling so the horde minion can follow.

    "I'm so sorry about that," she says as she rubs its blue head. "Follow me."

    As she makes her way into the shop, the horde minion rushes forward and starts stuffing itself with reagents. Some of the customers are startled, and plenty of them are annoyed at how fast it can gobble them up, but no one's in a panic ready to call the guards or attack it themselves.

    Melfina begins gathering up all she can carry herself and makes her way to the line once her own arms are full. When she she's finally first in line, she dumps the contents onto the counter.

    "And your horde minion?"

    "Oh. Of course." She gives the command and it empties out a pile that's easily twice as big as her own.

    "Do you see horde minions often?"

    "Every now and then."

    "Oh good. I was afraid people would be freaked out by him."

    "This isn't Luna. Necromancers have never been banned our city."

    "But they can't open up a school here either."

    The vendor shrugs.

    She pays for the goods and makes a gateway for home.

    As she steps through, she remembers the gateway can't open inside her house. Homes would be too easy to rob if they didn't come with that safety precaution. And so she rushes in with her horde minion right behind. Only after the two are safely out of sight does she look back outside for anyone who may have seen.

    A wave of relief washes over her when she's sure she's in the clear.

    "Reagents," she commands once they make their way back to her storage chests. A giant pile emerges before her. "Good boy," she says, and sees that it's all a jumbled mess. "Can you sort these out?"

    The horde minion looks back with a tilt to its head and a blank look on its face.

    "Okay. Let's see," she says as she thinks. "Pick those up. And only give me the black pearl."

    A neat pile of black pearl comes out of its mouth. Melfina puts it away and then does the same with the rest of the reagents. When she's finished, she takes a step back and gives a satisfied look at the storage chests. There was a lot more to do, but it would be finished in a fraction of the time.

    The only problem, keeping hidden from Stark and his guards.

    With the time I'll save, I don't have to leave right away. So Melfina waits. As soon as West Luna's guards pass by, she makes a gate and takes another trip with her familiar.

    Reagent receives a few nervous looks, but he gets more looks of annoyance as he gobbles up reagents faster than the other customers can pick up.

    The scribe's notebook warms her lap as she sits by the window during the lulls between each trip. With one eye on the window, she can't fully concentrate on what she's doing, but she's still able to get a lot more done than she could have otherwise.

    Trip after trip, Melfina makes her way with familiar, filling up her chests with little effort.

    And I'm done! thinks the scribe as she arrives from her final trip. A quick look up at the setting sun tells her she hadn't saved any time at all. If only those two stupid guards hadn't decided to station themselves right out front for so long.

    Inside, she opens up the black pearl chest and finds a bag of harpy feathers, and a note.

    He can't even stay and say hi!

    She crumples up the note and puts away the last of the reagents.

    "You did good today, and you'll always wait for me won't you," she says as she pats it on the head.

    "But it's time to put you away as well." Nothing happens as she completes the unsummoning ritual. I didn't do it wrong. It's so simple. She tries again, and it still stands there grinning at her.

    "Why are you so happy?"

    It just grins.

    She gives it a suspicious look. "Purge contents!"

    Out spills some gold, bottles, a mortar and pestle, and her hairbrush.

    "Bad horde minion! Bad!"

    It looks at her in hurt confusion.

    It's going to need some more training she thinks as she able to successfully banish this time.

    She picks up her hairbrush and shakes her head with a smile on her face as she looks at her chests full of reagents.

    Maybe that's what I'll call you. Reagent.

    * * *

  12. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XI

    "Pour me another if you would."

    Stark refills her cup, and Gwendolyne takes in the aroma before taking a sip.

    "This tea is delicious. I'm so glad we invited you to our dinner," she says warmly.

    "It's made from the darksage leaf," replies the paladin. "Good for improving memory and alertness as well as cleansing the body of impurities."

    "Oh? I use that for some of my inks. Paladins drink it?" Melfina asks.

    "Samurai actually. Something I came across in the Book of Bushido."

    "Oh that makes sense."

    Stark helps himself to several more slices of honey glazed ham, some asparagus, and potatoes. His mouth waters as he drips honey onto his biscuit. Honey wasn't something they ever served him when he was little, so he wasn't about to pass it up now.

    "Bringing tea certainly isn't a worthy exchange for all this."

    Gwendolyne smiles. "I don't expect you to be a master chef for your first dinner with us." Looking over to Melfina, "She's only up to biscuits after all this time."

    "Hey! I thought they came out good!"

    "Very," Stark says as he takes another healthy bite, to Melfina's delight. "How often do you do this?"

    "Maybe once a month. We don't really have a set schedule. Just whenever the both of us are free."

    "Well, it's all delicious," Stark assures them as he takes a little bite of everything.

    "You are too generous," Gwendolyne insists. "You know who is actually a great cook? Cadence."


    "I know. With all the time she spends traveling, I didn't think she would have time for cooking. But it turns out that learning from the cooks while she's on the road is one of her favorite things to do. And she gets to charm her way into an extra large helping or two."

    "I don't know how she looks as good as she does with as much as she eats," adds Melfina.

    "It's too bad we don't have an inn here in West Luna," says Stark.

    The two ladies give each other a look, but he has no clue as to what it's about.

    "To hear her play? Or taste her cooking?" asks Melfina.

    "Uhh... either. Both."

    "Maybe we'll ask her to join us next time," smiles Gwendolyne.

    Stark looks at the two and decides it's time to talk about something else. "What about Lord Luna? Does he ever come to these dinners?"

    "Oh no. This was kind of just our thing."

    "And I don't really want to have dinner with my landlord. Not with someone who has had so much control over my life."

    "But I always enjoyed my dinners with my Keeper, Brandon."

    "Lord Luna is not my Keeper." Gwen puts a hand on Melfina's arm. "Nothing like it. I mean... I am grateful for what he did... I suppose... but there's no way that Lord Luna has been any kind of mentor to me. And Wayland was anything but."

    "The High Father?"

    Melfina nods. "Maybe I'm a little harsh when it comes to Lord Luna, but Wayland is definitely not the person you think he is," she says shaking a finger at him.

    "He was your mentor?"

    "Mentor! He didn't care about me. He was just trying to shape me into whatever way he saw fit."

    "I'm sure that's how Brandon saw me as well," Stark says slowly.

    "Will you just listen!"

    "My parents... they were killed in the Dragon War two years ago. "They had the most successful shop in Luna, outside of those directly owned by the city. They were both mages and sold all kinds of magical goods produced by hard work and smart shopping, and they rented out space to select vendors, while making sure everything was sold at a fair price. Not the extortion you see all over the city now."

    "Well, I loved it all, especially the scrolls and books. I loved seeing how writing the same word in a different style could give it a different persona. My parents were excellent mages, but their skill in inscription was average at best. After they introduced me to the Luna Library, I started spending most of my time there. The quiet within those walls was so freeing. I didn't understand why it was always so empty."

    "For my tenth birthday, my parents paid for my apprenticeship with the holy mages."

    Stark sits up.

    Melfina rolls her eyes. "To become a scribe not a holy mage! My parent's shop was where I belonged. So anyway, Wayland wasn't the High Father at the time yet, of course. He was one of the holy historians, and he was the one who offered to train me."

    "Things were good in the beginning. The lessons went well, and I learned quickly. He'd often tell me how much natural talent I had, and how he'd never seen anyone absorb it all so fast."

    "As my training was nearing completion, he started pushing harder and harder to transition my apprenticeship from becoming a scribe, into becoming a holy mage. He said Luna would benefit greatly from my presence."

    She glares back at Stark, daring him to speak. He smartly remains silent.

    "Well I didn't want to. I didn't care about conducting services for paladins or revising their war manuals and whatever else they do. I wanted to learn magic. The real kind. Not just pray to some god and hope my wishes would be granted."

    Stark opens his mouth, but Gwen quickly gives her head a small shake.

    After Wayland saw that I wouldn't budge, he tried convincing my parents, but they stood by my decision. But he kept on coming back. It seemed friendly at first. But after each visit, my dad looked more and more angry. Eventually, dad just kicked him out as soon as he appeared."

    "Well, Wayland didn't like that. He wanted me. He wanted me to become one of them. All of a sudden our area of Luna became reclassified, and our taxes rose. Taxes rose on our property, on our sales, on rental space, on everything! And we started getting fined for the most ridiculous of infractions."

    "My parents refused to raise their prices. They refused to pass on this burden on to any one else, since the extra fines and taxes were a means to pressure me into my decision and were not just. So they worked longer and longer hours."

    "I hated watching all this happen. I hated seeing how tired they were all the time. They kept up their smiles during the day. But it was all for show. I gave up, and told my parents that I'd do what he wanted. They were suffering because of me. But they refused. They wouldn't let me surrender. They told me that he was most likely responsible for initiating the changes, but he wasn't the sole person in charge, and there were limits as to what everyone else would let him get away with."

    "Eventually my father filed a formal complaint against Wayland, and he stopped coming around, the fines stopped, and the tax burden lightened somewhat."

    "I wish they hadn't decided to keep everything secret. Everyone loved my parents up until the day they died, never knowing what they had to go through. They protected me and treated everyone fairly even if they weren't."

    "Wayland didn't have the power then that he has now. Things would have turned out much worse had he been High Father."

    "Like now," says Stark.

    Melfina began blinking away tears, so Gwendolyne scooted over and held her close.

    It can't be.

    "I'm sorry to hear you went through that," he says gently. "Holy mages shouldn't be causing that kind of strife. It goes against all we're taught."

    Melfina doesn't seem to be really listening.

    Eventually Gwendolyne looks up and breaks the silence. "I don't want to offend you in any way... but... I have a question about the holy mages."

    "Yes?" Stark says.

    "I've heard things from my brother, who's heard it from the lords and ladies of Luna. They talk about it as if it isn't a secret."

    "Ok?" he replies.

    "As paladins you're given a salary right? To get paid for... doing what you do?"

    "Yes. Most of it ends up as an offering to God."

    "Ok yeah, that's what I heard... It's admirable to believe in your faith, but you know... the holy mages just take that gold for themselves right?"

    "Of course," Stark says, not knowing what the problem is.

    "And you're fine with that?"

    "Yes. Why wouldn't I?"

    "They're taking your gold! I don't understand. If it's supposed to be an offering to your god, how can you be fine with the holy mages taking your offering for themselves? They might as well not give you that part of your salary in the first place."

    "Oh, it's not that way at all, but I think I see I can see how it might seem that way. We tithe our gold to God. It's our act of giving what is ours which is important, not where it goes. Our choice. It doesn't matter what happens with it afterwards."

    "Doesn't matter!" Melfina yells. "What if that gold went to arming guilds of thieves and murderers! What if it went to hiring more collectors to start fining people for the stupidest of infractions!"

    Stark knows she's still upset, but he has to respond. "It matters of course, but the holy mages... don't do that," he says with a touch of doubt. "They spend that money back into Luna for the most part. Buying candles, furniture, food, inks, paper, and all manner of items. They also use it to pay for equipment, and celebrations. It goes to helping support every aspect of Luna's society from everyday items to the extravagant. Maintaining that flow of gold is integral to Luna's economy. That's what I was taught. If they didn't spend it. If no one spent it. The gold would pile up and be of no use to anyone."

    "Candles! what use is that really! I can buy candles! Does that gold ever get put to any real use! Does they ever use it for anything that's actually significant!"

    Stark waits a moment for her to calm down. Her earlier words had put doubts into his mind, and had shaken him. Her words now bring him into focus.

    "They saved me," he says quietly.


    "I didn't get a chance to remember my parents. They died before I had that chance. I grew up in an orphanage to the south. Old Lady Shandra couldn't really take care of us all, and we were slowly starving to death. During the winter when I was five years of age, she just went to sleep and didn't wake up."

    "I don't know how they found out, but a holy mage showed up at our door a few days later and brought us to Luna. Fifteen of us had died or run off, but twelve of us were still left. They took us, and fed us, and told us we would be apprenticed out into whatever profession we desired, and they would cover the costs, as long as we were deemed worthy enough by our mentors. I chose to become a paladin."

    "We would have all died if not for them. That's significant to me."

    * * *​

  13. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XII

    "In sar," says the scribe, and another ant spasms and dies.

    Melfina studies all the sensations the spell invokes. The drain of the mana loss, the hint of vaporized reagents, and... something else. Something new. Something that didn't happen with magery spells, and she was determined to understand what that was.

    She picks out another ant, and it steps its last step.

    And there it was again. That additional sensation. It wasn't just tied to pain spikes either. She first felt it when she tried out wither, and accidentally killed all the nearby plants. It wasn't the cold from the spell. And it wasn't unpleasant. It was just different.

    Wither was impressive, but it was too mana intensive, so it wouldn't be useful for her study. Pain spike used the least amount of mana, so pain spike it was.

    Spike after spike is cast, teasing Melfina with its puzzle. Each time making her more anxious that she wouldn't ever figure it out. It was getting weaker.

    Crawling on the hem of her dress was her next target. It's too bad they can't survive the initial impact. It's supposed to wear off after a while. It never hurts to have more confirmation that this book does what it says it's supposed to do. But I have something more important to figure out first.

    She gives it another try. Or at least attempts to, but nothing happens. Not even the crackle of a fizzling spell. The crackle, was another common characteristic among both magery and necromancy spells.

    She jots down a note, then makes a quick check of her pouch.


    A moment later and she hears the patter of her horde minon's stubby little legs. The little blue guy bursts through the bushes with that stupid grin on its face. She couldn't help but smile.

    "Good boy," she says as she gives it a pat on the head. "Find anything for me?"

    The horde minion produces small piles of mandrake root, spider's silk, and other reagents. "Good boy!" she exclaims. The pleased look on his face melts away some of the disappointment inside her.

    She brought him along to carry extra reagents, then it hit her that he could gather some free supplies for her if she just let him roam free and do his thing. It wouldn't be a lot, but it was free. And letting him indulge in what seemed to be a natural instinct to snatch and horde things seemed to make him happy.

    "Grave dust please." A small pouch of the reagent falls into her hand. "How could anyone ever be afraid of you? Silly Luna and their misguided teachings."

    As she rubs his head another thought comes to mind. "Why don't I try summoning one of your friends?"

    She flips through the book of necromancy.

    Let's just go down the list.

    Shadow wisp. She'd never seen a wisp in the wild before, but she'd read of them. They looked like floating balls of living blue light, usually found in forests or jungles. They were said to be harmless, curious creatures, but some travelers warn of their fickle nature, and would tell stories about lost travelers looking for their way home, only to be lead to their deaths for trespassing into the wisp's domain. But that's just dumb. Why would you follow a creature that lives in the woods if you're trying to find your way out?

    It was true that they could cast spells however. If they were left alone, they were peaceful and harmless. Heigel of Moonglow wrote that they were even extremely intelligent creatures. But if they were provoked, they were fearsome opponents.

    Shadow wisps were a less common variety, simply named due to their dark, almost black, hue. Despite the ominous sounding name, they were actually more timid and less violent than their brighter cousins.

    I wonder if that's an accurate metaphor for all of necromancy. The more I look into it, the stupider I feel for believing all the lies.

    It was especially impressive that necromancers had found a way to summon and control them, since none of the great tamers, past or present, had ever found success.

    After studying the spell, the scribe turns to her horde minion and says, "Ready Reagent? We'll see if that 'One familiar at a time' restriction is true. If it is, don't worry about being replaced. I could never give you up."

    She gives him one last pat on the head and casts the spell.

    Kal xen bal.

    A small cloud of smoke appears, and a dark light shines through.

    Reagent immediately lunges, but the wisp moves out reach just in time.

    "Stop!" yells Melfina afraid of any counter attack against her little friend.

    Reagent ignores her. The sparkling new wisp was too tempting.

    It quickly becomes apparent that the wisp is toying with him, as it constantly hovers just within reach, only to pull away before getting caught. Reagent loses interest, and the scribe calms down.

    The wisp moves in to inspect its summoner. It circles her twice, then begins bobbing up and down. After a few moments, it drifts away.

    "Hey! Stay!" It does. For a moment. Then drifts away again.

    Melfina thumbs the book of necromancy, It's supposed to give me mana.

    She looks at the wisp. "Mana." She waits. "Give me mana." Nothing happens.

    Do I need to use it all up first?

    She goes back to the wither spell, and utters the words, kal vas an flam. This time it works with ease, and a blast of cold emanates from where she stands.

    She realizes her mistake by casting that area effect spell, when Regent moves in the corner of her eye. She quickly looks him over to see any signs of harm, then sighs with relief when she doesn't see any. "I'm so sorry! But you're a tough little guy aren't you," she says with a quick rub of his head. Something I might want to test again later, just to make sure. she thinks as she writes it down.

    As she jots down the reminder, the wisp makes a twinkling sound and shimmers, and a shiver runs up her spine.

    "Oh," says the scribe as mana flows into her. "I can definitely make use of you."

    It shimmers again and Melfina laughs. "I've reached my limit. But thank you." The wisp bobs in response.

    "I'd say that was a success, wouldn't you, Reagent?"

    "Now what about the rest of you guys," she says to herself as she looks over the other spells. "Dark wolf, death adder, vampire bat..." she shakes her head. Maybe they're not as bad as they sound? She thinks doubtfully. You'd never see a mage summon something... Well, I suppose mages do have a deamon summoning spell. That has to be worse than any of these.

    She shrugs, studies the dark wolf summoning, and goes through the motions. It fizzles. She tries again, and again it fizzles.

    I can cast eighth circle spells! I can do this!

    Her next attempt fails. And the one after that. Again and again she fails. Maybe I don't want a wolf familiar! The scribe moves on to the death adder with similar results. Vampire bat <ins>does</ins> the same.

    I'm going to get one of you!

    Wolf, adder, bat. She alternates between the three, determined to summon one of them before day's end.

    Wolf, adder, bat, wolf, adder-

    The howl of the horde minion interrupts her flow, just as the wisp gifts her with mana. The distraction brings the setting sun to her attention. Once more each, and I should get going.

    She takes a careful look and tries her hardest to will a bat to her side. It's not enough.

    Dark wolf, dark wolf, dark wolf... your master summons you!

    She moves her hands, speaks the words, and-


    Reagent growls.

    "What's wrong?"

    The cloud dissipates, and there it is. The dark wolf. Half again as large as the largest dire wolf. It stands well above her waist. Proud, strong, and deadly. And its teeth are bared.

    Reagent rushes forward and the wolf does the same. This wasn't the playful lunge of the horde minion trying to catch the wisp. Reagent was defending his master.

    He had no chance.

    The dark wolf leaps and pins the horde minion to the ground, its jaws rush forward eagerly awaiting the killing blow.

    Melfina's heart races wildly and her hands move without thought. Just as the wolf's jaws begin to close, the dark wolf vanishes.

    "I'm so sorry!" Melfina cries, and she rushes forward and locks Reagent in a hug so tight it seems as if she never means to let go. Reagent stands still for a second, then to her surprise, hugs her back.

    It looks up at her as if she was the only thing in the world, as if moments before its own life wasn't about to be extinguished, and grins.

    * * *​

  14. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XIII

    Red hair and black clothes, the thief checks to see the guard captain still watching.

    Gamblor was observing Melfina's shop, and Stark was observing him.

    It was some stupid game the two played. He couldn't simply deliver what was asked of him. He first had to attempt to creep up on the scribe and startle her. And he's succeeded every time.

    At least he stopped by the guardhouse. Even though the sun was shining overhead, his lurking presence would still have been misunderstood. But just because Stark confirmed his story, and told his guards to leave Gamblor alone, that didn't mean Stark wouldn't keep an eye on him himself.

    There were three places for Gamblor to stand that would give him a perfect vantage point to spy on Melfina's shop. She knew these locations, but he knew that she knew. The advantage was one sided, no matter what Melfina did.

    On her own at least. This time she has help.

    Gamblor flattens against the wall.

    That was quick.

    Melfina had just looked out her window, pretending to look out for Gamblor, and pretending to think he hadn't arrived yet. The purpose was three-fold. It would tell him that she was still in her shop. It would trick him into thinking she didn't know he had yet arrived. And it would tell her exactly where he was.

    She wasn't looking for him, she was looking for Stark's signal.

    They had set up a code. He was to set a pail by the crystal well when Gamblor arrived. Stand it upright if Gamblor was on the west side of Draven's museum, upside down if he was on the south, and on its side if he was hiding by the House of Poison. If Gamblor had decided to wait right outside her doorway, the pail was to be on its side with water crystals spilled out.

    Stark had set the pail upside down. Gamblor had chosen the same location as before, which was surprising. Michael wouldn't be home all day, he had expected him to choose the House of Poison this time.

    How can he be so patient, Stark thought, watching Gamblor watch the shop, steady and as vigilant as any guard. It wasn't to protect or defend. He did it for a game.

    Watching. Waiting. What was the point?

    The guard captain smiled inside. There was even less point now. Melfina was already gone.

    It would take Melfina only a few minutes to recall to the rehearsed destination then quietly move onto Gamblor's location. All Stark had to do was wait until Melfina was near, then begin walking away in the other direction. Gamblor would no doubt try to keep on eye on both him and the shop, not realizing Melfina was coming from the rear.

    There she was. It was time.

    Stark began walking away, quietly, yet making just enough noise to attract Gamblor's attention. He would keep on eye on him now, as well as the shop.

    It was up to Melfina now.

    A few moments of anticipation and then there it was.


    A successful plan. A failed Gamblor. It was very satisfying.

    Stark turned back around.

    "I finally got you!"

    A slight turn of his head, Gamblor looks from the scribe to the approaching Stark, then back again at the scribe. "You cheated!"


    "You used Stark to distract me!"

    "Not only that, he signaled exactly where you were," she says with a satisfied smile.

    "So you admit it!"

    "I admit to beating you. There's no such thing as cheating remember?" She stands a little bit straighter and deepens her voice, "I use what I can, when I can, and I expect everyone else do the same. To expect anything less will get you caught or killed."

    Gamblor has no reply.

    "You just don't want to admit that I won this time. That you were outsmarted by a 'lazy little girl who just sits on her ass all day'!"

    "The advantage is mine now," she says as she grabs onto Stark's arm. "Thank you, Stark."

    Her appreciation was everything. He'd been feeling like there was a strange wall between himself and the scribe lately. Nothing he could clearly identify, but it was there. Perhaps that would turn around now.

    "Fine, fine. You won. Which means..." he looks up, waving his finger as if writing in the air, "I'm still up by twenty-five!" Gamblor gives the scribe a push, and hops backwards out of reach.

    As Melfina readies her counter-attack, Gamblor squints his eyes as something in the distance catches his attention.

    Stark turns around, followed by Melfina.

    A man off to the south wildly waves his arms above his head, shouting something incomprehensible.

    "What...?" both Stark and Gamblor say at the same time.

    They look at each other and both head off in the direction of the newcomer.

    "Why is he just standing there? Maybe he injured his foot somehow?" voices Melfina from behind. "Maybe he wants to be in sight of someone else who needs help?"

    Halfway there, the shouting has stopped, but the man begins jumping up and down and waving even wilder.

    All three quicken their pace, but before they get too much closer, the man turns and runs.

    Stark immediately turns back towards West Luna and jogs back towards where they came.

    "Hey! Why'd you guys turn around!" yells Melfina.

    Stark hears Gamblor yell back, "Something's not right!"

    Stark runs, hearing confirmation of his suspicions from the thief.

    Glass shatters in the distance and a cry from his guards fills the air.

    Stark rounds the corner, and sees the door to the House of Poison wide open.

    Nathan, Stone, and Ulloa close in on a pair of thieves, as they make their way towards the woods.

    Another pair of strangers emerge from the forest's edge, precasting spells. A wall of stone appears, blocking the guards pursuit, forcing them to run around.

    The guards round the wall's edge, and rush towards the revealed gateway. It, too, vanishes just as Nathan crosses the now empty space.

    Fool! Nathan could have done nothing, except make a stand surrounded and alone.

    "This isn't right," says Gamblor.

    "What do you mean?" asks an out of breathe Melfina.

    Stark commands those nearby. "Bear. Tulip. The Magic Arts. Alan. Edwin. With me." He signals for the rest to search the area.

    It was riskier to strike during the day. Michael wouldn't be home all day, and night. They weren't after his shop.

    Gwendalyne was the only one of his charges not accounted for. He didn't think they were after her either, but he had to make sure.

    Our first true crime. Our first failure.

    * * *​

  15. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XIV

    It couldn't be morning already. She had only just laid her head down.

    It didn't make sense.

    Wasn't I supposed to do something? she thinks, staring blankly at the ceiling.

    She tries to remember, but can't seem to hold onto her thoughts.

    I should get up.

    The confusion clings to her as she reaches for her hairbrush, only to find herself greeted with air.

    She looks over to her nightstand and her eyes confirm the brush is gone.

    I always put it there.

    She takes her time and does a thorough search, but frustration is all she finds.

    Whatever! I don't need a stupid brush!

    After she gets dressed, she heads downstairs and sets up her workspace, ready to get things going for another day.

    Water, water, water.

    Crystals tumble into the pitcher, clinking around almost musically. They liquefy instantly at the touch of the humming tuning fork. She pours herself a glass and the coolness creeps down her throat as she swallows.

    Why don't I feel hungry? she thinks as the coolness hits her stomach.

    There's no way I'd let anyone else eat in the library, but what do I do? I keep my food down here of course! How does that make any sense! But where else do I keep it? Maybe expand the top floor?

    She opens the cabinet, and finds it empty. Empty of bread. Nuts. Dried fruit. Everything.


    The shatter of glass startles her. Oh no! she thinks. Concern for possible water damage takes priority over all other thoughts.

    She turns. There was no spill. No broken pitcher or glass. In fact, nothing was there. Everything she had just laid out was all gone.

    She scans the room.

    Someone's here. Someone has to be.

    A dark form streaks across the room.

    The chairs have disappeared.

    It happens again.

    Her bookshelves are suddenly bare.


    Now even the bookshelves themselves have disappeared.

    What's happening!

    Her head sweeps right, and everything it touches dissolves. Tabletops, legs, and even walls and the floor itself. What's left is a whiteness too bright to look upon.

    She shuts her eyes, but it's too late. She had already looked over the entire room, and now it was all gone. Even with her eyes shut, the whiteness forced its way in. A crouch and check with her hands shows her the smooth, wooden planks beneath her feet, and the edge where it abruptly stops. She was on the last existing bit of floor left, floating in a sea of white.

    My store!

    She screams...

    * * *​

    ...and wakes up.

    The nightmare fades, but the fear holds a tight grip on her heart. She forces herself deeper into her bed, looking for the comfort of her blanket's embrace. She lets her mind drift and lets the panic wash away in the calm.

    Sunlight creeps past her eyelids, letting her know the hour. Why am I so tired?

    Then she remembers. Not the nightmare, but the night before.

    Someone broke into her house. Found their way to her collection.

    The blankets fly, and she's up and about before they can hit the ground.

    She slides out the chest from beneath her bed, and opens it up for reassurance. Still safe. Even with her important books moved into her bedroom, panic woke her up every time she nodded off, and she'd have to check and recheck that all were still there.

    It didn't make sense.

    Why weren't they taken? It's what they were after. Why weren't they taken!

    The lid closes, and she once again considers trapping the chest, and once again discards the thought. Occasionally magic trap made an explosion big enough to damage the contents inside whatever locked container it was set to protect. She couldn't risk that.

    They made it. They were inside. No one was here to stop them. They broke open the cabinet... and they took nothing!

    She checked anything and everything she could possibly think of. Nothing was taken. Not even a single reagent. The only evidence of intrusion was the broken cabinet.

    It didn't make sense.

    Any one of those books was worth a fortune to the right buyer. They had to have known. Why else break in?

    She checked again, and again, to make sure her books were still safe, and yet each time, seeing them all there fueled her anger more and more.

    It has to make sense!

    She thumbs through the book of necromancy. Pain spike, strangle, and poison strike have become a lot more attractive. Something needed to be punished.

    She packs some supplies and heads out with Reagent at her side. It was time to vent.

    "In vas nox!"

    The noxious cloud leaves a fly no chance of escape, and it drops to the ground.

    The harsh movements of the necro spells were satisfying. No fireballs today.

    Flies, grasshoppers, and snails all succumb to her fury.

    Where's another!

    Birds chirp away as a rabbit dashes across her path.


    A fly caught up in the rabbit's wake becomes her next target.

    The bushes rustle behind her.

    She turns, hoping for something real to attack. Instead she finds Stark.

    "Mel?" he asks. "What are you here? I've been following a trail of dead insects."

    "Oooh... yeah... that was me," she says, attempting to hide the book behind her back. Instead, the movement catches the paladin's eye.

    Face still, voice quiet, he asks, "What are you doing with that?"

    Before she can answer, Reagent walks into view, and Melfina's heart leaps.

    Stark pushes Melfina behind him, unsheathes his sword, and he leaps as well.

    "No! Wait!" she screams, knowing it would do no good.

    "In sar!"

    Stark arches backward and releases a cry of pain.

    "Reagent! To me!"

    Stark slowly turns as the horde minion runs past him to its master. "You said you were just going to read it. Just study it."

    She had been afraid to see his anger, but seeing his pain was worse.

    "I... I did. I tried. But... it wasn't enough. It... There's going to be... The Reunification... It's not illegal anymore..."

    "Illegal! I don't know what the archduke is doing, but you're headed down an evil path. Don't do this, Mel. Don't. No wonder you feel different! You're being corrupted already! No wonder you've been targeted! You have to stop! Evil attracts evil!"

    "You- I'm sorry, Stark. But the way you're always so- That's just stupid! Necromancy isn't evil. It can be used for evil, but so can a sword! That doesn't mean it can't be used for good!"

    "Of course necromancy attracts evil! It makes sense! Why else would thieves be attracted to your place!"

    "That is the worst logic I've ever heard! My books of course!"

    "That doesn't make any sense! If they were after your books, then they would have taken them! There's only one book I can see that could have lured them, and you're holding it!"

    "You- Stop-" She screamed. "This is hardly worth anything!" she says while shaking the book of necromancy in his face. "Do you have any idea how much more the Tome of Lost Knowledge is worth! I can't even come up with a number right now!"

    And that was it. There was no number. No amount would ever get her to part with it. It was the only copy known to exist. But she had seen another. In her childhood. And in her childhood, it was another who was its caretaker.

    He couldn't just have it stolen. With all his power, there were still some bounds as to what he could do. He was the High Father. But he didn't have to have it stolen. With all his influence, he just needed to know that it existed. He was the High Father. He would force her to give it up somehow. And she didn't know how he could be stopped this time.

    "Stark. I know who was responsible. It was Wayland."

    * * *​

  16. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XV

    That was too much for him.

    The cool forest air washed over her and she was thinking clearly once again.

    It had been their worst argument yet. Not because of what was said, but what was unsaid. He held back. I know he did. Some of it was so terrible he couldn't even say it.

    But she had to admit from what he did say, he was right in some respects. She was no longer just a scribe anymore. She always thought of herself as just a scribe, and occasionally a mage, but she was more now. She was effectively a necromancer as well. There was nothing else in this world that Stark seemed to hate more than necromancers, and she was one of them now.

    That was more than enough for him to handle in one day, but it didn't end there. She just had to accuse the High Father of the Order of Light of orchestrating the break in to her home. A crime essentially punishable by death from all he had been taught as a Luna Guard.

    I should have told him another time.

    And maybe he was right when it came to Wayland too. Right for the wrong reason. Wayland probably didn't give the order. He didn't need to give orders. Just casually mention interest in herself and her collection to the right ears, and someone would jump at the chance to gain favor with the stupid High Father.

    He knows the power of his words. He wanted the outcome. He's still responsible!

    Stark might be right, but so was she.

    Still... it was definitely too much for him to take all at once. If he wasn't always so stubborn and closed-minded! If he'd listen a little bit more! Maybe I wouldn't have been so angry with him and waited for a better time!

    He was just so certain that necromancy in and of itself, was evil, regardless of its use. He should know better than that! He should know her better than that.

    A gust of wind attacks Melfina's hair and snaps her attention back to the present. The trees were densely packed and the brush was thick. She couldn't recognize this part of the forest and wasn't really sure which way led back home. She became especially conscious of how alone she truly was.

    Melfina quickly glances behind her, just to make sure nothing's there. Stop being a little girl Melfina! she follows up that thought with I wish I could summon Reagent.

    But she promised. She unsummoned Reagent right there in front of him. She agreed to stop using necromancy completely. At least until he reported back to his precious Lord of West Luna and heard his judgment. At least he was willing to listen to someone else, even if it wasn't her.

    What will Lord Luna say? He won't care as long as I remain profitable right? But what if he does? What if he tries to stop me? What do I do then? Melfina quickly shakes away the thought. He won't care. And he'll know the truth about Wayland once I tell him my theory. It isn't the necromancy that's causing problems, it's the stupid Tome!

    She pats her bag, feeling for the Tome's bulk. Maybe it wasn't smart of her to bring it along, but as she grabbed supplies on her way out, she couldn't bring herself to leave the centerpiece of her collection unprotected. Not after yesterday.

    Then an odd realization struck her. The whole time she's owned the Tome of Lost Knowledge, she'd never taken a good look inside. There had just been too many distractions, and too many reasons to wait a little longer.

    A nice, flat rock beckons to her. Sitting comfortably, she opens up theTome. Its power as a mana focus made itself known, without any effort at all.

    How did we lose so much knowledge? Sure Britian fell apart, Wind was destroyed, and the great mages killed and scattered, but knowledge was greater than any one person.

    What's the Codex doing here? What do the virtues have to do with magery? And why not label it if its supposed to be a reference?

    After those few precious moments with her Tome, a beastly voice calls out.

    "Alone at last."

    Her head jerks up, and a dark wolf stands before her. She hadn't imagined it. There had been a voice. And like it said, he had returned. Powerful, confident, and dark as night, the familiar had found her.

    "You talk!"

    "I am Darksage."

    Darksage crouches, ready to attack.

    "Stay familiar! Obey me!" she commands as she scrambles to her feet.

    "Your commands me nothing to me. I am not a creation like your horde minion."

    "But I summoned you! And I unsummoned you!"

    "And now we are linked. But do not do that again. I will be able to find you no matter where you are. We are not finished yet."

    "What do you want?" Melfina asks, gripping tightly onto the Tome of Lost Knowledge.

    Darksage's lips curl up, baring its teeth.

    "Stupid girl. What do I want! You called me! I am not your slave. I'm not a summon. If you want me to be your familiar, you must prove yourself."


    His jaws snap at her ignorance.

    "How you called me... Your spell should have called a pup to your side, to match your ignorance. Yet here I am, and linked with... you. If you would lead me, you must defeat me."

    "I don't want to lead you!"

    Darksage shakes his head. "You've begun it. Defeat me or die. There is no going back!"

    As the last word leaves his lips, the dark wolf leaps.

    Melfina was ready. She had the Tome. All her spells would be more potent. She throws a magic arrow, teleports back, and releases a fireball in rapid succession.

    Darksage leaps away, dodging the brunt of the attack, and disappears into the woods. His voice calls out, "Fireballs! That won't be enough! Show me your true power necromancer!"

    Melfina ignores the words, and focuses solely on locating the voice. With a lightning bolt already precasted, one final twitch would unleash the energy from her finger tips.

    A blur of black appears on her left, but disappears as soon as she get a good look.

    Be patient Melfina! Be patient.

    She hears something behind her, and turns to find him already leaving the ground, jaws ready to make the killing blow. Lightning explodes from her hands, tossing him to the ground. I need to end this now! Flamestrike was a spell of choice for many mages, or so she had heard, so she precasts that next.

    Darksage recovers quicker than expected, and lunges again to interrupt her attack. Melfina remains focused, and completes the spell just it time. But it fizzles. The wolf's weight knocks her down with each. He needs only one of his huge paws to keep her pinned.

    Melfina screams.

    Its warm breath smothers her face in waves as he bares his teeth and growls. He opens his jaws. Melfina closes her eyes.

    Instead of death touching her, the wolf whispers, "It was unfortunate I was summoned by you. I was bound by the Ossian Cult. I've ran with the greatest necromancers who have ever lived. I have lived for centuries. I am the oldest of the dark wolves. And now I'm linked with you until you die."

    Melfina forces her eyes open, and stares into the golden globes above her.

    "Do not summon me again. I cannot harm you. But I can harm those around you." He unpins her. "May you die soon. I wish to be free of you. You are not worthy."

    * * *​

  17. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XVI

    Underneath the summer sun the guard captain stands tall, feet spread apart, arms at ease. With his body relaxed, he continues his meditation.

    Thumb and forefinger form a circle as his left arm lifts sideways until it parallels the ground below while he slowly inhales. Then he brings his hand in towards his chest at the same steady pace until the circle covers his heart. He holds his breath and immediately drops his hips low enough that he's almost sitting midair, while at the same time bringing his right hand to his hip, with its palm facing forward, fingers pointing down. As he holds his breath, energy pulses throughout his body as every muscle tenses. The only break to the stillness is his rotating right hand that steadily moves until his fingers point skyward. He slowly exhales and the energy flows from his muscles into his right arm as each muscle relaxes in turn, and he pushes his palm forward until his arm fully extends.

    It's something learned from the Book of Bushido. The Eight Breaths. Eight was a number of power, and so the practitioner was to count three counts of eight during each cycle, for eight full cycles.

    Yet Stark was a paladin, and the secondary discipline a paladin trained in must always give way to chivalry. A paladin needed to strengthen the spirit as well as the body. So Stark combined the Spirit Cleansing with the Eight Breaths, and rather than counting, let the essence of each Virtue engulf him, one virtue per cycle.

    Today was an exception however. His body obeyed, but mind would not.

    "I failed." The words from yesterday's conversation repeat themselves in his mind.

    "They escaped. Yes," said Lord Luna

    "I understand you may no longer need my services," said the guard captain, as he prepared for the worst.

    "What do you want?"

    "I wish to serve."

    Stark tenses.

    "Good. Then you shall. I am disappointed they escaped, but no one was hurt, nothing was taken, and damage was minimal. Replacing you now would serve no purpose. Experience of this kind is no longer easily found. All major cities are armed with teleport spells for a quick deployment, but you must work without them."

    Stark remained at attention, but inwardly relaxed. He marveled again at how different Lord Luna was to his former captain.

    Stark exhales.

    If I may ask...

    Lord Luna nods.

    "When will teleport spells be put in place?"

    Lord Luna studies Stark a moment then says, "Never."

    "Never?" His eyes widen.

    "How hard have you had to work since coming here?

    "Harder than in Luna," answered Stark, then added, "but I enjoy it."

    Because of the challenge?

    Stark begins again.

    Yes, that's part of it. But what good is good is that if I fail at my purpose?"

    "Captain. Yes you failed. This time. Think about it, and learn from it, but don't dwell on it. This challenge isn't over. We are still here, and you have time to learn. I'm sure you have some ideas already."

    "Some," he admitted.

    "The teleport spells make things too easy. They breed complacency. What if someone manages to shut down those spells in Luna?" He shakes his head. "No. It is better to be over prepared than under. Should any of the Luna guard transfer here, they would not do as well as you and your men can do at the moment, and you will only get better. I doubt the same could be said of you, if you were to go back."

    If I went back, he repeated to himself.

    His muscles tighten.

    "Keep your eyes open to threats, and all is well."

    Without hesitation he said, "I can think of one threat, my lord."


    "Melfina is practicing necromancy."

    "I see," was all he got in return.

    "She agreed to stop until you made your judgment," he said as he hoped for more.

    "Then let her know she may continue," he replied. After a moment, he adds, "This troubles you."

    "It's necromancy. The Order of Light has been fighting the evils of necromancy for centuries."

    The energy courses through him.

    "The evils of necromancy, yes. But what evil has Melfina done with it. Have you caught her committing any crime." Stark didn't know what to say. "I understand why you asked. But this is something you will have to learn. Evils have been committed by some necromancers, but not all necromancy is evil." Melfina had said the same to him. "Your own High Father sees it the same way. He supports the upcoming Reunification."

    It made sense... but it didn't feel right. He opened his mouth one last time, but Lord Luna spoke before he could say anything.

    "Stark, you swore to serve me. Why is that?"

    "I-... my lord... because it felt right."

    "What exactly felt right."

    "I... I haven't really thought about it."


    "I... I suppose... when I see you, I see... hope. And right. And I felt... feel, I mean... you will accomplish great things."

    "And you think I can accomplish this all by myself?"

    He begins again.

    Stark hesitates. He wants to say yes, but as soon as he hears the question he knows that isn't the answer.

    Lord Luna just smiled.

    "I watched you choose your guards. There were a lot of excellent candidates. Not all of them, but you could have selected more had I allowed it. How did you choose who you chose?"

    The guard captain pauses a moment before replying, "After deciding who had the appropriate skills, mindset, and attitude, I chose guards with abilities that would compliment each other as a whole."

    "But they are all just guards. Don't they need the same skills?"

    His body sinks.

    "Yes... and no. The Guard will have to grow as the city grows."

    "What difference does that make."

    I was hoping as the Guard grew in size, I could start specializing smaller units. For patrolling, tracking, night watch, archers... everything.

    Lord Luna smiles. "Luna isn't set up that way."

    "No. But I thought it would be necessary until the teleport spells were put in place... so I chose guards that-"

    "-have the skills you needed now, and the potential to lead or train these future units. You needed the right people by your side to realize this vision of yours."

    Stark nods.

    "So can I accomplish my vision on my own?"

    He releases his breath.

    "No, my lord."

    Lord Luna placed a hand on the guard captain's shoulder. "Exactly."

    Stark looked downward, too embarrassed to do otherwise.

    Lord Luna removed his hand and looked towards Melfina's shop. "She was young and lost, when I first approached her. But she'd always been inquisitive, determined, and she thinks on a larger scale than most, even if it doesn't always seem so. And when a puzzle catches her eye, she'll attack it like no other. Pity is not the reason she was the first I asked to join me. She may not fully realize what she's doing for me. But she knows what she's doing."

    He begins inhaling.

    But Necromancy... Stark said to himself. "My lord. How does that fit into your vision?

    Lord Luna looked intently at his guard captain. "West Luna will be the city that Luna should have been. Luna excels at trade, but it could be so much more. Luna used to have culture. It used to have parks and museums of its own. Artisans and schools. It used to be a city. Not just a series of shops. West Luna will flourish as commerce and creativity intermingle and lift each other to new heights. It will welcome all who wish to contribute. Luna has become stagnant, and victim to its own greed. It's become an emotionless and impersonal wasteland with only the paladin left as any beacon of light."


    His body tenses.

    "I know you still have a fondness for Luna. And this is more than you probably wanted to hear. But you deserve to know if you are to serve here. But while Luna seemingly flourishes, you must know it wasn't one mistake that led to the Dragon War. But a culmination of mistakes. Mistakes that are still being repeated."

    Stark had no reply.

    "You're not convinced. Luna seems to be doing well. But that is only because there is no competition. West Luna will be that. But it will be better. What could be more 'Luna' than that."

    He slowly relaxes.

    He nodded.

    "As it stands, Luna concentrates too much power in too few. There is a better way."

    * * *​

  18. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XVII

    "Another beautiful day," says the bearded museum owner, with two halves of some kind of dark green melon in his hands.

    Melfina agrees with a warm smile.

    "A day to celebrate!" he says, offering her one of the halves.

    Melfina takes the melon and gives it a look as she sits down with her neighbor. "Are you going to tell me what this is? Or am I just supposed to trust you?" Its sweet smell tells her either choice is a good choice.

    "This, my dear, this is a marsh melon. The finest fruit of the swamps of Umbra!" he exclaims while waving his spoon in the air. "Umbra's been looking at what kind of exports they can offer, now that border restrictions are gone. So eat up!"

    The scribe takes a spoonful of melon and lets the juices wash over her tongue. "This is delicious!"

    "Yes it is. But we're not here to celebrate this melon, we're celebrating my newest acquisition!"


    "A Ranger Armor Gorget!"

    "That's wonderful!" Melfina exclaims as she gets up and hugs Draven.

    "I know it's not really worth much these days, but my ancestor's wealth came about because of these!"

    Melfina smiled. She'd heard it all before, but she knew it was something special for him.

    "It's been eight years since I found my last piece."

    "Where'd you find this one?"

    "You wouldn't believe it. I didn't believe it!" it was in some small time shop outside of Jhelom. I was haggling for a jackal's collar, and the greedy ******* wouldn't budge, so I thought I'd browse the local shops. And at the very first shop, it was right there in the open! It's been so long since Ranger Armor was the finest armor to be had, with my ancestors the finest crafters. And it's been ages since they've gone out of use. There are too few complete sets left. And there it was! One more piece! I didn't bother to hide my excitement, and even offered to pay five times what he was asking. Only two more pieces to go."

    Their interests were different, but that excitement about completing a collection was the same for all collectors.

    "And where will you display it when you've finally found it all? Here or your place in Umbra?"

    "That is not something I've figured out yet. Where ever it will be appreciated the most, of course. There are certainly less people in Umbra, but sometimes they can be more appreciative."

    "You know I always appreciate you!"

    "Of course lass, but my museums aren't just for you." Melfina playfully pouts at him. "Ha! That won't work on me, lass. Not even if you were my daughter."

    "On fine. How long have you had that place over there by the way?"

    "A few years short of this one."

    "That long? So you should be familiar with Umbra. Do you think I could pick at your brain a while? I told you about my book right?"

    "Oh yes, yes! Your book! How has that been coming along, lass?"

    "Well... it started off as a general book on Umbra, but Necromancy is just so fascinating. It's so similar to magery, yet so different at the same time."

    "Well if you're going to write about necromancy, I don't see how you can't include at least a small section on Umbra itself."

    "What do you mean?"

    "Paladins... they're the symbolic moral center of their city, but they don't rule it. Aedilwulf does. And the Merchant Vendor Council does to a smaller extent. If he hadn't gained support from your... friend... Wayland, and the Keeper of All, after the Dragon War, he wouldn't be ruling the city now. Regardless of the honorary title they've given him, he's not a true paladin. He doesn't think like them, so Luna doesn't truly reflect who they are. And of course there are other Orders than just the Order of Light."

    "As for Umbra, it's their only haven, and so it's necromancers that rule, and necromancers only. They are the paladin and holy mages in one package. If you write about their craft, surely you have to write about them. And if you write about them, that means you write about Umbra. Even non-magical issues, such as privacy. Necromancers are big on it. You stay out of their way, they stay out of your way. If that gets threatened, you can be sure you'll be hearing about a new Warden Primus on the throne."

    "Stop right there. I need to start taking notes. I'll be right back."

    Melfina puts down her spoon and makes her way upstairs for supplies.

    Come on, come on! I know one of these is already open! She thinks as she sifts through her inks. She finds the one she was looking for and grabs a few pens.

    Then she hears a shout from below, "Lass! I think I'd best be going now! We'll talk again some other time! You have a friend here to see you!"

    "Wait! Where are you going!" She makes her way to the ground floor, with every intention of catching up to him, only to find Wayland in the doorway, with a spellbook in his hands. "What are you doing here? Get out!"

    "Now Melfina, what kind of greeting is that," he says shaking the spellbook at her, pretending he was only trying to shake his finger at her. That would have been insulting enough, but he was doing more than that. It was the Tome of Enlightenment he had in his hands. It had been the oldest and most powerful spellbook known, until the Tome of Lost Knowledge was found. Both were usually kept locked up. He would only bring it with him for ceremonies. Or battle.

    "How dare you! I know you sent them to break in here!"

    He shakes his head with a sigh of regret. "I'm sorry to hear you've had trouble. But you know I'd never do such a thing."

    "I know exactly what you'd do. Don't deny you got the outcome you wanted."

    "My hands are clean, no matter what accusations you make, but you wouldn't be so angry if there wasn't something you were trying to hide. Give it to me."


    "The Tome of Lost Knowledge belongs to Luna. You have no right to it."

    "You're going to stand there and pretend you had nothing to do with the break in, then demand I give you something you shouldn't have any idea I possessed!"

    "So you admit you have it. The letter was righ-"

    "Who sent it! I want to know!"

    "Only if you give me the Tome." Wayland pauses a moment to give her a chance. "Well then, regardless of how the information was obtained, it would be irresponsible of me to ignore something of this magnitude. I have a much greater responsibility than maintaining a quaint little shop," he says with a dismissive wave of his hand. "The book belongs to Luna. Give it here, Melfina."

    "I bought it fairly from a shop in Luna! You can't just demand it from me! No law requires me to give it to you!"

    "Come now. You don't honestly believe you found a second copy of the Tome of Lost Knowledge, and it just happened to appear inside Luna, just two years after the last copy known to exist was supposedly destroyed during the Dragon War. You've seen the copy yourself. You know it's mine."

    "And you don't think anyone would be stupid enough to steal it from the Luna Library only to sell it within Luna's walls for only fifty gold pieces! And yes I have seen your copy, and I know mine is different! I applied a new red leaf sealant myself. Your's already had it!"

    "So that's the feeble lie you'd defend yourself with. Just to take what's mine. How could a Tome of Lost Knowledge have survived all these centuries without any kind of sealant? It couldn't. It would have deteriorated. And I'm sure if I asked to take a look at the book now, you'd just claim the sealant has fully settled into the book now, and I wouldn't be able to tell how long it's been since it was applied."

    Melfina just glares.

    "Very well. If you're willing to tell such an obvious lie, I can see that I won't get the book today. And regardless of what you think of me, you know I wouldn't send people to sneak in to your library and take it, even though it is my property. You also know you can't stop me. You have given me what I need to make my case to the Archduke. Make use of it while you can. The book will return to its rightful owner soon enough."

    * * *​

  19. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XVIII

    Looking upon the large pile of fresh recall scrolls, pride surges through the scribe. She didn't know what to say. She could never have done this on her own. The shadow wisp made it possible to make so many in such a short time. "If you weren't a ball of light I'd hug you right now."

    The wisp responds with a shake and a shimmer, and a small surge of mana flows into the scribe, and then it drifts off to the right. It always stayed close, but never seemed to be able to stay still.

    "I love you!" she laughs.

    Making scrolls was time consuming, but it was also in demand. A spell could be cast from a scroll, without the need for a spellbook to focus mana or reagents. The reagents part made sense, because the same reagents to cast the spell were used in the creation of the scroll. The lack of a mana focus made sense because the scroll itself became the mana focus, albeit a flimsy one, and so was consumed when used. What didn't make sense was that the scribe used an amount of mana to make the scroll that was equal to the amount of mana needed to use the scroll. And that was also the same amount of mana it took to cast the spell in the natural way.

    The only other difference was that scrolls of the fourth circle could be used by people who were usually only good enough to cast second circle spells. Perhaps it was the extra mana that compensated for the poorer execution of the spell. Whatever the reason, it's what allowed people to cast spells above their skill level, and that's what fueled a lot of her business. But it was still something to think about.

    And lately she had been trying to think about anything and everything. Not as an intellectual exercise, but to hide from the one thought that kept on forcing its way into her mind. By focusing on the most insignificant of details, she tried to hide from her own thoughts.

    Why would I ever spend gold on extra help when I can create my own help. I'm making scrolls more than twice as fast thanks to Wisp. Another wave of mana hits her. "Enough already," she laughs. "You don't have some kind of dark and sinister plan to work me to death do you?" This time her laughter cuts short. Her words reminder her of another familiar. Darksage.

    The dark wolf was out there, somewhere. And she wasn't sure if he'd return. His parting words sounded like they meant that if she left him alone, he'd leave her alone. And she was more than happy to do that. She didn't want a giant wolf following her around. Now that certainly would set Stark ablaze. The wolf had threatened her life. Defeat him or die, it had said. She thought she was done with him, but she wished she knew. She wished he didn't keep on popping into her thoughts, and that she could stop wondering where he was, and if he'd attack when she wasn't looking.

    At the same time, she wished she never knew the answer so she could keep on wondering. It was a better to latch onto this thought than the other.

    "I don't suppose you can protect me from him can you?"

    Another shake and shimmer was its only reply.

    "Well... thanks for trying."

    Stark can help, she thinks. It's what he's for. Surely a paladin can defeat a familiar. But I don't want his help! The way that he looks at me now, as if I've betrayed him! Some of those guards of his seem to be avoiding me too. But they wouldn't do that if he'd try to understand me! He won't even try! Stupid-


    The scribe looks down as the broken half of a quill floats down onto the floor. Now look what he did! She picks up another and continues. Why do I care what he thinks anyway! He talks a lot, all about his being a paladin, and all about his bushido. But does he try to listen when it's his turn? No!

    Another stack was complete. So she rolls them, ties them, and bags them. "Reagent!" she calls out. He hops up from his stool, and the furry guy runs to her side. "Bag," she says, and he spits out a bag of fresh ingredients. "That's a good boy. Now put this away." He takes the finished scrolls and scurries towards the open chest that she points to. He was good for more than just storing things now. He was learning so fast.

    How could he ever be a threat to anyone. He's the perfect little helper.

    Her thoughts cool down a bit, but they cling back to the guard captain. Maybe I should get Cadence to talk to him. I wonder if he'd listen to her. It's kind of cute how he lights up whenever he sees her... But she'll never settle down. Maybe we shouldn't be encouraging him. Gotta tell Gwen that.

    At least Lord Luna understands. Or at least he won't interfere with my research. He probably doesn't care what I do. It's all about business with him. Whatever. As long as he doesn't get in my way, I'll stay out of his.

    She sighs. It was hard work not thinking about something. If you reminded yourself of what you were supposed to not think about, then you failed at not thinking about it.

    I wonder what Gamblor's doing right now. I'm sure he'd show some interest in my work. He's a lot more open-minded than stupid Stark. He'll show up, offer to get me some supplies for free, then I'd have to refuse, then he'd offer to do it for a small fee, and I have to "reluctantly" give in, but remind him that I don't want him actually stealing anything when he's on a job for me without actually saying the word steal. Then he'll laugh, and be that arrogant jerk he can be sometimes, but then he'll come back and throw in something extra, and ask about what I'm doing and he'd actually be interested. He'd know what an amazing opportunity I've come across.

    Overhead, the wisp twinkles and sends over more mana. "Oh, and he'd be fascinated by you." And he'd love Reagent. Unlike Wayland.

    And there it was.

    The subject she had been trying to avoid. The subject that occupied her thoughts most days. Stark hated her now. Or at the very least he was definitely avoiding her. It made her sad, but on her list of problems, it wasn't that bad. The worst that could happen was that she'd lose a friend. The dark wolf was on the list. It might show up at any time, but then again, it might never show up at all. And then there was Wayland. It had been over a month now since she had seen him last, but she knew he hadn't given up. He was coming for her. She didn't know what he was going to do, and she didn't know how to stop him.

    If she was willing to abandon her shop, which she was not, not after what it took to make it completely her own, she couldn't simply just run away. Running would just be used against her in whatever case he was making to the archduke. She had a lot of money now to try to get started somewhere else, but Luna had much more.

    What is he waiting for! It was torture to be certain he was coming, but to not know when. Sometimes she just wanted it over with. She couldn't stop him, but it would be done.

    And how fun would it be to lash out at him with the Tome. Make him pay for what he's trying to do. And what he's already done. She runs through scenario after scenario of what she could do with the Tome of Lost Knowledge. She could feel its power. She could hit him hard and fast. If she could catch him off guard. Explosion and flamestrike in rapid succession. Then teleport a few feet away and feeblemind to throw him off balance. Some lightning and fireballs, and then finally weaken. Force him to his knees and relinquish all claims to the book. He was more experienced, but she had her Tome. He needs to be put in his place.

    It was fun to think about, but didn't know if the Tome would be enough. She should probably prepare for it just in case.

    It would be even more fun if she could throw in necromancy spells as well. She could test out how potent strangle really was. But she wasn't nearly as skilled in necromancy as she was in magery. She wouldn't have access to the more powerful spells. And how would Stark react if he had to fight along side a necromancer. Switching between the two books would be a complicated mess. The thought of attempting to switch from flamestrike to wither to energy bolt was too much. It was one or the other, so it had to be the Tome.

    Maybe Gamblor could help me with my problem. Let Wayland get the Tome, and just have Gamblor steal it back. No. Have him recover it. Because I'm the one being robbed. Gamblor'll be able to get it back. I know he will. If I asked... and then Wayland would find out. There's no way he wouldn't know. And then Wayland would have him killed.

    He doesn't have it yet though. I just need to keep it from him. What's Wayland going to do!! What can he actually do? I'm not in Luna anymore. He can't arrest me can he? I don't pay any taxes to Luna. And the archduke has no authority here, so neither does Wayland. Right? But they do have the Guard. If they come after the book will a battle break out? Will Stark defend me?

    Maybe not. Not if he doesn't know that they're coming. Not if he doesn't know why they're here. Stupid Paladin. Can he even refuse an order from the archduke? Or from the High Father? He seems to think Wayland is as clean as the robes he's comes dressed in! But Stark listens to Lord Luna, too.

    She sighs. She couldn't keep this up. She had to do something.

    The scribe gets a clean sheet of paper and begins to write. I have to tell him.

    * * *

  20. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XIX

    In the Darkness, I walk in the Light.

    The night was dark, and the opening of the prayer came to mind. The Profession of Valor was simple, but beautiful. In three simple lines it declared exactly who he was. Stark looked forward to the next Gathering of Light, when he would be able to say it together with all of his brothers and sisters of the Order for the first time. It would be a sight to behold. But that was years off, so thinking it to himself would have to be enough.

    In the distance, light still shown through Melfina's window, but she no longer walked in the Light. He knew if he walked close enough, he would be able to sense those vile things that she treated as pets. He would slay them if he could. He would destroy her book of necromancy if he could. But Lord Luna's laws protected them. And without the laws, she would simply summon more creatures or buy more books. He had a duty to uphold the laws, but that duty did not require him to be in her presence.

    Melfina. They had been friends. His first true friend since being rescued at the orphanage. He had been one of the Luna Guard, but the others only showed him the respect of a paladin. They didn't know how else to react. He was the only one. He knew other paladins, but no more than as acquaintances. The paladin went out into the world to defend the Virtues, and so most remained in Luna a few short weeks at a time.

    His brother had always been his friend, but he was now gone. And now necromancy was taking away Melfina. Perhaps she was already gone. She avoided his presence as well. It was easier for both of them to go about their days when Stark chose to work at night.

    Once again, Stark considered the High Father's words. He could return to Luna. He could sleep within the walls of justice, and not next door to a necromancer. Despite the truce, Stark refused to believe the Archduke would allow a necromancer to reside within the city itself. He listened to his advisers, and the Keeper of All and the High Father wouldn't allow it.

    But the guard captain couldn't take the offer just yet. Lord Luna was a good man, and would not force him to guard a land he no longer wanted to defend. A simple request would be all it would take. But Stark would not make the request unless he knew there was someone to follow after him. He needed to choose his lieutenant.

    There were nine guards. They worked in nine hour shifts, with a new shift beginning every three hours. Stark had worked more hours per day, on fewer hours of sleep, upon his arrival to West Luna. But he did not have a choice. That schedule wasn't sustainable. He needed to ensure that his guards performed at their peaks, so that meant allowing for plenty of sleep, and time to relax and train.

    They were given one free day each week. That typically meant asking Melfina to gate them to Luna. If they chose to stay behind, the guardhouse was now stocked with games of chess, decks of cards, dart boards, dice, and other items for entertainment. There was also Draven's museum or Melfina's library of course, but only Loren ever went to The Magic Arts to actually read the books.

    After studying them all, Warren had certainly impressed him. There were no city walls here, and no pavement. Talking of his days as a tracker quickly led to teaching what he knew. He had a good head, and they all seemed to respect him. The problem was that he and Ulloa had become close because of it. Couplings were inevitable, but for a lieutenant with a regular guard, it was trouble. That meant Tulip and Stone were also out of consideration.

    Camaraderie among all the guards was good, but the longer he took to choose, the longer they would bond as equals.

    Why did I take so long?

    But he knew the answer. He had adapted well to the differences between West Luna and the City of Light, but he hadn't thought of everything. Becoming a lieutenant normally took years within the Luna Guard, but that wouldn't work here. The Luna Guard was much larger than ten people. And Luna saw more crime.

    The Luna guard was legendary, but it could only be legendary because it had to perform. Where there was wealth, there was crime. And many chances to perform meant many reasons to move up the ranks. Those reasons created clear choices that few could dispute.

    West Luna was different. Stark watched how they interacted, but that wasn't enough. Their performance in the absence of crime was excellent, but that was expected. It had just been three months since they had been hired, and if they already showed signs of disinterest or a drop in performance, they would be dismissed.

    There had only been three events of any significance. There was the break-in at The Magic Arts, which the Guard wasn't ready for. Stark blamed himself for that. They had successfully driven away the nightly traffic to the lands of the League. But that was simply done by making their presence known. Loren had slain a wolf that had attacked her. But it had been injured, and must have been desperate. Stark had no sympathy for wolves, but that didn't warrant a promotion.

    Three events. That was it. It wasn't enough.

    But he had to make his decision. Stark was their captain. First Captain, in fact, even though the Guard wasn't large enough to need more than one. But he decided tonight wasn't the night.

    One week. I'll make my decision in a week.

    Just as the thought finishes, a guard walks into view. While not as brilliant as the white cloaks of Luna, the dark green that Lord Luna had chosen hid them well at night. It was a good choice.

    Stark uncorks a night sight potion and drinks. The darkness flashes away and Edwin begins signaling.

    Nathan says noise by Draven's. Bear by guardhouse. Await orders.

    Stark replies. Bear wake others. Guardian formation. Then follow. You and me. Both sides. Nathan move. Caution.

    The off duty and newly wakened guards would be sent to guard the shops, while Stark and the three on duty would investigate. There would be no unexpected break in this time. And while the museum wasn't part of Lord Luna's protectorate, Stark was given leave to do as he saw fit.

    Edwin relays the orders, then disappears on the other side of the Museum of a Thousand Wonders. There aren't nearly so many wonders, but how much are they worth?

    As Stark's eyes track the windows of the building, he catches a head ducking out of sight. It wasn't Draven's.

    Stark holds the hilt of his sword in both hands and whispers, "Consecrus arma." The call of his spirit is answered, and his sword pulses with power. For a time, it would be both sharper and stronger than any blacksmith could make it. The Lady Mana favored him with her Gifts once again.

    Amidst the Chaos, I'm forged from the Light.

    Stark rounds the corner and sees Nathan at the entrance. The guard jumps back as the door bursts open and a bottle flies out. Nathan deftly flings the bottle to the side with the flat of his sword before it explodes, then follows up with a quick thrust as the first thief flees the building.

    Nathan impales the thief, but three more rush through the doorway, knocking the guard off his feet. They see Stark and scatter. One alone, two together. Each has a large bag in their hands, so Stark goes after the pair.

    The trailing thief drops what he has and angles away from the other. The remaining thief is quick, but as he runs away from one guard, he runs straight into another.

    At the sight of Edwin, the thief launches the bag at his head and pivots back around, drawing his weapons. In two strides Stark closes in, raining down justice. The thief readies himself to deflect the sword with his own, then sink his dagger into Stark's head through his chin.

    But Stark's sword doesn't cooperate. Instead, its razor edge bites into the other blade and continues on into the thief's shoulder. Edwin moves in from behind, kicks the thief off his feet and disarms him. As Stark pulls out his blade, a pool of blood forms.

    "I will close your wound if you answer my questions. How many were you."

    With no choice left to him he says, "Just the four of us."

    "What did you want."

    "The ranger armor the old guy's been bragging about. He would have paid a fortune for it."

    Satisfied with the answers, Stark joins his hands as if in prayer, but allows only the tips of his fingers to touch. "Obsu vulni." The power of God flows through him and mends the damaged shoulder. "If Draven is dead, so are you."

    Bear shows up with a bag in his hands. "I've killed the one that came my way." Stark nods.

    Then Nathan appears with a hurt Draven beside him.

    "Looks like you get to live," says Edwin.

    Stark says to Draven, "Let me take care of that."

    "No need, no need. It's just a bump," he says as he makes his way past the guard captain. "It's all here!" he says after looking into the bags. "They're safe!" His laugh rings loud and carries itself far into the night.

    Nathan cheers and Edwin joins in, but before Stark can say anything, Bear lays a hand on Nathan's shoulder and says, "Keep the watch." The two salute their captain and circle back to where they came from while Edwin still holds onto the thief.

    A large smile splits Draven's face. White teeth manage to show themselves through the fully bearded face. "Guard Captain, please tell your lord I'm ready to take his offer. It's time The Museum of a Thousand Wonders finally joined West Luna."

    Stark bows his head. "Edwin, help Draven collect his things." He nods to the thief, "I will take him to South Luna, and see if there's a reward."

    God has placed me here for a reason. His job was to protect the lands of West Luna and guard its citizens. All of its citizens. And she needed protection, even if she didn't see it. So she would have his protection, even if she didn't want it. And he would be her friend, even if she didn't know it.

    A gateway was the only practical way to turn in the thief. Before he stepped into The Magic Arts, one final thought ran through his mind.

    The Light lives within me. I will Light the Way.

    * * *​
  21. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XX

    Today was her day off. There would be no work and no shopping. No studying or training. And no familiars by her side. Today Melfina needed to be alone.

    Tomorrow would bring Wayland. Wayland, and whatever would come. An official letter, sealed and signed by Archduke Aedilwulf himself, had arrived the day before last. It claimed that they would show mercy, and not sentence her to death. That they understood she made a stupid, but honest, oversight. And so the Luna Guard would only show up to ensure a safe repossession of their property and not to take her to be executed. Should she try to run, it would be considered a Violation of Property committed with her full knowledge and understanding. One serious enough that Luna Guard and the Order of Light would be sent after her, as well as anyone interested in collecting the bounty they would place on her head. The reward would be considerable.

    She had already done what she could. Lord Luna had been informed. He even believed her and would do what he could, but he couldn't stand up to the might of Luna. Luna was just too powerful. She had also practiced her spells, for whatever good it might do. But if it came to fighting, they had no chance.

    But at this very moment, none of that mattered. Today was her day off, because today she sat in remembrance of parent's death.

    Two and a half years now, she thinks as she lays flowers on the rock where her mom used to sit. A blanket lies beside it, and she takes a seat next to a picnic basket filled with some fruits, bread, and cheese, and a small pouch filled with some of the marsh melon juice that Draven had given her.

    The clearing was a lovely place. Full of thick and vibrant grass that always cushioned any fall, and enough rabbit holes to provide countless hours of entertainment when she was little. A large tree at the edge still had the swings her father had built, and the large rock formation off to the side was where she and Reba pretended they ruled kingdoms or owned businesses or lived in large manors with princes.

    This clearing is where her parents taught her to cast spells, and where they let her gather fresh supplies to make her first inks. This is where they told her she would be apprenticed to the holy mages, and where they took her for her birthday.

    "Look mom. I baked a cake..." she trails off, "...happy birthday to me." Tears well up in her eyes, but she blinks them away.

    She didn't know if she believed in God. Her parents never got around to teaching her what it was all about. She didn't think there were very many in Luna that actually cared about the paladin's God. After things went bad with Wayland, she made it a point to avoid the subject entirely.

    But she hoped there was something out there for them. Some place they could be happy. She didn't know what to believe, but she wanted it to be true.

    She closed her eyes, knelt beside the rock, and prayed. "Dear God, I'm sorry that I don't know if you're out there, but my parents were wonderful people. They were good to everyone, and they deserve to be happy. Please look out for them, and make sure that they're safe. And please let them hear what I have to say."

    "Mom, I hope you're safe and doing well. I hope you and dad are proud of me. I know all I brought today was simple, but I'll get around to learning how to cook like I said I would. I wish you and dad could have taught me some of your recipes before you left. I miss the smells of our kitchen."

    "But I should be okay with gold now. I sold a formula for the silent tiles I invented. The store is completely mine now. I had some dresses made, but I got paid so much that I don't know what to do with the rest."

    "But I'm in trouble right now. Wayland... he won't stop. And he's coming tomorrow. I don't know what I can do. I have a Tome of Lost Knowledge. I have an actual Tome of Lost Knowledge. It's mine and there is no way it could be his copy. But he wants it. And claims it's his."

    "You told me to not give in to him. You made me not give in, even when I wanted him to stop what he was doing to you. But I can't stop him. And Lord Luna can't stop him. And if I run, he'll send everyone after me, including the Order of Light." Maybe even Stark would have to hunt me then.

    "I want you to be proud of me. But I don't think I can fight him like you did. I can't see how anything I can do can keep him from getting it. But if I give it up, no one will die."

    "I wish you were here. I feel so alone. You and dad would know what to do. Lord Luna supports me, but what can he do? All he has are ten total guards against all of Luna. What can he do? What can I do?" The final words barely come out as a whisper, and she lets tears do the rest of her talking.

    Minutes pass, and the tears eventually stop. She remains kneeling by the rock, not wanting to think, and not wanting to move, and just lets the stillness of the day take over. The breeze caresses her cheek and birdsong dances in the air, but inside she's just empty and numb. Her parents lives were ruined by one man, and now he was focused on her. And there was nothing she could do.

    On the brink of falling asleep, a rustling in the grass catches her attention. It wasn't just the wind. It was coming closer.

    Probably a rabbit wanting to sneak off with my grapes. Well she wasn't feeling very hungry, so she wouldn't mind sharing.

    Before her eyelids fully open, an expression of hate penetrates her mind. Her eyes widen and at the edge of the clearing stands a four-legged form she hoped to never see again.

    A deep voice, clear and menacing calls out. "You are weak. You have given up before the battle has begun! You don't deserve to see tomorrow begin!" And with that last word out of his mouth, Darksage sprints towards her.

    Melfina grabs her bag and jumps to her feet. There was no time to think about what was happening. It didn't matter what it had said the last time. What did the word hurt mean to a wolf anyway? Biting out a chunk of her leg could be considered a warning. Tearing off an arm might be considered a lesson. A fatal wound could be a test. Whatever the true answer was, the only thing that mattered was that a wolf that weighed three or four times her own weight was bounding towards her, with death on its face. And it would reach her soon.

    There was no where to run. No cover to take. She was in the middle of a field, and the choices were to fight or to die. He was coming quick, but there was time for one spell, or even two if she was quick enough. Melfina thrusts her hand into her bag and pulls out the first book in her grasp.

    The hollow eyes of a skull stare back at her as she pulls out the green leather bound book. It would do. She was no where near becoming a master of the craft, but there was one spell she had practiced more than all the others.

    "In sar!"

    The air ripples before her as the spell leaves her hand. It crashes into the wolf and he tumbles to the ground.

    It worked! But the wolf is quick to stir. She responds by casting pain spike again and again.

    "It will take more than that, necromancer!" A low and steady growl rumbles from its throat. It rises to its feet as the effect lessens with each strike.

    "In vas nox" she yells, switching to a new spell.

    The second charge of the wolf falters, as poisonous gas enters its lungs, but even so, Darksage manages to yell, "More!" and resumes the charge.

    Melfina closes her eyes. The next spell didn't need a target. She had been able to cast it once before, but needs to see it in her mind's eye. Her hands move as she blocks out all thought of powerful jaws crushing her neck.

    "Kal vas an flam!"

    From deep within, she could feel her very soul empowering the attack. A savage blast of cold bursts forth from her body.

    She hears the snapping of hundreds of blades of grass as the wolf drops at her feet. Her eyes open and witness the two of them encircled by to twinkling of sunlight reflected though the frost covered floor. Tendrils of steam rise from her body.

    Laying limp on the ground, with its own eyes now closed, the wolf manages to speak. "I am yours now, necromancer."


    "Yours. To command as you see fit. You have shown your strength."

    "I want you to die!"

    Darksage manages to open its eyes and look into her own. "If you kill me, know that you will have to dominate another if you summon one of my brethren."

    "How do you know this?"

    "I know many things. I have told you before. I was bound by the Ossian Cult itself. You must know of them. You have their power. I have watched your home. I have felt it."

    Blades of grass snap as the dark wolf slowly climbs to his feet. "I listened to your prayer, and I know about the enemy you face. Call me, and we will face him together."

    There was no sign of aggression in his actions or in his words. Maybe she was being foolish, but she felt he could be trusted. That he spoke the truth, and would follow her lead. Maybe he can help.

    "Do you need to be healed?"

    "Now that I have a master again, I will heal much faster. I just need to rest." She thought she could actually feel him getting stronger. "Tonight you rest as well. Tomorrow we fight. You are a necromancer now. You are never alone."

    * * *​

    Next: Chapter XXI, August 15th
    (My timezone is PST, GMT -8)​

    Author's Note: And now I'm fully caught up to all the chapter's that I've written. The last time I posted this story here at the White Stagg Inn, I put up a new chapter every two weeks for Volume 1, and every 10 days for Volume 2. But I ran into writer's block and life got in the way. I stopped posting chapters, ending at Chapter XV. (The chapter with Darksage and ending with "What have I done? Stark isn't right is he?") What a terrible place to stop.

    It took fourteen months, before returning here, but the Volumes are back, and better thanks to the revisions, and the writer's block has been destroyed. I sincerely apologize to all the people who used to read this and were stuck at that chapter. I hope some of you are still around. And thank you to all the new people that have been reading the story as I've been updating it every day.

    The good news is that Volume 2 is guaranteed to end. The final chapter will be up in 5 days. I hope you've enjoyed the tale so far. Chapter XXI will be up on August 15th.
  22. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Chapter XXI

    You can't let him stop you, Mel. You can't let him win.

    Melfina stands in her deep blue silk dress. She wanted to feel somber, yet dignified.

    The West Luna Guard is fanned out before her. Stark, Bear, Stone, and Alan were stolid pillars in their full plate, with the rest more lightly armored, but still impressive. Dark green cloaks rest on their shoulders, clasped with the westward arrow dividing moon and gold that was Lord of West Luna's symbol.

    Lord Luna sits atop his nightmare as smoke puffs through its nostrils. The large white mound of fur on the ground was a recently tamed polar bear, ready for its master's commands.

    They look confident. They look ready. Stark had lined them up, and made a beautiful speech. She had seen them train, and their training had proved itself. A force of equal size would be no match.

    But it won't be equal.

    She and Stark still didn't talk much, but he was here. He was here ready to face the city that had saved him. The reasons for their distance seem stupid now. He was here and that was enough. They were all here for her.

    Melfina felt the bulk in her bag. Two books. The Tome of Lost Knowledge, and the other. She had bought it over a year ago. A nervous merchant had approached her at the bank. The slight desperation in his voice peaked her curiosity. He insisted they go to his room at the inn. That was a bit too suspicious for her, but she agreed to pay for her own room. She made him go in first and place the bed between them before she went in. Only after she had pre-cast paralyze did she let him open his bag.

    It was a necro book. A special necro book. The Ossian Grimoire.

    Just as rare as the Tome of Lost Knowledge, but with a much darker past. All necromancers come from Umbra now, but the Grimoire was the reason Umbra came to be.

    The Ossian Cult formed at the end of the golden age, when the nation of Britain ruled almost all of Sosaria. A new form of magic was discovered, and a race of discovery began. Before too long, several people rose to prominence and their followings grew.

    Ossian was the most vile. He conducted horrific experiments in the name of research. The Defenders of Light were the first to denounce his practices and the new magic as a whole, and eventually the Council of Mages agreed. Soon riots broke out, and then open war.

    Ossian seized control of all the unholy mages, now called necromancers, and Lord British was killed. The paladins fought to keep the world from falling apart entirely. The necromancers couldn't be eliminated, but they were contained within the borders of what is now Umbra.

    That's what history taught her when she was little, and she knew what the merchant held. He knew what it was as well, and it was forbidden. He sold it cheap, simply relieved to be rid of it. She understood. She took it home and didn't just place it in the locked chest beneath her bed, but underneath the floorboards it rested on.

    And that's where it stayed, until last night.

    Hidden as it was, Darksage could still sense it. Necromancy was no longer forbidden, and it was a powerful book in its own right, so it was time to come out. Just in case.

    Although a powerful book didn't make her better spellcaster. She could summon Darksage to her side, but she didn't think one wolf would make a difference. It was better to stick to the Tome and use energy bolts and flamestrikes or attempt an energy vortex. Using magery also wouldn't risk testing Stark's resolve about defending a necromancer.

    But the battle with Darksage had at least given her confidence. He had helped pull her out of despair. She was ready to face whatever came, and if it looked like there was no chance for Lord Luna and Stark to win, she would give up the Tome. She would choose to give it up to save their lives, and not lose it because she was forced to give in. It was a small difference, but it would have to be enough.

    A gateway materializes.

    This is it.

    The guards place hands on sword hilts. Edwin moves into position with arrows ready to nock. Lord Luna urges his nightmare forward, bow attached to his saddle.

    One by one the Luna Guard steps through, lining up opposite Stark and his guards. Forty of them! Eventually, two captains step through, followed by the high father and Aedilwulf himself, both in dazzling white.

    Stark drops to one knee. What are you doing! She missed the reaction of the other guards, but a close look at their faces shows no reaction. Maybe he prepared them for that.

    Lord Luna dismounts, and approaches the archduke and Wayland, with Stark following.

    "Good day to you," says Aedilwulf.

    "And you as well," replies Lord Luna.

    "You look well, Lord of West Luna. I believe you've met my son, Theowulf."

    Lord Luna turns. "Congratulations on making captain."

    "Thank you," replies Theowulf.

    "Now we have business to take care of," says Aedilwulf

    "I agree."

    "Your scribe has a valuable text that belongs to Luna. We will forgo any punishment, as long as she hands over the book."

    "The book is hers, bought with her own gold."

    "That is ridiculous. Can she provide proof? The name of the vendor who sold it perhaps?"

    "The vendors would not recognize it. The cover that wrapped it has since been destroyed."

    "Then there is no proof it is hers."

    "We have her word. It is enough."

    "No. It is enough to know there was only one copy," counters Aedilwulf.

    "A copy that was destroyed in the war."

    "Or merely damaged and obviously restored. We demand our property."


    "The Tome is not yours to demand."

    Wayland turns to face the paladin, "Stark, my son, it is time you returned to your rightful home. Retrieve the Tome so there need not be any bloodshed."

    "I cannot, Father."

    "And will you refuse an order from me as well?" asks Aedilwulf.

    "I will follow every order, your eminence. When they apply. This is a matter for the Guard, not the Order. The Book of Procedure requires I remain true to my duties as guard captain of West Luna."

    "Very well." Aedilwulf's focus returns to Lord Luna. "One last chance. Give us the book."

    "We will not. You are on my land, and here my laws apply. You will leave now or I will have you removed."

    "Very well, Lord of West Luna, you are harboring a criminal and all who defend her will be executed." Aedilwulf turns to go.


    Wayland speaks up, "Wait. Perhaps we can compromise."

    Lord Luna pauses. "Go on."

    "It is clear that neither side will convince the other with words. You want to believe in your... citizen... and we believe there was only one Tome of Lost Knowledge in existence."

    Lord Luna waits.

    "I propose a duel. This matter is between me and my former pupil. A duel to submission and not to the death. No one will have to die."

    "You are on my land. My rule is law. I canno-"

    "I accept!" yells Melfina. This is the best she could hope for.

    Lord Luna studies the scribe then says, "Very well. Agreed."

    "Agreed," says the archduke.

    The guards on both sides back away.

    She didn't think it would happen, but she prepared for this. She would teleport behind him first, and then cast flamestrike. He could cast spells faster than she could, so she needed to strike first, and strike hard with the Tome.

    "Stark, standby to heal," commands Lord Luna.

    Wayland holds out a scroll, and Theowulf steps forward. "He will cast the wall of stone." Wayland had prepared for this as well.

    Dark green cloaks stand opposite the white. The scribe and the Tome of Lost Knowledge against the high father with the Tome of Enlightenment.

    Theowulf uses the scroll, and a wall appears. It would last only a few moments, and then the duel would begin.

    Melfina pre-casts teleport. She couldn't see beyond the wall, but knew Wayland was pre-casting something as well.

    The wall vanishes, and so does she. Lightning strikes where she had stood. Melfina appears behind him and begins her flamestrike. Wayland begins his own.

    As long as she finishes first, he wouldn't be able to ignore the power of her spells at this distance. It would be close, but she knew she would make it. I win!

    "Kal vas flam!"

    Fire leaps from her hand as her mind readies the next spell. But instead of Wayland reeling from the blow, the fire reflects back onto Melfina. Wayland completes his own spell and she is thrown off her feet. Two energy bolts follow, then lightning, and the duel is over.

    She had lost.

    Wayland looks down on her. A touch of sadness in his eyes. "You weren't meant for this. It belongs with me."

    Wayland reaches for her Tome, but she teleports away.

    He follows.

    "Come now, Melfina. We had an agreement." She let's him take the Tome of Lost Knowledge from her hands.

    Magic reflection. He didn't have time to pre-cast both it and lightning from behind the wall. He had it cast before he stepped through the gateway.

    "I'm sorry you lost," says Stark as he heals her burns with his invocation.

    He outsmarted her. She had tried, and she had lost. At least she had the Grimoire. At least she had that. Darksage could help provide strength to her. It was over now, so it didn't matter who saw.

    "Kal xen bal."

    From within the cloud of smoke, Darksage howls.

    "She's attacking!" shouts Theowulf. He rushes forward, and the rest follow.

    "No!" Melfina's protests fall on deaf ears.

    Edwin and Lord Luna rain arrows on the approaching guards. The polar bear's attack holds a dozen men at bay. Bear leads the rest and swords clash.

    Somehow she messed things up again. There was nothing left to do but fight. She sets her sights on Theowulf, but Stark reaches him first.

    Swords ring out and Stark knocks Theowulf back. Stark moves to attack, but halts mid-step.

    "No!" One look confirms Wayland was responsible.

    Theowulf moves in to strike, but Darksage leaps to defend the paladin. The Luna captain manages to avoid the lunge.

    "In bal nox!" A noxious gas strikes Wayland and constricts his throat. Let's see you cast spells now!

    Darksage howls again. No, he was staring down Theowulf. The howl was from another wolf. Other wolves. She looks behind her and more than thirty wolves charge towards the battlefield.

    "Form up!" yells Theowulf.

    The Luna Guard regroups and the West Luna Guard does the same.

    The wolves line up with Darksage, walling Melfina away from her enemies, crouched and ready to strike.

    Aedilwulf looks from the high father, back to the wolves, then to the Grimoire in Melfina's hands. "A necromancer!"

    "We can still take them! They're just wolves!" replies his son.

    "No. Stand down."


    "No!" he commands. "You should have advised me better, Wayland."

    "I did not know," he gasps.

    "We're leaving."


    "Now! Leave the book Wayland. We will not risk breaking the truce."

    Theowulf charges despite his father's command, but the high father casts another paralyze, with Theowulf as the target. Wayland makes a gateway, and one by one the threat from Luna was no more.

    That's it? "What just happened?" asks Melfina. That can't be it.

    Lord Luna nods in understanding. "The Reunification is coming."

    * * *​


    Author's Note: After 26 months of originally posting Chapter I of Volume 2, the volume is finally completed.
  23. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest


    After 26 months of originally posting Chapter I of Volume 2, the volume is finally completed.

    --Volume 3

    First thing's first. I wasn't expecting to start outlining Volume 3 until after Volume 2 was finished, but the story had other plans, and I was finished with the basic outline for the whole volume in the first days of August. I have some good drafts for several chapters already.

    The plan is to put up a chapter every week once I begin. I hope to start Volume 3 on September 2nd. But I also want to ensure that once I begin, that there will be no extended breaks. I am going to see how many chapters that I can write before September 2nd, and if there are enough with very solid rough drafts, and some very solid outlines for most of the remaining chapters, with no obivous problems chapters, then I will start Volume 3. If not, I'll still post an update on the situation. So regardless if I begin Volume 3 or not on September 2nd, there will be some kind of update.


    Yes, unfortunately it's a cliffhanger ending. I was afraid it was going to happen, but I'm still decently satisfied with it. And I'm satisfied with it becuase I wrote myself into a corner when I decided to make the basic concept of the Volume be Melfina Studies Necromancy and Aedilwulf Wants the Tome Back (and Stark Trains Recruits), while having no idea how I was going to connect the two scenarios. My outline simply had the last chapter being "Stand off between Luna and West Luna, necromancy is somehow involved." The problem with writing into the outline "A genius plan is figured out" is that you have to figure out the genius plan. Luckily that worked fine for me in Volume 1, but definitely not this time.


    This project is part of uothief.com. Website of THIEF, and created by my brother Chad Sexington. The website began after Chad wanted to upgrade from posting his stories on his forum to making a full blown website. At that time, his idea was to have all sorts of UO related projects, which included a webcomic called "No Pots, No Specials", and a series of journal entries of an assassin "The Memoirs of Ninja Bob". (Both projects now postponed indefintely.) Chad knew I had an interest in writing, and so he asked to write a story for his website.

    His projects were based around his thief, a pk, and a pvper. So I thought it perfect that my main playable character was a crafter. Another idea of the website was that all the projects were going to be linked, and all take place in the same world. So if you want to see where the whole concept of the Dungeon Slaughterer came about, you might want to check out "Undeniably Sexy: A Thief's Tale", which is a game made with RPG maker.

    Eventually Chad Sexington became well known enough, and the website became big enough, that the main page could focus solely on thief related issues. By as long as I have the time to write The Magic Arts, there will continue to be updates, because I want to get to the ideas that I have for Volume 8.


    If you want to see a lot of commentary, on the website, I have commentary on every chapter, and commentary on the volumes as a whole. There is also some other stuff, like what I've figured out about my writing process, a glossary to Volume 1, as well as other things. I didn't mention it before, because I wanted to make sure no one read ahead as I was still revising chapters.


    For those of you that would rather not go to a seperate website...

    Chapter 219 (The Recruits Stop a Theft) was the most difficult chapter to write, and the main reason that I ran into writer's block. In general the Stark chapters are harder to write, because his chapters are a lot more flexible. Stark was designed as a reactionary character to Melfina. Stark was designed to add in some of the typical fantasy flavor to the story, while Melfina inspired the story. And so Stark's planned outline for the volume ended up changing pretty dramatically by the time the volume ended. The chapter was originally outlined to be "Stark chooses lieutenant", but I eventually realized that wasn't enough. In the end I crammed a lot more into the chapter to make it worthy of being the third to last chapter, the final Stark PoV chapter, and the last chapter in the Recruits arc, and it is now one of my favorite chapters of the Volume.

    Speaking of Chapter 219, I originally envisioned the conclusion to the Conflicted Stark arc to be in the final chapter, where Melfina is watching Stark and seeing which side he's going to choose. In the end, I realized that would have been too cheesy, and too predictable, and Chapter 221 already had too much that needed to be in it. And so instead we get Stark realizing it on his own, rather than having to succomb to pressure at the last second. It works much, much better that way.

    Speaking of bad ideas, I originally envisioned the ending to simply be the stand off between Lord Luna and Aedilwulf. I did so because I was seeing how the volume fit in the overall story of all eight volumes, and wasn't looking at it as a stand alone story that needed a satisfying conclusion. I'm glad I realized that in time, and I'm glad I had six chapters to work with after I decided to come back, so I could fix that problem.

    Another chapter that I like a lot is Chapter 211 (Dinner with Stark, Melfina, and Gwen). The chapter went on a lot longer than I expected, and I didn't originally plan to reveal that much of Melfina's and Stark's past. Revealing the part about Stark was necessary because I knew that I wrote too many Stark PoV chapters that were really more about Melfina, and that chapter was looking to follow the same pattern, and so by closing the chapter with those revelations about Stark, he was able to reclaim it as his own.

    How chapter 220 (Melfina Prays to Her Parents & Darksage 3) changed dramatically because of my notes. For most of the volume, including when I came back and was already writing the newer chapters, I had thought it was going to "Melfina Challenges Darksage". But right when I started writing the first draft, I noticed in my notes that I wrote "Melfina Challenges Darksage OR Melfina mourns her parents". I'm pretty sure I wrote that as an afterthought, but when I read it now, it felt like a perfect way to take the chapter. I didn't have a plan for Melfina to challenge Darksage, and then come out with necromancy spells blazing in the final chapter. Only after revising Volume 1 did I see how it is kind of similar to Melfina's breakdown after failing to make enough money, but I hope that it feels different, and not a rehash of what's already been done.

    --Random Notes

    Speaking of patterns. The tagline for Volume 1, "West of the City of Light..." just by complete coincidence had the first letter of each line be WWL, which happens to be the first letters of Welcome to West Luna. And so because of that, the taglines for each Volume now all have that same pattern. (Ever seeking knowledge, wisdom, and understanding" is paired with "Enlightenment")

    Let's just say there are a lot more patterns floating around. One which should be pretty apparent once you see the title to Volume 3, if you can't see the pattern already.

    There are nine West Luna guards. Bear and the others. Warren, Edwin, Stone, Tulip, Loren, Ulloa, Nathan, and Alan. It very conveniently spells West Luna.

    --Melfina is thinking about the Grimoire in Chapter I of Volume 1, when she's going shopping and tries to remind herself while it's worth it to make these trips to Luna. I was originally going to just have the Grimoire in the chest, but then realized there is no way it would be in such an obvious place. But because she's so paranoid, even when she thinks of where the Grimoire is, she doesn't actually think of the actual location, so it still makes sense that she thinks of the chest.

    --What did I learn?

    I learned how to make a better outline from this whole experience. I need to make sure each chapter has a clear purpose in the volume rather than just to illustrate some event. Writing chapter 210 (Reagent Helps Melfina While Reg Shopping) made that pretty clear. That chapter might have been ok if it was chapter 205-207, but 210 is at the halfway point, and that chapter needs to advance to plot more than it did.

    The revisions also taught me that I usually don't like the words "suddenly" and "immediately". They're long works to read, and they have the exact opposite effect of what I intended. It's better to just delete the word and get straight to it.


    Next: Volume 3 - Tentative date September 2nd
    (My timezone is PST, GMT -8)

    Sometimes the things that are free,
    Truly cost us the most in the end.

    Shades of Truth


    Please feel free to leave comments. Which character do you like the best? What was your favorite chapter? Does everything make sense? What chapter do you least like? Which volume do you like better? Are any of you readers from back before the horribly long break and actually got to finally see the ending? or [Insert question here].