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The Magic Arts (& Crafts) - Vol 2 - Enlightenment - Ch XVI - Slightly longer delay

Discussion in 'UO White Stag Inn' started by Gerorne, Jun 3, 2007.

  1. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Ever seeking knowledge, wisdom, and understanding.</center>
    <center>[​IMG]</center> <center>New chapters be posted on the 7th, 17th, and 27th
    (for now) of every month *crosses fingers*</center>

    <center>Comments:
    Feel free to leave any and all comments, critiques, and speculations in
    The Magic Arts (&amp; Crafts) Discussion forum at uothief.com,
    through private message, or after the final chapter has been posted.</center>

    Through her own innovations and insipiration, 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 (&amp; Crafts)

    -Gerome

    <center>
    Volume 1 - Welcome to West Luna
    <u>Volume 2 - Enlightenment</u>
    </center>


    <center>The Magic Arts (&amp; Crafts)
    No Pots, No Specials
    The Memoirs of Ninja Bob
    Undeniably Sexy: A Thief's Tale
    The Mis-Adventures of Chad Sexington
    uothief.com: The Card Game</center>

    <center>uothief.com </center>


    (Author's note: I just did a re-read through Volume 1, and while I thought I was just going to do some quick tweaks to each chapter to make them sound better, there wasn't a single chapter that didn't have a misspelled or misplaced word, or grammatical error. If you notice anything that's obviously wrong, in any chapter that you're reading, and it's bugging you. Feel free to let me know. It bugs me too. Probably bugs me more. I can't believe those have been up there this whole time.)
     
  2. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter I</center>

    "Drop that pen right now Melfina!" yells Cadence from the entrance with her favorite flute tucked in its case under her arm. "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!" she says as she walks over to grab 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 money does! You can get an assistant who can take care of all the menial tasks while you take time off to go on vacation. Go travel the world! Relax on some beach! 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?"

    "Well..."

    Footsteps interrupt their conversation. Stark walks in with sword on hip, head held high, and the bard's disposition instantly changes.

    "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.

    Stark replies, "The latest proclamation by the Archduke. 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.

    "Yes."

    Umbra, thinks the scribe.

    The paladin shakes his head, while seeming to spout of every thought as it enters his head, talking to no one in particular. "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 on top of 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."

    "What? 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. Not much chatter like there is in 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 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. I saw you starting to get excited about the idea. 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! Too many books about Umbra have been banned for too long. Too many restrictions when it comes to writing about it. 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'm sure it'll sell. And more importantly, I'm sure it'll be read. Everyone is curious about the city, but so many of them have the same fears and misconceptions as your guard captain, and will never take the trip. But they will definitely let someone else do it 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 knows the scribe it off on her own world now and says bye to her friend knowing that it won't be noticed. Before Melfina loses her thoughts she grabs her notebook picks up a pen.

    <center>* * *</center>

    <center> [​IMG] </center>
     
  3. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>
    Chapter II
    </center>

    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. Not due to fear for her safety, but because Stark would become suspicious if no light shown through her windows after dark. And tonight would be a dark. The shadow moon would fill the sky this night.

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

    One step, and she'd be there.

    Umbra.

    Yet as much as she wants to, she hesitates. The stories always sounded like stories. Exaggerations. Yet she didn't fully disbelieve them either.

    She takes a deep breath and concentrates on the quiet hum of the moongate to calm down.

    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 created by accident. An experienced mage cast the gateway spell to make a normal trip. But when he stepped through, he ended up on a deserted island. Not at all the destination he was expecting.

    He returned to where he left to understand out what went wrong, only to find his gateway still standing.

    He stepped through and appeared in a swamp. Again and again he returned, by himself at first, later with others, and it stood constant while sending the curious to various locations.

    Word of the occurence reached the ancient city of Wind. The Council of Mages sent Researchers 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.

    Mages were sent across the land forming gateways one pace after another. After some time, the second was found, and soon followed a flood of mages who joined the search. One after another they were discovered nearby major cities, then towns, villages, and then the middle of nowhere as the search fanned further and further from populated areas. 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:

    <blockquote><hr>



    The city is bleak and lifeless. Everything is made of the same charcoal colored stone, both the buildings and the roads, with touches of red here and there. The roads are randomly arranged. Trees grow throughout the city, yet are only an imitation of life as they remain leafless despite the fact that spring has already arrived.



    [/ QUOTE ]

    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 of life.

    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."

    "Yes?"

    "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 immediately 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 same blacksmith as before.

    "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 says 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 color scheme as the smithy, including the dress code, 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.

    Necromancy!

    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, but it was the familiar smell of magical reagents that reminded her of home.

    Deamon's blood! exclaims Melfina to herself as she looks over the reagents, new ones placed along side typical reagents used for magery. How do they even collect it?

    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.

    <center>* * *</center>
    My Lord,

    Due to the proclamation of Reunification and a trend in an increase in crime I wish to submit a request for the hiring of additional guards for West Luna. If approved, I would handle the selection and training, with these initial candidates to already have practical skills so they can begin immediately.

    Stark, Guard Captain of West Luna
     
  4. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter III</center>

    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 with disbelief.

    "What are you trying to say."

    "You're a bad liar," he says instantly.

    "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 be 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."

    "Why!"

    "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.

    "Father."

    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!" Stark says.

    He raises his hand again, this time apologetically. "Do what you want with your collection. You run a business thought. 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."

    The paladin is appalled at what's happening, but it's obvious he doesn't know the history between the two. The time isn't right to ask the right questions, but perhaps he could offer them 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 cabinet of rare books, and spreads them out on the desk.

    "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 and didn't add anything worthwhile to his collection, 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 concedes.

    "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."

    <center>* * *</center>
    To: Stark, Guard Captain

    I have read your request. Write up a full proposal for training and deployment. Leave housing and equipment to me. I expect to get my money's worth.

    Lord of West Luna
     
  5. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter IV</center>

    Various pens and paper scatter the desk, and pitcher of water lies within arms reach. The comforting blanket of silence embraces the scribe as she continues to write.

    <blockquote><hr>



    Much like how two fonts can have vastly different looks yet use the same basic letters, magery and necromancy seem different at first glance yet have the same basic core.



    [/ QUOTE ]

    Stop thinking like a scribe Mel! How about… She considers alternatives for a few minutes then give her head a little shake. Move on!

    <blockquote><hr>



    Magery is an ancient discipline that not only has been refined throughout the ages, but has also been in the public eye. So much so that learning the lower circles of magic has become a recurring fad amongst teenagers and young adults despite its relatively complex nature.

    Typical spells are made with reagents, which can be obtained at any magic or alchemy shop, and mana, which is provided by one’s own body. To assemble these materials into a spell requires the proper words of power to be spoken while making specific hand motions. Mana from throughout the body is focused according to the needs of the spell, which is most easily done when holding onto a mana focus, which is typically a spellbook.

    Surprisingly, nothing is any different when it comes to necromancy.

    Necromancy uses bat wing, grave dust, nox crystal, pig iron, and daemon's blood. Yes, daemon’s blood. Necromancy reagents seem to originate from the animal world, unlike the reagents used in magery, such as mandrake root and garlic, which stem from the plant world.



    [/ QUOTE ]

    Why do alchemists and mages share the same reagents, but use none of the necromancy regs? I’ll ask Michael… maybe.

    <blockquote><hr>



    These five reagents form twenty-one necromancy spells while magery uses eight reagents to form sixty-four spells. Eight circles of eight. (note: Does necromancy have some similar magic number? Perhaps the craft hasn’t be studied as extensively. Has the secretive nature of the necromancers stunted the growth and expansion of the craft as a whole? Or is this just one of the flourishes that distinguishes one from the other?)

    The words of power used by each discipline are the same. They originate from the native language of Wind, the birthplace of magic. Oddly, there is no mention of necromancy in any documents or books associated with Wind. This language and no other can be used. Translations do not work.



    [/ QUOTE ]

    Assuming the same applies to necromancy. Who can I ask to confirm this?

    <blockquote><hr>


    The reason why has never been answered. Many mages just leave the answer to a higher power. That is it the favored language of one god or another, and that specific god grants them access to spell casting. I disagree. Magic, magery specifically, is too precise. We know all the pieces and how they fit together. For the most part, anyone can perform it and reproduce nearly the same results. Not knowing why doesn’t automatically mean the answer is a god. It just means the answer is yet to be found.

    The hand motions vary in complexity and precision in both disciplines, with each very distinct. Necromancy requires harsh angles and lines, which tend to form triangular shapes, while magery requires much softer motions to form circular shapes. This clearly identifies the two as separate diciplines. One is not a sub-discipline of the other. There is no unifying theory of magic that ancient scholars theorized about.



    [/ QUOTE ]

    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, but is that the only reason? Or is the disorder of the book a reflection of the disorder of the discipline?

    <blockquote><hr>



    Magery is naturally organized. Eight reagents, and eight circles of eight spells each. Each spell in any specific circle uses the same amount of mana, and has about the same level of complexity and precision required to the hand motions. The higher level of the circle, the more complex the hand motions and the greater precision required, as well as the more mana consumed, and typically on average the more reagents needed.

    Necromancy has no such structure. The spells cannot be organized in any obvious way. One spell may require a high level of precision, but have a fairly simple hand motion. Another spell may be very complex, but require only a little mana. No two spells share the same two characteristics.

    The exception to this rule is a class of spells called familiars, which are apparently a type of persistent summoning spell. The spells are identical in almost every way, including the reagents used, except for a small tweak at the end which requires varying levels of precision. These spells are unusual in another way. They require an extra ingredient which has no corollary in magery. They rely on the casters talent in spirit speaking. Each familiar requires a varying level of proficiency in this separate craft.



    [/ QUOTE ]

    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 it’s 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.

    <center>* * *</center>

    <center>[​IMG]<center>
     
  6. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter V</center>

    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 through the moongate presented to her a surprise. An Umbra full of life. It wasn't the vibrant life of Luna. It was more subdued, but it’s heart was beating.

    People actually walked the streets, on some errand or the other. 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 it’s odd appearance. Long tables and benches, much like any other tavern, with people filling the seats, a good portion of them obviously not from Umbra.

    A low hum of conversation swirled around her, with laughter here and there, and a man dressed in a plain long sleeved shirt which was 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 need 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 it’s 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 Supreme 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, while Trent never pauses for breath, spouting out a random fact every step of the way towards the mountainside where the tower known as the Altar of Divination was carved into.

    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 pursue whatever they desire and are free to express themselves in any way they wish and perform research into whatever they desire."

    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 all each member to pursue his own individual goals while keeping a united front against any outside threat. With interference into one another’s work resulting 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 monument to the Occlusion Pact was a made of three pillars arranged in a triangle with a much shorter pillar in the center with a glass case on top of it. The bordering pillars have triangular bases, that rise up twice that of Melfina's height, and narrow to a point at the top. The pillars are encircled by a ring of red moss, and the stone circular pillar in the center, carries a copy of the original pact, which 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, nor did she hear him as he pulled out a short rope from within his pockets.

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

    She turned around and saw the familiar red-haired face of Draven approaching.

    "Draven! Look at this! Have you heard of the Occlusion Pact? If Luna ever had any monument of historical significance, besides the paladin's church I suppose, it's been demolished and built over long ago."

    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."

    "Years?"

    "I've owned a museum outside this city almost as long as I've owned the Museum of One Thousand Wonders! 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."

    Draven responds with a smile that she’s never seen on him before. "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 look at 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.”

    "Yes. I heard about that,” the tourguide said.

    "It would be a shame to create an incident 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."

    <center>* * *</center>

    Cadence dropped by to tell me that interest was high, and that she's narrowed the candidates down to 20 potential guards according to my own needs, and the advice of Lord Luna. The recruits will arrive on time. We'll see if I've planned this well.
     
  7. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter VI</center>

    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 all the potential guards talks in lower whispers 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. He could parry the swings of the war axe without too much effort, or dodge them altogether. He also paced himself, and was cautious enough to try to wait for the right moment.

    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 is 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. This time the war axe raised, but didn't drop. The big man charged with his shield instead. Good. He's adjusting. 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 now they've all seen that he is at least better than them when it comes to skill at arms.

    "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 look beyond West Luna's boundaries for potential threats. The 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 catered to make all of their mouths water.

    "Let's eat."

    The cloud of competition dissipated disappeared, 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. An ex-bodyguard who's previous employer recently died of old age named Loren, and a tracker named Warren.

    Stark didn't catch the names of the others, but they all seemed to get along well. They would need to. The one in the back didn't talk much, but he wasn't rude, just quiet. The oldest one was the only one of the bunch who had been an actual city guard. He was away from Trinsic when the plague hit. It was under quarantine but learned his wife and killed and he had nothing to go back to. He couldn't seek revenge against disease, so he needed work to fill his mind. Stark understood.

    As 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. Lord Luna did not ask to be saluted, but he stood.

    "Report."

    "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 picks up basket of eggs and grins.

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

    <center>* * *</center>

    Things are going well. The limitations of West Luna force me to adapt the techniques used in my own training, and come up with my own. I can do this.
     
  8. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter VII</center>

    Nothing happens.

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

    "Anh mi sah ko," she chants.

    Again. Nothing.

    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 continued repeating the motions and saying the words as she walked 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 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 that day. He would assemble or break down a pile of rocks, or move some fallen branches, or make other changes to the surroundings after the recruits passed by. If they didn't notice the changes on their returned, 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? But she didn't sense any resonance in the book, and the vendor assured her that was all she needed. The spell used mana at least, but it reaches out for the lingering mana in a dead body that was still… fresh. The spell only used the mana produced by the caster if no lingering mana was within reach.

    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 a whole dicipline was based off of this one spell. It would heal the body and summon the spirts 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. She didn't get nothing as expected.

    The translucent shape of a man faded into view, fully formed, but lacked any color was only a sickly white.

    "OooOOo…llllp me! Help me!" it said as it frantically flailed its arms. Her slight jump mid-step encouraged 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 looks as if it was frozen mid-fall, held up by the bush beneath, eyes wide with fright. A knife sticks menacingly from his 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 you 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..."

    He voice faded away and then he disappeared.

    Melfina pauses a moment as she stares at his body. She then reaches into his pockets and finds the key and sits down and leans against a nearby tree to write down the notes on the whole experience. No point in hurrying now. She couldn’t do anything more.

    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.

    A physical transformation! Not an illusion! Why would I want to tranform my body into that!

    She drops the book on the ground, disappointed that it has let her down. When she looks down at it, she sees that 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.

    <center>* * *

    The Great Storehouse

    No storage limit!
    Keep as much or as little as you like!
    No banksitters! No beggars!
    Absolutely private and secure!</center>
     
  9. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter VIII</center>

    Take two breaths and get up Melfina!

    Inhale.

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

    Exhale.

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

    Inhale.

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

    Exhale.

    Run!

    Melfina gets up and pushes off against the tree to help her get started. But then she remembers her books on the ground. She snatches them up, and her curiosity and fear take over and she can't help but turn around.

    As tall as her waist, it was covered in blue scales. Sinister eyes locked with hers. It stood on two stubby legs and its hands were attached to two stubby arms and had sharp claws that looked ready to dig deep into her flesh. Its hunched back made it look ready to pounce. Its head flowed straight from that hunch with no apparent neck, and sharp teeth shown 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 turns her head to look again but then an intense pain flares up in her shin, and she falls. The adrenaline racing through her veins keeps her alert, and she tries to instantly get back to her feet, but she can't.

    She's been paralyzed.

    She tries her hardest to move, all the while anticipating the first slice of pain to cut into her back, as she helplessly stares at the patch of grass in front of her.

    It expels a loud grunt of dominance, and then a rhythmic screeching noise pierces the air and twists her stomach in knots. Her mental struggle to move intensifies.

    Come on! she yells inside her head as she feels her arm twitch.

    The noise changes to a soft ripping as she feels the paralysis wearing off. 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 noises have stopped.

    She turns around, and sees it standing there amongst the remains of a crystal elemental. The monsters claws and teeth drip with blood as it just stands there and 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 and scans the ground. Melfina see 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 instinctively.

    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. As she picks up the book of necromany, it hits her. She flips it open, scans the page, and walks back to the creature.

    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&amp;#8230; stay&amp;#8230;" she repeats as she forces herself to walk closer to it, and pat it on the head. She doesn&amp;#8217;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 does the banishment spell. Nothing happens. She tries again, but it still just stands there and stares.

    I can't just leave it here. What if 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 thumbs the cut fabric.

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

    Looking upon the remains makes her thoughts drift to Forrester's body, and the key he 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 had originally heard her coming. 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 pieces away and eat it piece by piece.

    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, empty all 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.

    She starts a small laugh as some of the tension leaves her shoulders. Her laughter quickly and uncontrollably builds until she has trouble breathing. She laughs at the whole situation. She laughs at herself. She was frightened by her own spell, and ran straight towards what she thought she was avoiding. And it had actually run from her and only paralyzed her after she tripped over it.

    After a few moments, her laughter changes to wheezing, then stops altogether. She takes a couple deep breaths, then recalls home.

    <center>* * *</center>

    Dear Diary,

    It protected me. I think it protected me. Unless it just kills whatever's in sight that isn't me. I'll have to test that out. That means I'll have to summon the horde minion again. I've already done it once. Casting a necromancy spell a second time can't be much worse since I've already done it.
     
  10. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    Author's Note: Sorry for the long delay! The next several chapters will be up on time. We'll just see where it goes from there. And since this is there. Don't forget to take a look at uothief.com. Plus if you didn't know, clicking on the chapter number at the top of each chapter takes you to the chapter commentary for that chapter. Well... that's it. Enjoy!

    <center>* * *</center>

    <center>Chapter IX</center>

    Once again.

    Stark watches as this second wave of potential guards pair up and walk out the door. The warm scent of darksage tea stimulates his thoughts as he rolls them through his mind one at a time. Cadence had a good eye, and it would be hard narrowing his choices to fill out his remaining four open slots for West Luna's Guard.

    He's only known them for a few hours, so he didn't know them. A day wasn't long enough to get to know them. 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 ****y, but he did have the skills. And everyone seemed to like him. If done well, guarding West Luna would show little action. Many people who attempted to be guards eventually became bored and lost interest. As the initial euphoria of being selected wore off, it would be beneficial to have Guards who would boost morale as he himself would not be able to. He would be good, as long as his brashness didn't lead to recklessness.

    The door opens, thoughts scatter, and Edwin enters. Stark stares, and Edwin shuts his mouth before saying a word. He turns around and walks back outside.

    There's a loud one. Well... opinionated One that had already made it through. He also had a temper when it came to his size. He was also 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 as soon, and acted as if they were brothers, despite Alan having almost Stone's size.

    Stark looked at the doorway and wondered if any of the other Guards were going to walk through. They were all so eager to be a part of choosing who would be joining them. Something Stark couldn't allow.

    These new potentials to the Guard, and the five already chosen, needed to be on equal footing amongst 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 participated in the selection, it would only widen the gap.

    All of them asked to help in the choosing, except for Bear. He never asked to be a part of the choosing. Not even a hint. It wasn't a lack of interest through uncaring or grief from the loss of his family to the plague. It was just simple trust in 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 finished his tea, got up, and stepped outside. He closed his eyes and listened for his Guards, and for the potential recruits. He heard nothing.

    Good.

    They were patroling the surrounding area.

    The comforting sounds of a gentle spring day were interrupted by the sound of someone recalling in. Stark moved. The potentials still needed time to learn the surrounding area, so he had time to see to this.

    A few more steps brought the white robes of the High Father into view. Stark quickened 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, and the High Father does so.

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

    "Very good father. The final selection for the initial West Luna Guard will be finalized 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 remained silent.

    "Nothing to say?"

    Stark still said nothing.

    The High Father nods. "You're a good man. You still won't speak up against your former captain despite disagreeing with his decision. Because he was within his rights to do what he did."

    "You're a good man. And were an excellent guard. I asked about you."

    "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, sir," Stark managed to say. The shame he didn't even know he felt was lifted. "But I made my promise to Lord Luna. I'm needed here."

    The High Father looked at him for a few seconds and then said, "Very well."

    The pair appear in the library, and Stark clears his throat 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.

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

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

    Melfina was always in a bad mood whenever the High Father was around, or even mentioned, and Stark still didn't know why, 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, and shocking Stark with the way she snatches the books away from the High Father. "I said wait here."


    No one ever treated the High Father this way, yet he showed little reaction.

    The High Father leans as if he is about to take another step as soon as Melfina turns around, but she stands and stares back until she's sure he won't follow. Only then does she retrieve the book.

    "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. Yet you won't let me near your cabinet. Not before. And not now."

    They two stare at each other for a brief moment.

    "You're hiding something."

    <center>* * *</center>

    She looked at me as if I was supposed to do something. What that was, I have no idea.
     
  11. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter X</center>

    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 back and forth to all the major magic shops that have a working system to collecting magical reagents in the wild. That required a work force that no small business could afford. So for everyone else, buying reagents in bulk from the 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 have to all buy it at the same time. At 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 doesn't have to restock every single month. She doesn't sell that many scrolls and spellbooks. But when she does get low, restocking is a day long event. The limiting factor is how much she can 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. If they even know the recall spell themselves, I wouldn't even have to go along with them, and they could travel back and forth themselves. 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 and prepares to continue the process once again.

    Well... time for a hundred more trips.

    She stops mid-spell as her mouth waters at the sight of the water pitcher on the counter.

    As she sips from her glass, she pulls out the book of necromancy and starts flipping through it. She sees the pages without really reading them. A word or two or small drawing is all it takes to refresh her memory of what's on it.

    Then she stops.

    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 with what she's about to do, but she's already set.

    Why not?

    She looks over her shoulder, suddenly afraid that Stark is in the room. 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 nearby at the moment, 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 says, 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 only after snapping her fingers a few times.

    "Stay."

    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 it's 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.

    Stupid.

    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 casting recall so the horde minion can join her.

    "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 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 so 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, to make into quills, and a note.

    Sorry! He can't even wait to 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. "Empty everything!"

    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.

    <center>* * *</center>

    Here's the stuff you wanted. Can't stay. You owe me. Bye!

    Gamblor
     
  12. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter XI</center>

    "Pour me another if you would."

    Stark gladly does so watches as Gwendalyne closes her eyes as she enjoys 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 and some asparagus and potatoes. The dollop of honey dripping on to his biscuits makes his mouth water. Honey wasn't something he had the luxury of as a child, and he wasn't about to pass it up now.

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

    Gwendalyne 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," Gwendalyne insists. "You know who is actually a great cook? Cadence."

    "Oh?"

    "I know. With all the time she spends traveling, I didn't think she would have time for cooking. It turns out though, she likes to help the cooks prepare her food, in whatever way they'll let her. Which of course ends with her getting an extra large helping of whatever was made because of that tongue of hers."

    "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 Gwendalyne.

    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 talking about 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. Some work they produced themselves, other goods were attained through bargain hunting, and some of the space was rented out to other crafters at fair prices. 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."

    "When I turned ten, my parents paid for my apprenticeship with the holy mages, as my birthday present."

    On hearing that, Stark sits up.

    Melfina rolls her eyes. "To become a scribe not a holy mage! My parent's shop was where I belonged. Well, 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 he got closer and closer to finishing with all he could teach me of inscription and the like, 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.

    "My parents stood by my decision. After Wayland saw that I wouldn't budge, he tried going directly to them. He came by more than once. 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! We started getting fined for the most ridiculous of infractions as well."

    "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.

    With Melfina blinking away tears, so Gwendolyne held her friend 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 Gwendalyne looks up and decides to speak. "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.

    "What?"

    "I never got 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 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."

    <center>* * *</center>

    Don't let Mel know I told you. But I think she's gotten the attention of the High Father. Just something to be aware of. Hope you had fun at Lord Brighton's! There's some leftover ham if you want.

    Love,
    Gwen
     
  13. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter XII</center>

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

    Melfina feels the right mana loss, and the scent of vaporized grave dust and pig iron wafts into her nostrils. Both were typical characteristics of magery spells, but there was also... something else.

    Another ant chosen among the scurrying ants and another ant steps its last step.

    And there it was again. An additional sensation. And it wasn't particular to this specific necromancy spell. She had managed to eventually cast wither earlier in the day, and while all the foliage nearby died to the cold blast, it was the same feeling that she felt now that accompanied it. It wasn't unpleasant... just different.

    Wither was impressive, but it was too mana intensive. The goal was to take as few breaks as possible. Pain spike uses the least amount of mana, so pain spike it was.

    Again and again she casts the spell, allowing the sensation to run through her before beginning anew. If she didn't figure it out soon, she might not figure it out at all. It was getting weaker.

    Crawling on the hem of her dress was her next target. It's too bad that they can't survive the initial impact. I could at least see for myself if the pain subsides somewhat after several seconds, she thinks as she brushes it off.

    Not ready to give up, she gives it another try. Or at least attempts to, but nothing happens. Not even crackle of a spell fizzling. That, too, was the same among both magery and necromancy spells.

    Oh, she thinks as she makes a note in her book.

    A check of her pouch tells her why the spell failed.

    "Reagent!"

    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 clears away the disappointment that had been building up inside the scribe.

    She had only brought him along to carry extra reagents, but it only made sense to let him roam free to do what he does. He didn't pick up a lot, but it cost her nothing.

    "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, which would lead lost travelers to their deaths for trespassing into their domain.

    But that was 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 many areas of necromancy fall under similar misconceptions.

    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 in taming one.

    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.

    But 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. The scribe fully calms when Reagent loses interest.

    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.

    Oh! I forgot about you guys! Luckily, the spell seems to have had no effect on her familiars. Good to know, but I'll have to test it.

    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 the similar results. The vampire bat spell gives her the same.

    I'm going to get one of you!

    She alternates between all three spells, determined to summon one more familiar before the day ends.

    Wolf, adder, bat, wolf, adder-

    The howl of the horde minion interrupts her flow, a seeming echo of her frustration, just as the wisp gives her a gift of 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. The fizzling of her spell is the only result.

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

    She moves her hands, speaks the words, and-

    Success!

    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. It stands 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 as if she never meant 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.

    <center>* * *</center>

    Dear Diary,

    ... As for familiars, I'll stick with Reagent and the wisp. I'm not ready to handle the rest. I shouldn't even write this down, but when I unsummoned the dark wolf, I thought I heard the words, "I will return."
     
  14. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter XIII</center>

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

    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. 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 the 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 of it.

    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.

    "Boo!"

    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!"

    "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..." Gamblor looks up, waving his finger as if writing in the air, "I'm still up by twenty-five!" He 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 edge, preparing spells to cast. A wall of stone appears between the pair of thieves and his guards, forcing the three to run around it.

    As his guards round the walls edge, it dissolves, revealing the pulsing light of a gateway behind. The gateway vanishes as well, just as Nathan reaches it.

    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.

    <center>* * *</center>

    Subject: Vilations of Property - Break-in and Theft
    Targets: House of Poison and The Magic Arts and Crafts

    A guild of at least six struck at West Luna. Five confirmed spotted. One was a diversion and lookout. Two broke-into the House of Poison (Damage and loss: MINOR). Two assisted in the escape. The final member(s) targeted The Magic Arts and Crafts. Master Crafter Melfina's rare books cabinet was broken into, however nothing seems to have been taken.
     
  15. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter XIV</center>

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

    It didn't make sense.

    Wasn't I supposed to do something? she thinks as she stares at the ceiling.

    She tries, but cannot form a solid thought.

    I should get up.

    Still staring, she reaches over to her night stand, feeling for her hairbrush. Her fingers close around the empty air.

    She sits up, looks over, and finds her brush really isn't there.

    I always put it there.

    She gets out of bed, searches the floor, underneath the bed, everywhere, but her search ends in frustration.

    Whatever! I don't need a stupid brush!

    She gets dressed and heads downstairs, then lays blank scrolls, reagents, pens, and inks on to her usual work desk.

    Can't forget my water.

    She grabs her pitcher and fills it with water crystals. She takes the tuning fork and gives it a quick rap on the desk. When it touches the crystals, they liquefy in an instant. She takes s sip and feel the coolness trickle down her throat into her stomach.

    Why don't I feel hungry?

    She walks over to the food cabinet, scolding herself for storing food in the same area as the books and scrolls. She shouldn't keep food here in the library, she certainly wouldn't want anyone else eating in this room, but she didn't really have anywhere else to keep it.

    Maybe I should remodel the top floor. Expand it.

    She opens the cabinet, and finds it empty. Empty of bread. Empty of nuts. Empty of dried fruits. Empty of everything.

    Wha-

    Before the thought is completes, glass shatters behind her.

    Fear fills her. Fear of water damage to her scrolls rather than how the pitcher could have broken.

    She turns. There was no spill. There was no pitcher. There were no supplies.

    She scans the room.

    Someone's here. Someone has to be.

    A blur crosses her vision.

    The chairs are gone.

    Another blur.

    The books are gone.

    And another.

    The shelves are gone.

    What's happening!

    Her head sweeps right, and it's as if her gaze erases the room. As quickly as something enters her vision, it fades away to nothingness.

    Panic takes hold. And she has no where to go. All that is left is a small circular platform of wooden planks, floating in a sea of white.

    My store!

    She opens her mouth to scream...

    <center>* * *</center>

    ...and wakes up.

    The dream quickly fades, but the fear remains. She sinks herself deeper into the warmth of her blankets, looking for safety and comfort for a danger that doesn't exist.

    Why am I so tired?

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

    Someone broke into her house. Someone broke into her cabinet.

    She bolts upright, and jumps out of bed.

    She pulls out the chest from beneath her bed, and checks to see her books still there. Even after moving them last night to keep them safe, she would lie in bed for only a few minutes, then have to get up to make sure her books here still safely tucked away.

    It didn't make sense.

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

    She closes the lid, and considers casting magic trap on the chest, but decides against it once again. The tiny explosion, should someone trigger the trap, shouldn't damage the books, but she was too paranoid to risk it right now.

    They made it. They were inside. No one was around. They broke open the cabinet... and they took nothing!

    She checked everything else she could possibly think of. Everything was still there. Not even a single reagent was taken. The only evidence of intruders was the broken cabinet.

    It didn't make sense.

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

    The fear and confusion built up inside her. She checked to make sure her books were safe one more time, yet somehow seeing them all there made her angry.

    It has to make sense!

    She needs a release.

    The book of necromancy. Pain spike, strangle, and poison strike seem a lot more attractive than they had these previous weeks.

    She picks up supplies, walks into the forest, summons Reagent to her side, and vents her anger.

    "In vas nox!"

    A poisonous cloud envelopes a fly, and it drops to the ground.

    The harsher movements of the necro spells were what she needed. No fireballs today.

    Flies, grasshoppers, snails- They all succumb to Melfina's necromancy.

    Where's another!

    Birds sing overhead and a rabbit hops across her path.

    There!

    A fly disturbed by the rabbit's dash drops to the ground.

    The bushes rustle behind her.

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

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

    "Oh. Yeah. That was me," she answers while quickly hiding her hands behind her back, attempting to take attention away from the book of necromancy. It does the opposite.

    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!"

    The spell strikes the paladin, and he releases a cry of pain.

    "Reagent! To me!"

    The horde minion obeys.

    Stark slowly turns, the shock apparent on his face. "You said you were just going to read it. To study it."

    She was fearful of his anger. His pain was much 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."

    <center>* * *</center>

    Looks like you stepped out. I hope you don't mind that I'm using your paper to write this note. I heard about yesterday. Just wanted to check in on you. Take care.

    Draven
     
  16. FaelynRose1

    FaelynRose1 Journeyman
    Stratics Veteran

    Joined:
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    Another great chapter. And then what happened?
     
  17. Gerorne

    Gerorne Guest

    <center>Chapter XV</center>

    That was too much for him.

    The cool forest air subsided her anger and she was thinking more 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.

    But maybe he was right when it came to Wayland too. Right for the wrong reason. Wayland probably didn't give the order. He only needed to casually mention interest in her shop, and curiosity in her rare books, and when the right ears heard, they would act to gain his favor. Wayland gets what he wants, yet remains clean of the crime. In his view at least.

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

    Stark might be right, but she was right as well.

    Still... it was definitely too much for him to take in at once. If he wasn't always so unwavering in his beliefs! If he'd listen a little bit more! Maybe I wouldn't get so angry with him and would have realized it before I spoke up!

    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 breeze picks up and Melfina shivers. I should have brought my hat, she thinks as she brushes a few stray hairs off her face. Her eyes refocus and take in her surrounding. The trees were densely packed and the brush was thick. She hadn't ever been this far into the woods. The unfamiliar territory made her conscious of how alone she truly was.

    Melfina looks behind her 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 made a promise to Stark. She had to unsummon Reagent right then and there. She had to stop using necromancy altogether. At least until he reported back to his precious Lord of West Luna to listen to his judgement. 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 th 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 its hard cover. 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 she realizes something. She'd had it this whole time, yet never spent any real time looking through it. All the distractions, on top of the simple fact that she was content just knowing it was a part of her collection, made her lose sight of the treasure she possessed.

    A quick look finds her a flat rock, so she takes a seat and opens the book. Simply touching it was enough for her to sense its power as a mana focus.

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

    For a few moments Melfina was able to dive into the words and soak in its mysteries. Interesting. Why draw the Codex here? And why not label it if its supposed to be a reference? What do the virtues have to do with magery?

    Before she gets further, a beastly voice calls out.

    "Alone at last."

    Her head jerks up, and a dark wolf fills 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."

    "How?"

    His jaws snap in anger 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 casts a magic arrow into his face, teleports to put distance between them, then follows up with a fireball.

    His fur is only just barely singed as he leaps away, dodging the brunt of the attack. The dark wolf runs to the right, and disappears into the brush. Hidden from view, he calls out, "Fireballs! You won't earn my respect that way. Show me the power of your necromancy!"

    Melfina ignores him, and instead concentrates on finding him. She takes advantage of the time he's giving her and precasts a lightning bolt. Just one final twitch would complete the spell, releasing the energy at 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 prepares 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."

    <center>* * *</center>

    Dear Diary,

    What have I done? Stark isn't right is he?