The sun had set, the fireworks were over, and the crowd was beginning to disperse, but it was no quiet night or traditionally contemplative moment. Rather, there was a sort of buzz in the air. The plaza was a battleground of dislodged and toppled benches, its ground strewn with bottles, rubbish, and dropped or misplaced possessions. Had the guards and the stern eye of the academy not been present, the scavengers likely would’ve come out. As it was, some of the bolder ones did.
People walked about in groups of five - surely pleasing to the Pentad - some with a bounce in their steps, others stifling yawns and smiling. Still more hurried after their fellows, trying to catch up, while others groaned, stretched tiredly, and lamented one thing or another. It had been a long day: a fulfilling one, but long, and despite the light snacks brought out on silver platters by uniformed servants during the reception, many were hungry.
Sienna Afraval’s apprentices were one such group. Onarr Yidlob shambled along, his heavy bascinet-style helmet bobbing and wobbling tiredly as he went. Penny Pellegrin’s steps, laboured at all but the very best of times, could best be described as trudging. The tall Perrench girl’s hair was a sweaty, unruly mess. She glanced glumly down at her stomach as it made unhappy noises.
Only a few steps from her, Lady Anesin Bjelke was holding up little better, her stoic dignity starting to falter under the triple onslaught of exhaustion, aches, and a burning hunger. Only Linah Aranda, who was perhaps more used to deprivation and exhausting days than her peers, appeared to be holding up well, though one could not be sure if it was merely a convincing act.“Ah look,”
Remarked Penny to the others, “She is talking!”
Her stomach let out a particularly eloquent gurgle and she patted it. “Would anyone like to hold this kind of conversation?”
It was perhaps only 20:00 or so and she was already in that giddy late-night state that she’d had rare cause to find herself in previously but nonetheless recognized.
Anesin was, in fact, absolutely famished. The growl that had come from Penny’s stomach had spoken to her own and reminded her that she could not accurately recall when her last meal had been, though it seemed to have been in a different world than this one. Anesin nodded sympathetically to Penny.
“Penny dear,” began Zeno Afraval, pivoting briefly and walking backwards. “I have pastries at home and some stew in the cauldron, ready to be warmed. We draw near even now.”
Indeed, they had turned off of Parade Street and the crowds were thinning. Gas lamps provided feeble light but, luckily, three of the moons were out tonight and one was full. “But it is so far,”
Penny whined. “Truly, master, you are the princess of pain for a reason.”
She stifled a giggle.
Linah glanced from Penny to the Zeno, smile automatically forming upon her lips as she judged it to be the appropriate expression given the joking mood. Privately, she thought Zeno Afraval was more indulgent of her student than her moniker merited. Perhaps because it was Penny in particular, perhaps because the woman knew the time for levity allowed for a softer hand. Maybe it was because she seemed so personable outside of teaching that people were then surprised to discover how strict she was when it mattered. In any case, she offered no comment, as this was between the master and the student.
“Patience is a virtue,” Sienna replied. “Be virtuous, Miss Pellegrin.” She twisted to regard the others. “I’ll advise you now not to follow your peer’s lead,” she warned, a smirk nonetheless creasing her lips. “She is truly a horrid example of proper conduct and only gets away with it because her brother and I are old friends and she’s been knocking about campus for a week, trailing me like a duckling.”“Oh, or a goose!”
squawked Penny. She glanced impishly at her fellow apprentices, a twinkle in her eye. “Have you heard, pray tell, of the demon goose of the Arboretum?”
“The demon goose is not real,” Zeno Afraval warned.“I beg to differ, madam.”
Onarr piped up, annoyance edging into his tone. “I’m afraid that it is real. It led me on a wild goose chase with my bascinet in its beak.”
His skin shivered at the memories of having to dive into the lake and retrieve the helmet. “I was fortunate that it didn’t eat me like the seniors said it would. That avian had a pronounced intellect for its species. I believe it warrants serious study from the Zenos.”
Penny nodded enthusiastically, though it may not have been clear whether it was out of genuine agreement or because she simply wanted to egg Onarr on out of boredom and the sense of mischief that occasionally manifested itself in her. “I, too, have seen it! Why, the beast went for one of my crutches,”
she wailed. “I profess no idea as to its motives but, clearly, it is no ordinary bird. ‘Twould have rendered me even more a cripple had I not smacked it with extreme prejudice and held it at bay with my magic whilst I made my escape.”
Her face became earnest and she glanced Onarr’s way. “Truly,”
she insisted.“I’ve only heard of it, but is there truly so formidable an animal that no one could hunt it down and have it for dinner?”
Linah interjected, voicing the question that had first occurred to her when discovering how commonly this so-called demon goose was mentioned.
Anesin had hardly recovered from her thoughts of food and the thought of goose, however demonic, was too cruel for her to focus on for the time being. She began thinking of all the ways one could prepare a goose. Of course, roast goose was the best. Perhaps a coating of sugared butter would round out the demonic undertones?
“There are any number of ornery avians on campus,” Sienna Afraval assured the two students. “And plenty of white geese with a foul disposition: consequence of the magic, some have theorized, but the demon goose is no more than an old legend. It was around when I was a Biro. I’ve heard Arch-Zeno Intaba speak of it. Even the Paradigm,” she sighed, stifling a slight chuckle. “Now, tell me: what sort of goose lives that long, hmm?” She smiled reassuringly. “Fun as it may be to make storylines and, far be it from me to take that joy from you, rest assured that it is only a legend.””People must rather like that rumour, then,”
Linah concluded. Given Afraval’s words, she couldn’t help but wonder if any of the Arch-Zenos, or the Paradigm, were responsible for keeping the legend alive. She had no doubt geese could be a menace, but would be surprised if one so malevolent not only existed but persisted through long past what its lifespan should be.“And dark magic isn’t real,”
whispered Penny to Onarr just loud enough to be overheard. She drew a look from Sienna and immediately apologized: “Sorry, ma’am.”
She focused her eyes down and away for a moment. “Binding magic is not used for offense,”
she whispered in a quieter voice once the Zeno was looking away, but then they were there. Anesin’s thin fingers curled and clenched subtly at the comment, but her expression remained affable, if not focused- likely still on goose. Zeno Afraval held up a hand. She reached into her handbag and pulled out a key. It was a large, imposing townhome of three full stories and a loft. The barred window of a cellar peeked out from just above ground level. Sienna ascended the three steps to the door and it creaked open moments later.
There was a swirl of magic and a brief chill. Then there was light. Oil lanterns lined the hallways in their sconces, rich scalloped paneling and wallpaper revealed in pattern if not in all of its vivid colour and grandeur by their flickering illumination. The floorboards creaked lightly as she hung up her riding cloak and led the students inside, past the sitting room and towards a large kitchen with a cold, quiet hearth. There were keys on a table - four sets of them on their own keyrings, and a half-dozen spiral-shaped Ensaïmada - a traditional Torragonese pastry from the island of Zalamaija that Linah would likely be familiar with. Zeno Afraval stopped in front of the large oaken piece of furniture. “Welcome home,” she announced, spreading her arms in a gesture of welcome. “Your beds and a meal await and your bags have already been brought to the upstairs landing. First, however, a bit of housekeeping, if you will.” She let her arms fall. “I have, upstairs, two bedchambers, save mine, two dressing rooms, a reading room, and two privies. As befits her status, I would like to give Lady Anesin a choice: would she prefer to share a single large room with the other ladies? If not, the second dressing room or the reading room can be made into a bedchamber quite easily.”
Anesin had lingered in the doorway longer than the others. She was unsure of dwellings that structured their being around so much wood. They felt weak. It amazed her that these people felt any superiority over her own. She ran a finger across the wall, and while appreciating the decorative nature of it all, it was hardly practical. But that summed up the Greenlanders pretty well. She would have to work to grow accustomed to these things. She knew that much, but what a weird choice. How safe were they inside a wood box filled with fires? A mage, one trained correctly
, could surely bore through stone, but wood? Hell, a simpleton with an axe could gain access to such a place. Her thoughts would return to the trouble with safety of the dwellings later, for her mind quickly shifted once she took sight of the pastries. Anesin’s lithe figure had started taking quiet steps across the creaking floorboards towards her prey but then the Zeno had addressed her. It took a greater amount of willpower to focus on the question than she put into most of her magical endeavors. Anesin bowed her head to the woman in respect and spoke with a surety provided by royal heritage.”If it is not too much to ask the Master of the house, would it be alright if we tabled this discussion for tonight? I do believe my mother has set up arrangements in the Noble dormitories, but I do not mean to be any trouble. I do not require a private room for tonight. I would like very much to be among my peers.”
Anesin offered a genuine smile to the group. Nobility was different in Eskand. She knew that much. Those who fought and rode together, they should dine together, share their lives. A bonding of battle.
Onarr raised his eyebrows at the noble with mild surprise, though it was hidden underneath the metallic brow of his helm. Nobles like her would have taken their Zeno’s offer without a second thought but then again, not all of them were Eskandish nobles. Maybe, Shune did exist after all by blessing him with an odd group of fellow apprentices tonight.“I believe all of us appreciate your sentiment, Lady Bjelke.”
He then coughed awkwardly as he addressed another matter. “I realize that my choice in apparel may be off-putting for many of you. As such, if no one dares share sleeping quarters with me tonight, note that I will be completely understanding of your decision.”
Linah quirked a smile at Onarr. “I do believe the custom is for the girls to room in one place, and the boys in another. No doubt you’d enjoy so many beauties sharing your quarters, hm?”
she teased.“Don’t take me for one of those braggarts in the parade.”
Onarr gruffly replied, crossing his arms though his cheeks glowed red. “I merely seek to preserve the cohesion of our apprentice group.”
Linah didn’t respond further beyond a light chuckle, and a dismissive shrug.
Anesin dared not ask for worry of being rude, but she hoped and prayed in that moment that someone would see if Onarr intended to sleep in his armor? She had seen it done by the old school Eskandish during the lengthy hunt, but nothing so uncomfortable as that head piece.
For her part, Penny merely suppressed a grin - and not very well. “Truly, Onarr, you are perhaps the best thing about today. Never change, I pray.”
Then, the Zeno posted her hands on the table, leaning back slightly. She smiled good-naturedly, taking in her four apprentices. “Well then,” she began. “The second matter -” she glanced back at the cauldron hanging over the unlit hearth, “is much simpler: somebody please light that fire or else find another means of warming that stew. I, too, am hungry.” She smiled with a certain sort of impish pleasure. “Who’s going to be the first to impress their master and earn her regard?”
Linah had stood at attention when Zeno Afraval began speaking, gazing at her as the older woman relayed her directions. Upon the request for a fire, she immediately nodded once and got to work. She walked towards the hearth steadily - her steps would have been quicker if she hadn’t been already converting her own kinetic energy to magical, storing it - and knelt next to it. She drew upon her recently filled stores, and easily coaxed the wood aflame. Since that in and of itself would still take a while, she lay a palm upon the pot, directing heat into it. She wound her arm as necessary to get that kinetic-arcane flow going. Once the pot was sufficiently heated, she took upon herself the more mundane task of stirring the stew so it would not burn.
Onarr’s own talents at arcane magic were amateur compared to specialists but thankfully, his father’s drills in the smithy had allowed him to do this much. He took a glove off his right hand, stuffing it into his pocket, before concentrating charge into his hand, the wift of ozone popping into his hand. “Allow me,”
He said to Linah in Avincian. “I’ll keep the temperature steady while you stir. Having both of your hands is easier than using one. Trust me.”
His voice then took a faint tone. “I’ve got experience.”
He closed his eyes, forging the chaos of magnetic energy into the rudimentary, fleeting energy of arcane. To him, it was transitioning from playing a flute to a set of parade cymbals. Louder but more monotone and inflexible. He pressed his calloused palm against the pot and continued on from where Linah started, ensuring the cauldron remained steadily hot. “Oh, of course,”
she nodded in thanks to the diminutive Joruban. Removing her palm from the pot as Onarr took over, she focused solely on the stirring. It was odd
for a person to remain helmeted while not in battle, and especially indoors, she thought. It wasn’t any of her business, but if she were to guess, the boy wore the helmet to double his height. She couldn’t comprehend doing such a strange, surely inconvenient thing. She took it as fact that she’d never see Onarr’s face though. It did stir a mild curiosity as to whether he slept with the thing on, but not so much that she’d be redirected from a more relevant matter. “What do you draw from?”
she asked him. He was, after all, now also applying his own magic. So far, she’d heard him and Penny previously discussing chemical magic, but didn’t get the sense either of the pair specialized in it - though perhaps they wished to.“Magnetic magic. The iron holds a little charge but my helmet however…..”
Onarr replied briefly, tapping on the rim of his bascinet. “My blood allows me to sieve through potentials more easily but I’m converting more brutishly than you are.”
He then nodded towards Linah with a grunt of admiration. “A very apt use of arcane magic. My father tried to instill it into me but I could never progress beyond the basics. Even so, they are useful in stances like this.” “Ah, so the helmet is a focus point,”
Linah realized. That was at least another point towards the thing’s usefulness. Still, to have a bascinet fashioned for such a purpose spoke of eccentricity. In response to the compliment, she smiled. “Thank you, arcane is my primary. Magnetic, however,”
she trailed off, barely refraining from sighing. “Well, let’s just say I frustrated my previous teacher’s attempts at instructing me in it. It is a delicate thing to balance,”
she commented. She did not think it unwise to admit such a weakness; for one, Onarr had done the same, so in a way she was merely reciprocating, and for another, her magical strengths and weaknesses would soon become apparent anyhow. Besides, they were here to learn and overcome such deficiencies.
A sigh escaped Anesin’s tattooed lips, she was appreciative that the fire and the cauldron were being tended to, but she had the gnawing realization that this placed the pastries on the back burner for decorum sake, so her almost outreached fingertips sank away from the plate and she focused instead on Penny. She moved closer to the girl, leaning in so that her curled lips could whisper directly into her ear. ”You know, I had also envisioned myself crouching for our new…”
Anesin struggled for a moment with a word in Avincian that grasped her meaning and settled, perhaps awkwardly.. “battle brother.”
The same sort of unrefined chortle escaped that had in the plaza as a hand flew up to cover her mouth. She composed herself rather quickly as she watched Linah and Onarr work. The smile that now curled the runes on her face was one of pride, pride for the possibilities this group contained. Her voice was no longer a whisper when she next spoke. “They both seem rather efficient and comfortable with their magic. We shall be scoring top marks without a doubt.”
Her gaze flickered back to Penny, taking her in. She was quite pretty, not Eskandish, but pretty all the same.
At Anesin leaning in, Penny seized up for the barest of moments, a sort of guilt and apprehension grabbing her. Then, Anesin was Anesin. “Truly,”
she whispered back, “you shall break my composure.”
Her mask of polite anticipation cracked a touch. “I imagined it a kindness, but the image was…”
She turned her face only to Ani and grinned, but then her friend had a statement for the entire group, perhaps cognizant of the appearance of the two of them whispering and giggling. “Honestly, I adore this group,”
she replied. “Dami has smiled upon us.”
Still, she noted the taller girl’s gaze upon her, and her good humour began to shrivel under it.“Exactly!”
Onarr replied to Linah with a bit of fervor in his voice. Finally, someone who saw the bassinet for what it truly was. However, he restrained himself from explaining the ingenious methods of his helmet’s construction and simply decided to explain in layman’s terms. “You can’t even begin to imagine how much effort it took to meld quartz and feldspar with steel. Ugh, my hands were like turtle skin after three days in the forge.”
He then raised a finger, letting a wave of jagged blue waver between his helmet and the fingertip before allowing it to disappear. “If you want, I can teach you magnetic magic.”
He spoke the next sentence with a smug tone. “You are looking at the best the Republic of Joru has to offer.”
Linah hummed to show she was paying attention as Onarr explained about forging the helmet. It was interesting enough to discover he’d forged it himself; that must also mean his father was a smith and that was why the boy had mentioned him previously. At his offer to teach her, though, she directed a dubious expression Onarr’s way. “Quite the boast,”
she judged. “However, I do not mind the practice or the tutelage, as long as our master deems it acceptable.”
She briefly looked at Zeno Afraval to ascertain whether the woman was paying attention to their words or not and the Zeno nodded.
“So long as you’re not probing the depths of the deep arcane, you’re free to collaborate with each other. Under my watch the first time, though, hmm?” Linah nodded in acquiescence, and went back to watching their supper.
Onarr then turned his head back to Anesin, now held deep in the embrace of social conversation. “And you? What is your specialty exactly?”
Anesin paused her examination of Penny. It was probably reaching a moment of lengthy awkwardness anyways, and so she turned her attention to Onarr. While it was slightly jarring the easy way in which he addressed her, she found herself appreciating the friendliness of it all. No “your Grace
” or even a mention of title. “Nothing near as intriguing as you’d hope. Binding. But I can assure you that I am quite adept and will be more than happy to cover our defensive end.”
She thought to mention the gift of the Snake, a spell she had recently found some obsession with, but decided now was probably not the time. It would be better to get a read on the group before rushing into a conversation just to make herself feel more worth.
Penny blinked and twisted Anesin’s way once more, feigning surprise. The guilt festered in her gut, but perhaps there was room for a conversation soon. If she could reveal herself to one person it would doubtless be the smallest of leaps for that to be her confidante and correspondent of nearly four years. “I, too, am a Binder!”
she nearly shouted, bouncing up and down on her tiptoes. At this exclamation Anesin's attention snapped back to Penny and she was bestowed with a pleased look from the anything but
icy Eskandish. Penny had already continued on, taking in the others. “I’ve done a great deal with Arcane and Kinetic, but I would love to learn more of Chemical, truly… and Magnetic.”
She realized that she had just named all five schools and she blushed fiercely at her overenthusiasm. Then there was Blood Magic: forbidden fruit. Her and Anesin had danced around the subject in their letters, but the Eskandish woman hadn’t mentioned it, so Penny followed her cue in that regard.
“Anesin,” announced Sienna Afraval, “you look quite ready to gnaw a hole in this table. Why don’t you come enjoy an Ensaïmada?” She smiled and gestured towards the pastries, pulling a chair out with her other hand. “The same offer goes for the rest of you.” She focused for a second, and Penny realized that she was checking in on the heat of the cauldron’s contents. “Stew’s about warm enough and food is here to be eaten, after all.” She took a step forward. “Onarr, Linah,” she called, “watch out.” With that, the pot rose from the fire. A ladle, spoons, and bowls floated out of the cupboards. Stew leapt from the cauldron to fill them and they set themselves neatly on the table. Five chalices joined them, and a pitcher of water. Sienna sat herself at the head and scooted her chair inward. “Bon appetit!” she chirped.