The Magus Alix met Elemix and Emmeline at her tower. It had been almost a year since they were all together like this. Her servant brought tea and then they were alone. “Please report on your mission,” she asked.
Emmeline looked to Elemix, thinking he should speak first being her senior. But then she remembered that Magus Alix had assigned her the mission.
“Yes, Magus. We investigated the woods as you requested, after having met a troublesome reeve, and a gnome prospector working for the Baron of those lands. The gnome was doing his job, scouting a tomb in the woods. We followed him to see what was the focus of interest. An encounter in which we destroyed a couple trolls and some sort of mound made of forest materials, the gnome’s trust was won and he confided the details of his mission to us out of gratitude for handling the trolls.
“After proceeding to the tomb we discovered it had already been looted, an ancient Danaean prince disturbed. The tomb sealed and a dozen ghoulish things burst through the walls and attacked us all. Another creature arose and with it some sort of boney horror. They set up on us like animals. I believe they meant to eat us. Renee and I were pressed and Sister Typhon all too soon fell, dying. Elemix then ignited a fireball that destroyed the half dozen or so ghoulish things and the bone horror, but collapsed the entire tomb upon us.
“Elemix was the only one to escape, but lay dying.” Somehow, Emmeline managed to glaze over how she escaped. “When the worst creature came above ground I battled it, turned whatever charm it had attempted upon me against it and then freed Renee and Typhon whom Aarith must still watch over for she stabilized on her own. I then stabilized Elemix and then executed that undead thing.
“We went back to the village and questioned the reeve, found corroboration enough with the gnome and presented the whole thing to the local Baron who then, I presume, did levy his justice against his man.
“But Magus, there is something else. An unknown, bearded magic-user of some sort was seen to be moving through the area by the locals, who believed him a wizard. His identity remains a mystery.”
Alix nodded, “the mystery is solved, but opens another mystery. Thinking of bearded wizards in this area, I can think of Magus Titus. Your illusionist sponsor, Magus Gabriel is bearded, but has not been in these parts for an age. Magus Maximius has a very short goatee, but would never be traveling alone. Magus Messier is younger with a cross-cropped goatee. Also would not be alone, nor in that area. Magus Xavier is originally from Tahlon and his beard is quite short. He is also quite dark complected. I think these locals would have noticed that. Vorn perhaps? But he has little interest here and it said to be, by Magus Elemix’s accounting, in Breven. Do you wish to follow-up on this part of the mission and discover who the stranger was, or if it even was a spellcaster?”
Emmeline thought about it. “I don’t know if that’s a good use of limited time. We could possibly get a time frame, but we haven’t any direction. We’d have to go from village to village all over the area to track his movements, and by then he could be anywhere at all. I think it’s better to just keep eyes open for rumor or sign of this mage in the future. It may simply be Magus Titus as you say, or perhaps just a wandering druid mistaken for a wizard.”
Alix nodded, “Yes, Maedoc the Grey. Titus’ nemesis. I’ve heard of him and so far he is no threat. Very well then. I will have some others follow up on the old wizard rumor discreetly, you two need not involve yourself. Your time is valuable and the Guild thanks you for your efforts. I will add this to each of your lists of accomplishments and note you did so for the Guild. Also, it seems you made some money in the process. May I ask how much?”
Emmeline told her the amount, to the copper.
Alix noted that with a nod, making a mark in her book. She then said, “Before you consider how much you wish to tithe, please take your expenses into account first and deduct that. Just to let you know, as far as I am concerned you should make a minimum of 5 gp per day for your time as this was a Guild-sanctioned mission. Meaning, you take the total, subtract 5 gp per wizard per day (four I believe) and subtract any expenses. Tithe off that amount only.”
She closed her notebook and said, “thank you again for your time. My duties make it difficult to do much investigation of this kind and the two of you are a welcome help as Ms. Aubrey had another duty to perform. That said, is there anything else you require?”
Em shook her head. A quick calculation in her head suggested that a wizard’s life on this mission was worth about 80 gold. However, lifetimes were built as much on reputation as gold and she intended to sing the story of this as widely around here as she could. Perhaps it could held with recruitment efforts in Uzec, she thought. She could craft something patriotic.
“I’m just waiting for Calista. But I think Magus Elemix might have something to discuss?”
Elemix seemed to be weighing something. He turned then to face Alix. “I have nothing else to discuss officially.”
“Officially? As I noted, your service to the Guild will be communicated up the chain. Had we known the level of danger perhaps we would have taken a different approach; however, you all did well regardless. So with that any official discussion is complete,” she replied.
“Magus Emmeline, Kalista is in studies at the moment but you may see her in an hour. However, I will need to discuss some other matters with you before you return to Uzec. Questions that I need some answers to, which may take some time. “Magus Elemix, you say you have nothing official. Do you have something unofficial or that you wish to discuss in private?”
“Yes. But it is of a personal nature, so I can wait until such a time that you are free to talk.”
“Very well. Emmeline you may interrupt Kalista. She is in the study through that door and down the hall. Snow (her mink familiar) will show you the way.”
Once Emmeline had left with the familiar, Alix turned to Elemix and asked, “I’m listening. How may I help you?”
“I wanted to come to you with this, because I respect you and the positions you have obtained both with our new tribunal and also with respect to the Duke.
I know that there are many ways to achieve ones goals, but inevitably one who wishes to work within the confines of the structure of society to achieve said goals must at some point play the political game as it were.
In short, I am not skilled with the art of politics and I wish to learn. It would be appreciated if you would be willing to instruct me in such things.”
“The art of politics,” Alix said with laugh. “That’s honest. Are you ready to leave a trail of broken people behind you?” Alix asked. “Because I play to win Elemix and you if you want to learn what I know you must do so as well.”
Broken people, Elemix thought. He didn’t like the sound of that. But it did seem that she might be willing to teach him.
“I don’t know that I want to break people, but I do understand that this course can and very likely will make me enemies. Such is the nature of these things. Not everyone can have their way of course. Though I hope to make as few enemies as possible, I am willing to do so to achieve the ends I desire. That and I don’t like being played by others. This knowledge could help me anticipate when that is occurring or about to occur. In that way I will at least know what I am getting into ahead of time – or suspect it rather than being clueless.
Are you willing to teach me?”
“I can. What is in it for me to divulge such secrets?” she asked.
“We both want many of the same things. Most notably to rise within the ranks of our order. I sensed that when I nominated you for the role of tribune, and I am sure you have sensed it from me.
My power has grown significantly over the past year. I say that not to boast, but as mere fact and I think that has some taking interest in me and my abilities, for good or for ill. Now is the time for us to help each other.
As we both want our stars to rise, it would be better for us to work together to achieve that end. No one else need know of such a pact between us.”
Elemix paused for a moment to let his words sink in.
“I don’t know the details, but surely you have enemies. Those who have blocked your progress to get where you are, caused strife in some way. Perhaps there are even those who are actively working against you now. They don’t know about my motivations. We could use that. Its possible working together, I could gain their trust, help them work against you all the while informing you as to their plans and working with you to undermine them. Then just when the time is right we could publicly catch them in their own game, and do so in a way that makes names for one or both of us in the process.
As your star rises, you would help to make mine do the same.”
Elemix added. “Think about it. Even our schools of magic work well together. I’m offense, you’re defense. I’m overt, you’re covert.
If we work together behind the scenes we could be unstoppable.”
She was silent for a moment. Then said, “It is obvious you are growing more skilled. That is true. Last year, you basically offered me the same arrangement – that we partner for mutual benefit. The difference is that the specific scenario you proposed, being a mole to ferret out my enemies presumes a lot. First whether you’d be good at that level of deception, and second whether I require it. I do not.”
She continued, “frankly I’m surprised and somewhat shocked you were willing to do such a thing. Set someone up to allow us to profit off of their demise. I was speaking figuratively before. Not literally. You mistook me sir, and you show your true colors because of it. I have no enemies of that kind now or in the foreseeable future and I already have a most capable way of dealing with such should it be an issue.”
She concluded without letting Elemix speak, “Yet despite your penchant it seems to build trust and then betray someone, you could be of use and learn a bit in the process. This will not be a partnership. No, this will be a client/patron relationship – you being the client. If you want to know my secrets, the price it total loyalty. Total. By your oath as a wizard, by Aarith, by Sidonius, and in writing. Then and only then I will show you. Magus, I have all the cards. You need me. I do not need you. That is your first lesson, leverage is a bitch.”
She added, “it took me nearly twenty years of hard work to get where I am. With my help you can get what you wish more quickly. But there are no real shortcuts and it is a lot of time and effort. What I get out of it is someone to perform missions for me that I neither have the time or inclination to do. That would be you.”
“I obviously have a lot to learn. As I said, I am not skilled in this arena.
If you’re price is loyalty then you shall have it. So long as you remain true to Sidonious, the guild, and what they both stand for, I shall remain true to you.”
“We shall see then. To me loyalty is not conditional. You are loyal or you are not. Since you selected me, you must trust I will live up to the ideals that I myself have exposed unwaveringly for years. To be fair, If you break your word to me, I will have to destroy you completely and without mercy. I believe that is completely understood? If so, let us define the details.”
“Very well,” he said simply. He had no intention of breaking his word in this.
She was not much different than other teachers he had had in the past. Revan was similar, from what he could tell anyway. Magic was serious business after all.
She smiled slightly and then said, “Good. Now and again I will send you on a mission. Most will be short. Some will not make sense immediately. But you must do them. Some will be with your cousin, but most will not. Most will not profit you personally in a financial way, but some will. We will treat those exactly as any other, unless I specifically require an item or such. That will help make this worth my time. However, I will make sure you have enough funds to cover your expenses when doing such things – within reason.”
She stood up and walked around a bit, looking Elemix over. “While I respect Vorn, you have too much of him in your attitudes. You come off arrogant and entitled more times than you understand. It is likely your privileged Thalassan upbringing, plus Vorn, plus being a Wizard, plus the general arrogance of power. We must tame that – at least on the outside. You Elemix must be a perfect courtier. That will give us something to build upon. Luckily I do not have to handle this alone. In your very circle are two persons who are good at this. The Lady Rivanon is one, and your cousin Emmeline is another. In fact, your young cousin is utterly charming. If she was evil I believe we all would be doomed. Your first goal is to learn from either of these two, or both. Let them critique you honestly and opening. As a wizard, your goal should be to earn respect and not demand it. That’s the most common mistake of many young wizards – arrogance. We are wizards, but they are bakers, farmers, knights, and more. Repect them and they will respect you and you will earn trust and put people at ease. That is our foundational goal, regardless of your own goals.”
“Speaking of that, you have your own agenda. Obviously something is blocking you that you feel is extremely important, else you would not have reached out to me. Can you tell me this goal? Not vague ideals, but a concrete goal we can fashion your training and testing on.”
“Not yet,” replied Elemix. “Suffice it to say that knowledge is my ultimate goal.”
Elemix suspected she would not like the answer he gave, but if he knew her she would respect it.
He did not intend to go back on his word to Vorn to keep the knowledge between them alone. And he had no reason to trust that Alix wouldn’t simply chastise him and report as much to the guild. She didn’t need to know his exact reasons any more than he needed to know hers for accepting him. He knew enough to know she had a reason, and that was enough for the time being.
He knew he was playing a dangerous game in coming to Alix, but she was very good at exactly the kind of monuvering that he needed to learn if he wanted to learn knowledge of teleportation, and perhaps other hidden magics.
If she pressed him on this then the deal would be off before it began.
Alix rested her head on her palm for a moment. Then she walked behind her desk, leaned on it and looked Elemix in the eyes, “that is too vague. I cannot help you if I do not know your goal. If it is knowledge, you don’t need me. Go live in the Great Library, become an academic like your father, become a full-time magic researcher for the Guild and give a decade of service, devote yourself to the priesthood, or go on an Academy expedition. There you will get knowledge; but ultimate knowledge is beyond my teaching. I only deal in specifics, intensions, goals, and outcomes. But that is your funeral, but do not come complaining to me that you didn’t achieve anything – but I will do my best in any event.”
She stood up and said, “To that point, for now, talk to Rivanon or Emmeline as asked, remunerate them in some fashion for their time, and wait for instructions. In the mean time I will attempt to send a copy of your last Academy mission to an ally of mine in the Outer Council to plant seeds for the future. However; if you cannot trust me to share your ambitions, then I cannot help you with any effectiveness. Please think carefully on my earlier advice and what was just said.”
After a brief moment, she continued, “I will contact you within two weeks for a small mission that may be brewing. I have other duties to attend to this evening so sadly I must cut this short. Again we thank you and your party for your efforts for the Guild. Snow here (her mink familiar) will bring you to the entry way where Emmeline will join you presently.”
Elemix added. “The knowledge I seek can only be found in the private libraries of a select few, if at all. In order to gain access to such, I need to be accepted into their circles. So I guess you could say my obtaining such knowledge needs to be sanctioned by the elite. That is my goal.”
“Ah. Do you believe they are keeping such knowledge unfairly?” she asked with genuine curiosity.
“I am not certain. I assume they have good reasons for keeping it to themselves, but I don’t know what those reasons are.” Elemix added, “They may be keeping it to themselves for noble reasons, or disconcertingly, to hold power.”
She nodded, “The Guild is like your mother and father. They do not do anything without reason, but like parents do not feel they must explain themselves. With that in mind I highly doubt they are trying to control it to hold power, or they would use it or threaten with it, directly or indirectly. I for one have never been threatened with or about magic by anyone who reached Councilor status. It just isn’t done. If one did so, they would evoke a serious response. There are significant controls on higher power magics and those who wield them precisely because power corrupts and certain magics if used without wisdom could cause inadvertent harm.”
She continued, “I found myself saying this to another person I advise recently – just because you can do a thing does not follow that you must or even should do that thing. Have you specifically been ordered not to investigate a particular magic?”
“No,” replied Elemix simply. “I have had no interaction with guild leadership since prior to departing on the aquila expedition, save perhaps reporting to the inquisitor and yourself.”
She looked a bit confused, “so what is the problem then? Is it research material? Is it simply not available for study and if not, how are you aware of it in the first place? And if you are aware of it, why do you think it is forbidden knowledge?”
Elemix wanted to steer the discussion away from any particular knowledge or spells. Instead, he simply wanted to gain a good name for himself and allies with those in positions of power within the guild. If he had the right connections, he was certain many doors could be opened to him in the future.
“The problem is that I want in. I want to maneuver myself into the inner and outer circles good graces as it were. I realize doing so will take a lot of time and work, but I don’t know how best to go about it. That is where your instruction can come in. You could help me navigate those waters and play the game so that in the long term I am seen as an asset, and I have strong allies in the upper reaches of our order. Simply being a member of the guild in good standing will not get me where I want to be.”
“You would be surprised. Marie Peredhain is not a political gamester. She is direct and to the point, but she takes risks, gives service, and gains favor simply by helping others. In doing so, you get noticed. Vorn on the other hand never respected authority – still does not – and rubs the council the wrong way. They are both direct, but one projects a quiet confidence, takes risks, and does public works, the other is arrogant, is risk adverse, and is completely selfish. Marie is now in line to become magus-general of the fleet and one our most respected evokers. Vorn has repeatedly kept power to himself and choose the adventuring life – as you did. However, as a favor to the College of Evocation, he took on an apprentice – you. A favor. Now how he uses that favor is unknown, but he has it.” she said. “Marie has not only favors, but political good will. When people ask her to do something, to tackle a problem, she doesn’t ask how much she will be paid. She just does it based on the merits and gains favors and respect which she has capitalized into a great career. So, for question one, who do you want to be? Vorn or Peredhain?”
She continued, “Lets take it further. Let’s say you want the power. Knowing the big agenda, helping shape it, being a mover of destiny. Neither Vorn nor Peredhain are that kind of wizard. I am. I wish several changes to how for instance outsiders are treated and absorbed into the Guild, or the structure of the outlying regions, and the examination system. These are interests that I have expressed to my patrons, who then leverage their contacts. I am here in Derrien as a favor. I do not want to be here. I’m Thalassan. As much as I care for the people here, love the mountains, and take satisfaction for my work, it is one step toward my goals. If you help me in my goals, then through my patrons I can help you. When my mission is completed here and I am satisfied with what you have done and trust you to do what is needed, then you rise as well. A high tide lifts all boats. So, for question two, are you patient and willing to work years to achieve the access you need? Or do you want the quick path to power?”
She concluded, “Basically you help me and my allies, I help you and your allies. I find people you can help and people you can impress along the way. You give me all the credit for providing the opportunity, but graciously also share that credit with your team at the time, whomever they may be. You do not brag. You do not show off. You play by the rules on the outside and use the rules to your advantage on the inside. If you are patient and willing to curry and spend favors, then you may just eventually get the access you wish. It won’t be tomorrow. In fact you may find yourself subordinate to wizards with more experience, but less spellcasting power. You must be appreciative and gracious. And this must be genuine. If I believe that and you have done your job, then when I have the position and influence I seek, I can extend some of that to you. My price is that you will owe me forever. I know at this critical moment you are on the knife’s edge of going the path of Vorn or the path of Peredhain. If you on the other hand have more near term ambitions, I cannot help you.”
“My patron helped me in this way. I happily still owe them. Mind you, unlike yourself I have a certain natural talent for such things. But the basics are teachable. A skill I am willing to impart.” she added. “But this deal is forever. A more limited arrangement needs specifics.”
Before Elemix could speak she said, “this is a big choice. You do not need to decide now, but soon. Given your previous betrayal offer, I’m not so certain I can trust you to speak for and act on my interests honestly. A commitment by you helps alleviate those feelings and assumes you wished my assistance so much you were willing to do anything to impress me. I’d rather assume that. Think on the offer, I insist.”
Elemix nodded. “I shall. Thank you for this time.”
A few days later Elemix returned to Magus Alix and said simply.
“You asked if I was going to be like Master Vorn or Master Peredhain. My answer is that I can only be myself. There are parts of me that are like Vorn, and other parts of me that are like Peredhain. Still there are many other parts too. Other wizards, my mother and father, my friends, even you.
There are aspects of each of you that I choose to be. They have made me a better person, and that has only furthered my passion for the guild and it’s part in Thalassa and the world.
I know I have been arrogant, even overconfident in the past. I have upset you and damaged the reputation I ideally want for myself. I hope I have begun to rebuild that reputation for the better.
Regardless of whether you accept my proposal I believe you to be true in word and in deed to the ideals that I have always strived to serve. To that end know that you have my loyalty and will have for the remainder of my days.
“I accept your offer,” she said. “and we will accomplish great things. However, first thing is first. Emmeline left a couple days ago for Uzec. No doubt to spend time with her Baron. The Duke just received word that he is to send a representative to Thalassa to discuss the ongoing conflicts. I believe the Baron is the best choice for this and frankly his gravitas will lend a certain weight. Do you agree?”
“I do. He can be somewhat blunt in his manner but he speaks truth and everyone knows it. He would be a good choice.”
“The Duke told me so as well. I asked Emmeline to discuss with you a timetable for departing, assuming he agrees to go. I’m afraid this may delay your Academy report for a couple weeks. Are you comfortable with that?” she asked. “If so your job is to protect the Baron at all costs. I would go myself but I have duties here.”
“Of course I can assist in that effort. I shall head back to Uzec presently.
Is there anything I can do for you while I am in Thalassa?”
She nodded, “I’ll have several minor visits for you to accomplish. When you pass back this way Giselle will deliver the details to you. However, when you are there, after you report to the Academy, you should visit Magus Sigoléne. She is negotiating several things for this Tribunal and she may have need of you. However, do not tarry long. When the Baron is ready to leave, you should loyalty drop everything and return. I’m afraid you may not have as much time with family as you could otherwise.”
She added, “oh, when you leave, stop by this small home.” She hands Elemix an address. “There is a mage there, a young woman apprenticing to me. You have met her, Kalista. She will be your traveling companion. Get to know her. I would like to have an evaluation of her by you. Like Emmeline, she comes to us from outside of our prime traditions but is learning quickly, but I do not consider her a threat. I would like to know if you concur and what you think of her as a person. Good?”
“Very well,” replied Elemix.