Updated: Jun 11
By Aislyn Hall
The candle Tarian lit earlier in the afternoon had burned nearly to the base, hot wax dripping onto his desk. The numerous windows placed around the tower let in silvery moonlight. The humble mage raised his tired brow to see that he had stayed much longer than he had originally intended.
Tarian unfocused his eyes from his manuscripts and took in the scene he had created. A massive pile of tomes were stacked precariously on either side of the desk, pulled down from the shelves over the course of weeks. Candles long since burned out sat atop each of these piles, previously serving as illumination upon the papers and scrolls that littered the desk. Various trinkets, baubles, and measuring tools sat awkwardly in different positions, frequently stolen from their inanimate rest. The familiars had long since grown tired of watching over Tarian, and left to peruse the work of more exciting wizards.
The quarter was nearing its end, and he had yet to finish his formula. Of course, he was in no danger of losing his position as an Archmage at the Academy, but it was a matter of pride to him. He had not missed a single quarter in contributing to the vast library of knowledge at the Academy. Younger Archmages and council members whispered that Tarian was getting old—losing his touch.
But perhaps not. His contributions outweigh nearly any other sitting upon the council, and can match the rest. Without the flashy antics of his youth, the Academy seems to have forgotten what Tarian is capable of. It isn’t every day that disintegrating a man where he stands is necessary, especially given what recent studies have suggested regarding the Ley.
Regardless. The hour was late, and Tarian was tired. He would resume in the morning.
After a breakthrough, it always seems so simple in hindsight. What if modern theory of the Ley’s subterranean origins are mistaken? Recent studies suggest that the Lady and her will creates ever-changing nodes of Ley energy, particularly focused around Oathstones.
But what if there were instead a single source that spread magic across the realm? A powerful node that all conduits connect to and extract power from?
It could be possible. There are tales of great wizards and sorcerers unleashing magic beyond the comprehension of modern Calbria. There is little to substantiate the incredible feats spoken of in the Crescent Chronicles, even after numerous attempts to decipher where and how such power was acquired. But what if they understood how to wield the source itself instead of draining inconsequential nodes of temporary energy?
If that were the case… Tarian’s new spell was plausible! He would simply need a scroll kept hidden in the vault at the Academy to begin his fieldwork.
Oh, no. His memory was failing him. It was at a smaller vault in Ashenbury. A day’s trek away. He sighed. So be it, then.
The Archmage rose from his chair, bumping into one of the book piles behind him. He heard a soft purr. He looked behind him, startled. Ah, of course. Mittens was still present!
The cat rose to its paws, stretching out its back. It reached out to rub its face against his hand. Tarian instinctively put his hand out to allow the cat its daily quota. He smiled softly.
He could still contribute to the Academy’s already vast knowledge, and before the end of the quarter. But… it could always be done tomorrow. His body was telling him that he was tired for hours.
Tarian scooped up Mittens and let her out of the tower. After he put her down, she seemed unsure of what to do with herself. The creature eventually decided to sit and began licking its paw.
He shut the large, wooden door behind him and waved his hand. A lock made of wispy blue energy coalesced across the entrance, forming a massive lock that snapped shut with the shrieking sound of crunching metal.
With that, he descended down the seemingly endless flight of stairs and found his bedchamber, where he retired for the night.
Tarian woke at dawn, early in the morning. He had a routine, and his body would not stray from it, despite his lack of sufficient sleep. Besides, he had not been this excited about a discovery since he managed to perfect limited transmogrification of the human body!
After donning his austere robes and wizard hat, he took his oak staff in hand and swung his knapsack across his shoulder. He then set out to begin his journey. The Academy was still quiet at this hour, the sun no more than red mist on the horizon. It was chillingly cold. Tarian frowned, though his long, white beard and mustache helped warm his face.
As he dragged his feet through the halls, few faces passed him. Those that did nodded in acknowledgement of an Archmage. He did not know many individuals at the Academy anymore. Many of his friends were now gone from this world.
He walked down the stairs of the grand entrance to the Academy. The beautiful garden grounds expanded before him, hedges shaped by telekinesis and botany aided by other curious magics. Manabirds hummed from plant to plant, draining shayblooms of their sweet nectar.
As he was passing through the main gate into the city proper, a fellow Archmage was making her way to her office. She paused.
“Tarian, I am surprised to see you out of the Academy this early!” She exclaimed. Tarian sighed, nodding.
He prayed to the Lady she wouldn’t notice his presence.
“Do you have something on your back, Tarian?” She asked.
He grunted and continued walking.
The woman squinted her eyes, then looked back and pursed her lips.
Tarian continued walking. It seems like she simply went on her way.
He felt a sharp tug from behind.
He sighed again, turning to face her.
She slapped him across the face. Tarian blinked, taken aback.
“I see the scrolls packed in your knapsack, your staff in hand.” She scowled.
“You’re not going to the morning market. You’re going…” Her eyes lit up.
“You’re going on an adventure!” She squealed with girlish delight, despite her age.
Tarian blinked again. He had half expected her to drag him kicking and screaming back to the Academy, citing something along the lines of him being too old for this kind of tomfoolery.
Matie was one of the older members of the council as well. He knew her better than most all of the younger council members.
She put her hands on her hips. “Well, don’t just stand there. Let’s go!” She snapped her fingers. A knapsack of her own with scrolls and items materialized on her back. Matie always had an affinity for conjuration.
He could hardly recover from the shock. It had been quite a while since he had seen Matie out of the council meetings. They had drifted apart. He certainly didn’t expect this to be their next encounter.
“I did not explicitly invite you, Matie.” Tarian said plainly. His expression became neutral.
Matie raised an eyebrow. After Tarian said nothing, her eye twitched slightly. She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again. A sense of hurt was beginning to cross her eyes.
Tarian smiled wickedly, then began to laugh. Matie shot playful sparks of magic at him, and he shooed them away with his hand. She laughed as well, and they began walking together towards the Astirith gates.
“You simply cannot wear your robes out on a journey, Tarian. Isn’t it obvious?” She snapped her fingers again. Both her and Tarian’s garb turned to that of simple but well-kempt travellers. He chuckled.
It had been a long time since they’d done something together, but their friendship had remained unchanged. They had known each other for far too long to ever forget the bond they shared.
“So you believe that it is possible to power such scrolls if the source can be harnessed?” Matie asked.
The two walked down a humble dirt road that led to the village of Ashenbury. They had long since lost sight of Astirith, the capitol. The autumnal sun was high in the sky, just past midday. Vast forests of auburn colors swayed gently in the wind far beyond on the horizon. Rolling hills on one side blocked their vision of the landscape beyond.
Matie put her hand on her chin, puzzled. “Your theory is riding on the findings of a magnitude of studies simply being false.” She said.
“Also, the Knightly Chapters will not be thrilled. They’ve taken a much keener interest in the Academy since we’ve begun attributing the Ley to the Lady.”
Tarian could feel the excitement welling up within him. “Indeed!” He exclaimed.
“But I am not suggesting that the Lady has no part in the Ley! If what I am suggesting is in fact, correct, it is possible that the Lady does not directly control the Ley—instead, she may be using it as a tool to contain something!”
Matie furrowed her brow. “Contain?” She scoffed.
“You did not inspire confidence with your response. You know, you’ve always been a fool when it comes to the politics of the Academy.” She snapped.
“The council will not be pleased that you’re even entertaining a theory that diminishes the image of the Lady.”
Tarian shook his head. “They’ll manage,” he said. “Those younglings don’t understand what real academic pursuit is. They’re too busy with—”
He felt a sharp blade touch his neck.
Matie gasped. Tarian looked up. A brigand and his goons stood before him. They must have snuck up from over the nearby hill.
A crooked smile crossed the brigand’s lips. He wore a rugged black leather chest piece, frayed cloth pants, and tattered boots. His dagger was rusted and hardly sharp, but it would do the trick. Each wore brown leather hoods, hiding their faces well.
“Yer coin’er yer life, old man.” The ne’er-do-well spat with glee. He clearly thought Tarian to be easy pickings after seeing the pair’s simple garb.
“I have little coin, lad.” Tarian grumbled. There were much more important things to be doing.
“Show us what’s in the knapsack, ye old fart.” The brigand snapped. He was getting shaky.
“I’ll be tha judge’er yer damn loot.”
Matie remained silent. If Tarian did not know her well, he would have thought she were scared.
“I assure you, young man, you do not wish to do—” Tarian was interrupted by the swing of the dagger towards his throat.
The blade sliced thin air. Tarian was gone, blue mist trailing in his wake.
“Wut?!” The brigand yelped.
“Lads, get ‘em!” He pointed off in the distance towards nothing. His lackeys looked around, drawing their blades.
“Wut’re ya laughin’ at, ya lout?!” The brigand yelled. “I’ll cut out yer tongue!” He marched towards her.
Before he could reach Matie, a zig-zagging zap of soaring light shot towards him. As it struck, he was lifted into the air, and his limbs contorted awkwardly. He screamed, his voice comically distorted by the electricity.
There was a large flash of light, and then, no more brigand.
“H… he’s gone, Lumba!” One of the goons exclaimed, eyes wide.
“No, ya shite-brain! He’s a clucker!” The other exclaimed.
Lo and behold, the brigand was naught more than a tiny chicken. It looked to one side. Then the other. Then down at its body.
“CA-CAAAW!” He screamed with the fear and rage of a thousand. His predicament was clear.
Tarian teleported in front of the goons, a smile on his lips.
“I suggest you two scamper off and ponder your choices today.” He said calmly.
Lumba rushed off with nary a word, losing a boot in the process. The other fell to one knee, sobbing.
“I-I promise, lord… I shan’t.. I shan’t do no more, I promise…” Tears streamed down his face.
Tarian shook his head. “Of course. Now, begone!” He said with a booming voice. Tarian nearly coughed, but managed to keep his presence consistent.
“Y-yus, of course, of course!” The brigand waddled off after his friend.
Matie yelled from across the road.
“Your trick doesn’t last forever, Tarian!”
The caws of the unfortunate brigand continued, but became distorted again. He was becoming human.
Tarian walked up to him as his transformation was complete.
“Now that the gravity of your situation has been established, I think you’d best—”
Tarian was once again interrupted by the flash of steel. The brigand wildly swung his dagger and rushed towards Tarian, barely standing. The nausea of switching species clearly wore on him.
“I’ll cut ye ta pieces, ya fancy-wap wizard! I’ll clip yer knees and feed ‘em in donkey broth! I’ll—”
Tarian looked at Matie. She shrugged.
“I suppose I haven’t had some fun in a while.”
Matie looked surprised. “Tarian, no!” She exclaimed. “He’s an utter buffoon and has the morals of one too, but you can’t simply—”
A ray of pure energy shot out from Tarian’s oak staff. The entire world was turned a deep blue by the expulsion of magic. Dancing stars paraded off of the beam, shooting off in zig-zags and twirling whimsy. As the beam reached the tumbling brigand, his entire being was consumed by the light.
After a painful number of seconds, the light died down. Where once the brigand stood, a fine pile of smoking ash remained.
Matie shook her head.
“It’s not that funny. He had a life, a family. Even if he was a fool.”
“Those kids must have ran back to Ashenbury. Let’s pay them a visit.” Tarian replied.
The two resumed their travels.
As the pair reached Ashenbury, Matie brought up the subject once more.
“You must tell his friends of his fate, Tarian. They’ll surely be here by now.”
Tarian saw the two lackeys in the corner of his eye. He chuckled once more.
He beckoned them over. Lumba, the larger of the two, smacked the other upside the head and pointed to the Archmage. They both began to run, but Tarian snapped his fingers. They both appeared before him in a flash of blue light.
“W-we’ll be gone from this place, lord! We promise!” Lumba muttered fearfully.
Tarian shook his head. “Calm yourself. Now,” he said, “What I wish is for you to promise that you shall never steal again in your life.”
“That you shall uphold the good name of your families, and find a life of purpose and service.”
They nodded again.
“And know that if you do not, I shall find you.”
They nodded in unison, unwavering in their new mission.
“Hmph.” Tarian scoffed. He barely withheld a boisterous laugh. “Very well, then. I shall return your friend to life so he may join you in this quest.”
The Archmage snapped his fingers. In a puff of smoke before him, the brigand popped into existence and fell to the ground with a loud thud. His clothes were seared, still smoking.
“W-wut?!” He screamed. He rose to his feet, and patted down the hot spots of his garb.
“Hraver!” Lumba exclaimed.
Peasants begun to crowd around the scene. They gasped as rumors already began to spread.
Tarian laughed, and passed them. Matie followed.
“What was that?!” She asked.
“I didn’t kill the poor sod, Matie. I teleported him away at the last minute and held him in stasis.”
Matie shook her head.
“You really haven’t lost your touch, have you?”
“I suppose not.”
Archmages have mastered the controlled application of the Ley. They are astute, revered, and seemingly all-powerful.
Wield magic like a plaything as the Archmage in Ivion, the Herocrafting Card Game, coming to Kickstarter September 1st, 2020!