A Brief Extension and an Extended Briefing
“…and to betray not the name of wizardkind, be it through harming a fellow member of the Citadel, be it through allowing harm to befall a fellow member, or be it through disobeying an order from the council. Thus I vow."
––The oath of the magi initiates at Carenath
Soon, all too soon, came the day when they had to leave. Besides hammering out a few more points for her long to be discontinued tract, Iola had spent her time learning a few of the more basic spells dealing with self-defense and travel in the wilderness. She did not doubt that having Morinan-Wo at her side would make the journey marginally less dangerous than a short stroll down the in the garden, but her apprenticeship had already taught her early on that you did not succeed (or survive, for that matter), by being unprepared, or by excessively relying on other people.
So now, she was studying some of the more practical spells of the Nature Cycle especially, which was also a part of the Fourth tower (though the Second, the Geomancers had a nature circle as well with only slightly different curriculi. It was a shared cycle, and after all water went well together with both Earth and Air, so the conflicts of interest were kept to a very small minimum.)
The spells she had learned were concerned with protection as well as basic survival in the wilderness – with what she now knew, there would be no dying of thirst or hunger, that was for sure. Nor would anyanimal short of a tiger succeed in seriously injuring her if she got attacked – the powers of the Water were manifold, and not all of them beneficial. Besides, the strong Blackmoss warding potions she had brewed and stocked herself with would take care of that on any spots she happened to camp on.
Lastly, she had finally begun training on something she should probably not have. The Tower of Carenath and the Order specifically forbade it, to be exact. New forms and structures of magic, undocumented spells were not to be researched by anyone below the seventh level – that of the Researcher, the Arashinen. And even for them, it required a special license: The magical structures and energies were instable and powerful, and to devise new ways to apply and put them to use needed great skill from the one who did it, if he or she had no specific guidelines to follow. It might have blown up the tower if a foolish mage had decided to tamper with something powerful. Of course, the building and pretty much everything around it in a five mile radius was shielded by the most powerful shield that existed these days in the entire Kingdom of Atharellia, but shields were not unfailible, whether they served to ward against physical or magical harm.
If anyone had found out, that would have been it, like as not. Cast out for unlicensed experiments even beforeshe left on her mission. It would upset the fate as seen by the seers a little, but the laws of the order surpassed any prediction or prophecy. And the tract she had been working on, she could use for hearth fire in that case, and nothing else.
What did she care? She had the magic, she had done the licensed, theoretical experiments and calculations, and she knew enough now to use the practical concepts involved.
She had created a new form of Water Shield, and was already working on perfecting an arcane shield harnessing the power of the Ice. If she managed to complete this before she had to leave, she would have a great benefit from it once they were on that mission – in almost any situation, a quickly cast shield could save your life. Or at least delay your impending death, and that also made all the difference on occasion.
She conducted those experiments at night mainly, recording the uses of the laboratory (unmonitored, as her privileges of a Terkian and a Trusted Confidant of the Archmagus) as training sessions for her mission that was soon to start, and they were, after all. Still, if the laboratories had not been shielded, or if anyone had chanced to enter them while she was weaving the spells, she would have gotten in immense trouble – any mage could sense the structure of the energies at once and realize she was trying her hand at inventing new spell crafts. But then, a lot of the fun was in the risk, wasn’t it?
And in the challenge as well. She was an apprentice, not a magic researcher and certainly not a spellsmith or a weaver. In any professional laboratory or other researching institution, the proper place to one of her level of experience would have been that of an errand runner, or even a floor sweeper. More than once, she narrowly averted a devastating fizzle of a high energy burst – shields being defensive magic did not mean that they made no use of powerful and potentially harmful energies; a shield that was unraveled or torn could backlash on the mage holding it, its force unleashed to cause a significant measure of destruction.
But it had been worth the effort, certainly. She could now materialize, within moments, a shield that would withstand magical onslaught longer than any other shield magic within her ability. It would tire her out, but it would hold as long as she did.
And then, at the very moment she had finally gotten the rotten damn thing to work, it was already time to pack. The mages had given her almost a fortnight to finish up her affairs in the Tower before she was leaving on that mission (an unbelievably generous amount of time, considering that they were that pressed already. The Order of Carenath were known for the swiftness involved in anything they did or decided – once they decided!). But now these brief days were over. It was time to leave the place she had called home for the last six or so years, and visit the outside world once again.
Morinan-Wo was a small, inconscpicuous looking man. His head looked as if it should have been balded to go with the rest of his stature, but instead, a mane of long red hair tumbled past his ears and down onto his back and shoulders. His beard looked to have gone unshorn for two years at least, but it was neatly trimmed, and had it been white it would have given the entire man a nice, grandfatherly appearance. Instead, it was a dark reddish brown, which looked almost, but not quite black. Though it was distinctly brown, it showed off against the pale skin in a stark contrast. His skin was a veritable miracle, considering that it should have been long tanned to leather by the sun and the elements he exposed himself to all the time. The rest of his face looked well-cared for, like that of a man who spents his time reading, not adventuring. It belied the man, who had spent years out in the wild without coming even close to habitation, human or otherwise. He was rumored to be nearly a hundred years old, but looked not a day older than forty – a magic he had picked up somewhere along his travels, he would related to anyone wondering. Where, he would not say. Where any man of his reputation would have been imagined tall, he only measured barely over five fores, though he was thin enough to count as lank still. His eyes, finally, were a dark, coal black, looking almost like gigantic pupils set in colorless eyes. An anticipating, always vigilant tension was in his face, and a triumphant, confident, yea even arrogant smile shone perpetually on his face.
Iola first saw him on the day that they were supposed to leave the Tower. It never occurred to her as odd; even though the Nightbird had spent the last fourteen days at the academy. To his great annoyance, it must be noted; he had been called telepathically only an hour after the meeting, told to arrive within the next day. He was a busy man, and had tasks in the world, and had been going places next to every day for many years. To be called back to the Tower for two weeks, delayed while waiting for his companion to finish preparations (for it was Iola who had requested the time and gotten it, though she had not been asking or hoping for half as much), was seen as only one thing by him: Outrageous!
The wizard who had been in charge of that mission, incidentally, was Derlen, who had – with a very, very strong advisory note from Ramon to help him along – decided to give Iola several times as much time for preparation as she had desired. They both knew – inofficially – how fair it was to be chosen for a mission on nothing but a prophecy from the seeresses, with a tract in the works on top of it. So when she had come – demurely, a little downcast, and quite hopeless as to the success of that request – to ask for “a short while, three or four days”, to finish up the most pressing affairs that were left for her in the Academy, they had balked and instead given her fourteen.
Unknowingly, however, they were at the same time giving her an extreme disadvantage in that decision. That lay in Morinan-Wo, before they had even met for the first time, having decided on the basis of this delay , to begin loathing her heartily. When they were finally introduced, on the day that they were to leave, he hardly looked at her, and addressed empty air when he spoke of her in the third person. Oh dear.
And what was to be done about it anyway? She looked at him – before he hd even reacted to her preysence – and saw a wizard who combined the first traits of Ramon with the worst trades of Ayin Selten. Definitely the Pride of a mage, she could see in those eyes, the same pride that must once have been in the very look of King Kuno III just before he summoned up the demon to break the world, the very same look that must have been in the eyes of Shezaiah the Accursed, the second one to summon up a Great Demon from the nether, and nearly wreck the world again. She had no doubt that the third mage, who she was sure existed (Theodore Kyntall usually had a point when he was worrying about anything, even something as unlikely as this), would have that same look. Power. I have Power, and I can use it, and I want more. That was all that look said.
Maybe she was interpreting too much into that look. Ayin looked far-off, and proud, as well, and when he spoke it was in all the measured cadences of one who was fully aware of his power, standing and authority. Yet only the lowest rat in Carenath would have said him to be untrustworthy. Ramon had a slight, but unnoticeable disdain for the ones called moogs amon wizards – non-magically skilled people seeking to intrude upon the affairs of wizards (and thus exposing themselves to their subtle and quickly aroused anger). But to accuse him of secretly desiring to be lord of Atharellia, nay, even Carenath, would have been grave insult.
So perhaps Morinan-Wo was that way too, harsh on the outside, but a good man in truth, who cared about others more than he let on…
Wrong. Dead rotten wrong.
She noticed and realized that as soon as she had seen him otice her. His eyes tightened slightly, and he otherwise showed no reaction whatsoever. Looking staunchly beside and above her, never blinking, looking past her like so much empty air. She hesitated, then approached uncertainly.
“Greetings, Luminar.” This mage was anyone but a man who would allow himself to be addressed without his title or proper address. She knew that without even thinking.
Well, whatever, she thought, getting slightly annoyed, and exasperated at what the next few months were going to do to her by just having to endure that despising resence. He would have to talk to her eventually, she knew, so why press the matter? She didn’t much look wforward to the moment he addressed her anyway.
And at that moment, Ayin Selten entered. It would be him briefing them, of course, not Derlen or Ramon; the ranking member of this little party was of the Sixth and his Archmagus (and his superior, though from looking at the two, Morinan-Wo would have died before admitting that or showing respect), Ayin Selten, would be the one giving them their directions (even though Ramon would likely be directing her directly later on when they were negotiating, and in turn both being coordinated by Derlen, that was the way the hieracrchical structures worked in the Order).
And he approached, and saw the trouble immediately. Inwardly, he seemed to sigh, unnoticed to Morinan-Wo but not escaping the sharp eyes of Iola. I knew what would result from letting the Nightbird wait. He hd, but he certainly hadn't warned them. They, as in Derlen Lightweaver adn Ramon Tulyn, the Archmagus of the Fourth. They had decided to giver her all this delay for finishing up the most dire of her works and affairs at the tower (and especially her training, whcih she had imposed on herself harshly indeed - that sort of thing did not escape Ayin). He knew, also, that hse had experimented with a little spell-weaving.
He might have reported that, certainly he should have. To both of them, her archmagus and the Director of the Order. He had chosen not to; he was a Demonologist and a mage of the sixth; he was used to breaking the rules of magery (as long as it harmed none). So what he had decided to do was let it be. A little extra knowledge would always come in handy.
But never, on his oath, he could have known she would succeed this well. He had tracked her progress, to the very point of scrying her lab notes (easily breaking through the well-made but untrained and weak encryption spell - encryption and ptrtiection were a magic of the Light, not the Water, and thus not her strength), and surveilling her experiments surreptiously through his arrangement of scrying apparatus. She had obviously had a great success indeed, she had. After all, she had not only perfected her water shield but had also started on the shield structured like ice crystal (and all this in one week). The ice shield had been a purely theoretical possibility of magical structure up to then. A fairly well-known theory, since Ramon had chosen to tell all the other archmagi of the work his apprentice was working on, but still: Nobody in their right mninds would have believed that anyone could come up with the practical way of accomplishing it this soon. Still less the inventor herself, untaught in the weaving as she was.
But she had done it. The shield was very weak and often fizzled (though without great risks, since the fizzle usually resulted it in merely fading away rather more quickly than it should have otherwise). And so, the shield was pracicall at last. In combat - given a little more practice - she would be able to use it to great affect.
All this, Ayin knew, better than Ramon Dulyn had (and that was good; Ramon prided himself on being very strict in the rules, and he would have been less than pleased to hear his apprentice had betrayed his trust by peerfomring forbidden magic expereiments. So, Aying had kept quiet. Like he had when Derlken and Ramon had together decided to delay the departure of Morinan-Wo for a fortnight. The former decision had turned out to be a good one, as it had worked out to great success. The result of the latter, he saw before him.
Then, Morinan-Wo spoke.
"I see you have finally chosen to come, Radiance". There was no doubt, form the way he had said Radiance, that he meant it with less than little respect. And then, "I see, also, that the servant you have appointed has finally seen fit, after all these days, to find that she has finished her doubtlessly extensive and highly essential preparations."
Cold scorn, in those eyes. Iola frowned, but wisely decided against replying.
"I have indeed come to brief you two now. And yes, this will be your companion on this mission; her name is Iola Lyrian."
Morinan-Wo scowled, if that was possible in a face that was already covered from side to side by a sneer as wide as a grin. His contempt for the entire academy was no secret. He had often criticized its policies, especially against the unlicensed use of wizardry, and the resz bans on the trade and practice of dark magics and any materials required therefore. He felt it intruded upon one domain of magic more than the others. Why, for example, were dark mages of the Sixth disadvantaged mnore than the Pyromancers of the third? Their magic could kill; as could that of the Light, as could that of any of the towers, used in the right way. What was the use of saying stuff about Balance all the time when you then discriminated against one side of the scale this badly... whereas all the sides of the scale should have been trated equally?
Naturally, it wasn't his place to speak on this, not in the official circles, but he was rarely averted to an opportunity of speaking out against this unofficially - in the situations were it fit, and in those it did not, to all those who did or did not want to hear it. Morinan-Wo was a subtle wizard, but he was talkative when he ever did go to the tower (which was rare enough, being that most of his life he spent in the field).
A character like Ayin, somewhat: Someone who they did not entirely trust, but who they needed. But not as likable as Ayin – not one bit of it.
"Is there any explanation yet as to why I would require a... _companion_ on this mission?" He spoke the word 'companion' with exactly the right amount of scorn and bawdishness that it became a signifier not for a fellow traveller, but an entirely other, less savory meaning. He was determined not to allow this conversation to turn more civil.
"It was seen by the prophets. We always trust those, as you know."
"Ah yes, the... prophets. Have they also foreseen what way she will be important in?"
"It might have escaped their vision, for they have not imparted that on us. Yet we shall assume it to be something essential, and carry on with our work until it happens. At least this way we will be prepared partly. What do you think of it?" Ayin Selten had imsself now adopted a more formal style of speech, presumably to not allow himself to be viewed as inferior by his own mage, Morinan. Morinan-Wo, he corrected himself silently. The wo is not a last name, bloodied be it. Indeed, nobody knew his last name; they used his title, Nightbird, as his last name whenever it came up. Indeed, Luminar Morinan-Wo Nightbird was quite enough of a name, and four syllables should have satisfied anyone. The style of speech was somewhat encumbering, like very formal clothing, but it was needed, lest the Nightbird fall to outright scathing speech rather than being merely slightly scornful disrespect.
"Then I expect it will be eventually useful to have her around. But I wonder if it will outweigh the burden of escorting her around for the rest of the time." He was fully aware, of course, of the Terkian's lack of experience. Morinan-Wo had strange powers, and to send a mage apprentice to tag behind him was like sending out a butterfly to aid a cave-tiger in his travels and tasks. Power being all that signified the capability of a wizard in the mind of one like Morinan-Wo, he did not appreciate the talent of one like Iola, who was not yet out of apprenticeship, but already showed potential to be not an Arashinen, not an Aventer, but possibly an Arcanor and Ramon's successor in another century's time or so. But Morinan-Wo had little more respect to what might be than for what was not at all.
"I am sure it will. The seers have rarely been wrong in all they have said, as you well know."
"It will be a tremendous burden, you realize. You have seen fit to weigh me down with an apprentice on a most essential mission to the order. What is she even skilled in?" He asked, not turning his face from Ayin for even an instant.
Time to interrupt, Iola decided.
"I have travelled the wilderness before, though briefly. I can navigate, track and hunt, and I can protect and defend myself. I am more skilled than you realize, perhaps."
"I doubt it not. But there is little to that, for I have an extremely low opinion of her skills either way, an opinion it would be almost impossible not to exceed." Sarcasm was dripping.
"Her skills, unlike what some might say-" turning to Ayin Selten in protest, "are exceedingly trained for one of her level. There are few even in the nature cycle who match her training in that way, and none in the healing cycle. She will be more than capable of pulling her weight in such a mission, even to the side of one such as him."
Ayin winced. This was not starting off well.
"Subtlety, Iola, and Morinan-Wo, subtlety - as you will remember - is the Virtue of Wizards. May I ask you both to be a little more virtuous?" He smiled at his little joke, under the frown of Iola and the dead glare of Morinan-Wo. “Meanwhile, I must ask for both your silence and your attention."
Both were silent and granted him attention, Iola still with a very annoyed frown and Morinan-Wo with a mixture between a sneer and a glare that would have turned anyone to flight who was not a mage himself. Children, both. Why is it that any mage retains a bit of unprofessional, unreasonable childishness that grows worse with increasing power?
“As you have been informed already, the decision of the last Council meeting has resolved to, for now, seek neutrality in the conflict, and balance it out by covertly negotiating with the rebels. We will then intend to subdue both sides to force an armistice, in order to turn our attention away from this conflict and prepare the Kingdom for what lies ahead.
“Therefore, our council has decided to send a highly skilled, experienced and powerful Aventer of the Sixth – skilled for stealth, subtlety and subversion – to go on a secret quest to negotiate with the rebels. If the advisors or any agents of the Royal Court discover this subterfuge, our plan is forfeit, and we must fear indirect, if not direct retribution. Whatever shall result from it, the first consequence will be a turmoil of the first order and an upheaval throughout these lands, which will play into the hands of the forces that must even now be preparing to rally to the banner of whoever can raise the L’zothgwaur when it is time. It will be a failure on all our parts, and maybe even the cause of a second Breaking.”
A little gasp at that.
“So you must on no account be discovered by the King’s minions on your mission. But almost as bad would it be were some disaster to befall you fatally during your journey. We have already made the first move by withdrawing our forces. We cannot go back on our plan and abort it now – if that had even been an option in the first place. We have begun the game – if we do not follow it up with the next move, the consequences would be disastrous indeed.
“Our fate-forgers”, a somewhat mocking title the Tower had unofficially given to a small group of brilliant strategic minds who were responsible for analyzing all their conspiracy plans and concluding what effects they would have, based on a very experienced and advanced model of the Atharellian society, “our fate-forgers have analyzed what would happen were we to leave matters as they are now. The most likely consequence appears to be that both will decide that without the benefit of magi on either side a victory must be won swiftly, or not at all. Resulting, of course, in a sharp acceleration of hostilities further weakening the land against a possible nether attack.
“This can only be prevented if we quickly reach the King with our offer of the Tower-commanded support force. The justification is reasonable: It’s a significant war now, and we would rather command our own forces for his aid than have them in the Army to be commanded by him. He would do the same, were he in the situation. Further, we must reach the rebels with our offer for them. And the trick is that they must not know the slightest thing about each other. That will be the most dangerous thing.
“Fortunately, we have given our mages orders of total lockdown on any intelligence communication between the Kingdom and the rebels – and that’s on both sides. There are no spies on either side that do not rely on magical communications, so we can rather rely on this.”
Iola interrupted, a little concerned, with the doubtful frown remaining on her face.
“Can you? You have informed me only two weeks ago that the rebels have in their service some of the most powerful Thaliomancers of Atharellia, who would not hesitate to scan me for mental rapports with the Tower, or even read my thoughts to detect subterfuge! If we can trust the communication wizards and informants, then how is it that we have to beware the mentalists?”
“Because the mentalists I was speaking of are not Thaliomancers in the strictest sense – that is, they never graduated from the Academy of Carenath, and they are not counted among the Order of the Magi, not among the First tower, and not of any other. Instead, they have studied at the mentalist school of Duskinholm, far South of here. A little place, and hardly known to the populace more than a few miles around it, but they concentrate on only one branch of magic, and have perfected it absolutely. The mind mages they churn out there match the finest Thaliomancers that have ever graduated from the Tower of the Wind, in spite of the poor treasury and libraries available to them. They have dedicated teachers and students whose eagerness puts the most ambitious among us to shame, I am told.”
“How is it that the Order allows this?” There was no pride speaking there, though some pride in Carenath verging on the point of patriotism was associated with almost all mages. The Order did not merely represent this institution, it was an agency responsible for all practitioners of magic, be they far to the South beyond the Telladar, or to the East in the city of Thara, or to the West in one of the great cities of the western coast. If another institution were to suddenly decide to open shop anywhere between the Great Temple ruins and the Isles of Blood, between the City of Light and the Sunset Sea, and teach magic, the Order would be quickly breathing down their necks.
“We let them be, for the most part. They have vague agreements with the Order, and being that their mages have never been known to start trouble in the world – nor engaged in unlicensed demonology or other dark arts – there is no reason to stop them from doing what they are. Officially, the Order is permitting them to continue independently, and they know better than to press the point.
“But they are still free-lance mages – true free-lance mages, because even the self-taught herb witches and warlocks of the countryside are bound by law to the decrees of the Order. They are not. They act independently, and no decree and no command could ever justifiably sway them. We could sanction their academy of course, but that would be an open move. Even a command would make them wisen up to our intentions, and if they do not agree with us, they can notify the King. No, the rebel Thaliomancers cannot be trusted in this. Luckily they have not yet come up with a way of using long distance telepathy. Our agents would know if they had. So at least this remains to us; that we can stop any sensitive information flowing between rebel and royal informants.”
That did not appear to satisfy Morinan-Wo, who frowned deeply to the point of scowling. Before he could open his mouth to speak, however, Ayin went on and continued.
“They shall know not the slightest thing about each other. And that, as I said, will be dangerous, for if you are caught, you must deny all connections with this mission. Instead, know that I am sending you on another quest, which will be the official reason you must give to any stranger asking your errand.”
He paused slightly, looking at Iola regretfully.
“Here it comes. You, Morinan-Wo, are on a very important task to see our trusted Royal Liaison and Pyromancer, the Aventer Ranino Om’W Nabrosto. Your task is to meet him and consult on a matter of strategy with him, also giving rumors to the effect that the wizards will yet involve themselves. This may pre-empt any hasty military action on the part of the royal army. Your mission is secret and classified, only the higher-ups among the royal army are allowed to know of it.”
Iola grew apprehensive, as Morinan-Wo stood emotionlessly to appreciate and acknowledge Ayin’s order. At long last, after several seconds had passed in silence, she spoke again.
“And I? What is my part in this apparent, counterfeit quest?”
Morinan-Wo’s lips curled in a little smile as he guessed what the answer would be, and Ayin paused before responding.
“As… ahem. A bodyguard and personal assistant to Luminar Morinan-Wo.” A moment passed, and the Nightbird’s grin grew wider still.
Morinan-Wo leant in to speak. “A lackey,” he redefined Ayin’s words far too aptly. “You’ll be the one who carries my stuff, you know, walks on ahead when we’re approaching inns to make sure they prepare a room for me. That sort of thing.” He grinned again. Ayin winced again. And Iola let her frown deepen into the blackest scowl she had yet mustered today.
Turning toward Ayin with still the same disgusted expression on her face, she took a hard effort not to yell at him. Instead, she took a very deep breath indeed, and talked in a furiously hissing voice not much above a whisper.
“I have been commanded by the Highest of my tower, and by the Deacon of the Academy, to abandon my studies in favour of this quest. Are you clear in your understanding of what the mission means to me with regards to the time lost of my apprenticeship? I have been commanded, according to the Archmagus, on a premonition by the seeresses! For traveling around as the personal servant of an Aventer?” She was working herself into a minor rage by now. It was only when Ayin held up his hand imposingly, looking like a dark speaker of Doom in his black robe, that she realized she was raving by now and fell silent.
“Apprentice Lyrian! This is a necessary measure. Your position must be such to act as a cover – what other position would be believable without a second question, for an apprentice?” He turned to Morinan-Wo, who looked rather like he had just been notified of the cancellation of a great feast to which he had been invited. “And you, Luminar Morinan-Wo, will do no more than necessary to strengthen that cover. It is a subterfuge, so I will not have you going about kicking her around. And I will know if you do. The moment Ramon gets word that she has been needlessly made to suffer, he will tell me and I will make sure there will be consequences.” And, as Morinan-Wo scowled, “you may be the Nightbird, but I am the Prime of the Sixth, and your superior, and you had best remember that.
“Am I making myself clear?”
“No need to worry.” Morinan-Wo spat. And spat it in a way that let Iola know there was need to worry. He would make sure she paid for this, and in a way that would avoid reprimand from Ayin Selten.
“Then I am relieved. You will leave here, travel along the Southwestern road for a distance of twenty miles and then leave the path to make your way through the wilderness, to avoid discovery by any agents of the King. You will then pass through the Deridan woods.” He paused, waiting for a second to give them time to react to the ominous name. The Deridan… dark and enchanted, the legends said. Only the Nogrin, most massive of forests, surpassed him in size, and age. There were dark creatures dwelling in the Deridan, supposedly, left over from the time before the Fading, when the great cataclysm and the subsequent Raising of the continent had drained a great part of the magic from these lands and caused the extinction of almost all races of magical creatures (which had, in fact, existed, in spite of the human scholars who conveniently overlooked their existence in order to give Man a more special role in nature as the only being capable of magic). According to those legends that were more a mix between actual scientific history and fiction, rather than purely garbled folktales, the Fading had never truly reached inside the Deridan, just as it had passed by the Nogrin, and a few other spots in Atharellia that were still known as ‘wild places’, aescelte in the Old Tharian, were the old magics of nature were strong. There had never been elves native to Atharellia (though they supposedly launched several expeditions in the old days, landing there as explorers and scientists, bringing wondrous technology and new magics with them), but there were diminutive sprites that were known as wood fairies, and unicorns – though nearly extinct – dwelt in the Deridan as well. And things less savoury than fairies or unicorns.
“You will travel through the Deridan and traverse it southward, then cross the great river Bulnai at David’s Ford, deep within the wood, and turn east ward again. Within little more than a week’s journey, assuming good weather, you will leaver the woods at the east end of the Deridan, and cross the border into Lendra’s province – populist-controlled land. From there on, you will be watched by the rebels – though you are mages, they will not assume hostile intentions since you number only two. They are not likely to engage in any defensive action, and it will likely be several days before you will even be challenged by rebel scouts and asked to explain the cause for your journey.”
“Will the rebels know of our coming?” Iola asked, uncertainly.
“Good Canae, no! Of course we cannot let them know we are sending you – every additional day that they know of our intentions is an additional day that we run the risk of spies exchanging information between the King and the Rebels. Each must be notified as late as possible in the process of this subterfuge, to minimize such danger. No, the rebels will be unaware of any of our intentions, and you will be the first to tell them of such plans.
He paused, then spoke on, slowly and deliberately,
“And for the Dreamer’s sake, do not be loose with your tongue when you talk to their footsoldiers. Your quest is absolutely secret and must be told to the rebel high command and Lendra alone. This is especially important not only because there might be spies planted in the ranks of the rebel army, but also because the rebels will likely harbor an initial resentment against you.”
“Why would that be?” Morinan-Wo inquired smoothly, but with an undertone of grim annoyance.
“Because, quite frankly, the recent decisions and orders coming from Carenath have not made things easier for them. They have no reason to like us when we have just locked down a significant segment of their fighting force by decreeing that all Magi of the Order must not involve themselves in this civil war. They will see you as meddling in their war and opposing their cause, and they will be hardly pacified by the knowledge that the King’s magi have received the very same command. The rebels have good reason to see this as an imbalancing factor rather than a balancing one, because their inferior manpower forces them to rely on magic to a far greater extent than the Royal Army. If the magic is taken away, naturally the armies will gain an advantage over the rebels, matching sword for sword at least three times over.
“They will not see past this easily. And if you even hint at the fact that your negotiations are regarding the supply of battle mages to the aid of the rebels, then the footsoldiers will possibly resent you even more for appearing to blackmail them and put them under pressure. Effectively, it will sound like we are intending to sell them back what we took from them at a high price, and they will hate us for that. Of course, the true reason is much less savoury to them – namely that we are putting all the troops fighting in this war under our central command, to be able to freeze the entire conflict dead in its tracks and effectively take over the authority over both sides to prepare for the cataclysm at hand.
“All this will be, to their minds, much more of a treason to their cause than what they will otherwise think of you. And I fear that we must accept a little hostility therefore, and see past it in our negotiations. But let no rumors abound about your quest. You are to tell anyone who challenges you that you must speak to the High Command and Lendra herself in an urgently important matter, that she knows of your coming, and that she has kept it secret only to avoid leakage into the spy network of the King.”
“That is risky” Iola realized immediately. “Our own spy network within the rebels is effective in picking up the information from the High Command only, not the lower ranks. We have little idea of their ranks of importance, who would be trusted by the commanders and who would not. Let alone those with personal relations and connections, who might be unofficially trusted with classified information over a drink in the tavern, in defiance to the security doctrines. The rebels are courageous and a fierce fighting force, but from what I heard they are structured unbureaucratically. That is not a fault really, bureaucracy is one of the many evils of our current royal court, and I would applaud the Lendranians very much indeed should they succeed in abolishing it.” She was going off-track, and remembered her original point before someone could interrupt her.
“But it does not help in building a clearly recognizable image of their command structure. If on our way we encounter someone who is justifiably positive that even the most secret plans of Lendra would be shared with him personally, and we make this claim, we might well be booted out on our ears, or worse, incarcerated on suspicion of treachery. Incarcerated if we’re lucky, incinerated if we’re not. Nobody likes being lied to, especially once they catch you. We must be careful in not assuming that anyone low in their chain of command is not entrusted with such plans, or our mission is in danger.”
Good Gracious, the seeresses must have known what they were doing when they picked you, mustn’t they? Ayin caught himself. “I am impressed. Yes, I admit I had not thought of that. It would be best to remain vague. It will be nearly impossible to win the rebels’ trust after having been caught at lying to them, and therefore this risk is far worse than any implications of entering the Lendranian province without invitation. Rather, claim an important task of delivering new intelligence to the Command, sensitive information that we picked up from our informants within the Royal Military. That information is sufficiently urgent and unexpected to set out at once to the rebels without first bothering with a formal announcement.”
“Will they trust us?” Iola was still doubtful. “Even if they do – they hardly have a choice anyway after we pulled out the magi; they need to accept the negotiation we offer them, whether they like it or not, so they likely will trust us – but even if they do trust our offer, it will still sound fishy to them that we set out first to supposedly consult with Ranino Om’wë Nabrosto,” she pronounced the middle name almost flawlessly, enouncing the voiced e at the end with great clarity, “only to turn around – quite obviously before seeing him, to anyone with a remote knowledge of the travel time involved – and instead bargain with them.”
“It will not be as obvious as you think. That is the part we took care of already when we planned out your route – we took into consideration that you would take time to speak with the liaison. It was expected that you would supposedly come to offer the rebels aid, not only in the form of magical support, but also in the form of intelligence straight out of the royal army, from our trusted informant Raninoah Om Awae Nabyrosto.” He savoured speaking the full name, smiling wrily as Iola rolled her eyes, aware that she had provoked it by first taking great care to pronounce the voiced e in Om’we.
“We will not actually be providing them with such intelligence in the end, will we?” Morinan-Wo inquired with interest.
“No, you will not. That is merely another cover for the rebels outside the High Command, who might be… shall we say, annoyed… initially, should they come to realize that we are offering them exactly what we have just taken from them, even though we had the best intentions.”
“I… see.” Iola was less than impressed.. “So, to resummarize, we enter Deridan, travel through it while looking over our shoulder regularly—“ she did not like the thought of the Deridan, if the tales they told of it were true – “we then come to the river Bulnai and the old Ford, while avoiding the spirit of the Dread Sorcerer David—“, the Ford was named after David Ulysic, a necromancer who had supposedly found his end there when his creations turned against him. Ironically enough, he did not die at the hand of any of the Undead, but rather drowned when crossing the ford, in an attempt to shake off the natural aquaphobes (no Undead creature liked running water, it represented a force of life that they rejected). The waters had swelled to take him at the command of the wood sprites that he had so long terrorized with his zombies, and he had drowned, his spirit left to haunt the ford and trying to ensnare unwary travellers attempting to cross it. – “we cross it, praying to all the twelve that he does not exist, or at least does not watch while we do it. We then turn left, east ward, having passed the most dangerous part of the forest, and leaving most of the supernatural risks of the journey behind us.
“After that, we leave the forest and enter rebellion-controlled country. If we’re lucky, it will be around three days until a group of rebel scouts discover and accost us. If we are unlucky, one of the abounding groups of bandits gets us first and tries to wring all the money we don’t own from us before Morinan-Wo here disembowels them.”
Morinan-Wo flashed a predator-like grin, looking for an instant almost gratified, before the smile left his features and he was scowling again. Iola smiled back in a semi-friendly sort of way, then turned back to Ayin and spoke on.
“There will be little danger to us in a fight – provided the Nightbird does not deign to use me as a meatshield,” she said that bit jocularly, but was fully aware of how viable an option that would seem to Morinan-Wo in a fight. Screw him. “Yet, if we do get assaulted by bandits and defeat them, it would build up a profile and our reputation; and should someone stumble upon the bodies soon, there will be little doubt remaining that a couple of mages must have passed that way. And there are few mages over there in the hilly regions right now, so it would likely look more than a little suspicious. Word will spread, and, like as not, our cover will be blown. After all, we are supposed to be travelling on the great East road, many miles north of the hills, toward the capital of Thara. To be seen that far south would jeopardize everything; thus we must needs be stealthy, even in the face of pathetically inferior threats.”
‘Must needs’? That the apprentices must always have this tendency to wax archaic. Ayin was a little bit irritated. He was about to comment sarcastically, then he remembered his ‘certainly’ very embarrassing, fortunately inaudible monologue a while ago, and decided to forgo it. Nobody was born a linguist, still less a poet. The choice of words one made was one’s own, and as long as it wasn’t a magical formula, wizards didn’t bother much with language.
“After having succeeded in encountering a rebel patrol, we will pretend to them that we have entered their country from the north – across the most guarded border, which makes our unnoticed entering very suspicous. However, since they don't know when we set out, it will be believable that we have in the meantime spoken to Ran’Yini’Ashaoah-Arahensis Omyiath Awaerene Nathabyus Abarosonkotron—” her green eyes twinkled as she eyed Ayin intently, anticipating eagerly the reaction to poor Rann’s real, full, total and authentic name. She felt this was enough now; because the really full form of the full form of the full form of the name was definitely too long to utter in the short time that remained to them.
A little explanation would be apt at this point. Names are funny things. They have power, of course, according to the wizards (as they have in other worlds, with other kinds of magic than those we are used to). The true name of a being is what he or she should never give up when not in trustworthy company, and a wizard will usually not utter it from the time he is initiated to his death. In Kerran, in particular, the business with true and false names, and power and enchantments and ensnarements and curses was very annoying. Over the last few millennia, as more and more ‘unwardable’ curses became known that required nothing but the victim’s name and a little skill in demonology, eventually it became death to so much as whisper one’s name in the silences of one’s mind. And at that point, the wizards of Carenath had stepped in to intervene. You couldn’t operate under such conditions, when you weren’t even able to think your name without some dark mage ripping it from your skull from a hundred leagues off, and another dark mage sending you a nice but unfriendly visitor out of the nether from a thousand leagues off. So they’d thought something up that might have never evolved on a world like this one: Encryption. Numbers, of course, belonged to the realm of ‘magic’ (though in a nominal way only), and the Arithmancers enjoyed influence and a good reputation among the Second Tower, the Geomancers (who did not make much difference between dealing with cold, solid rock, or cold, solid numbers. The degree of abstractness as never mattered to sorcerers with a good imagination). It was therefore possible to encrypt something using numbers, and unlike other worlds where the technologies available for encryption are in a constant race to remain ahead of the techniques for decryption, in Kerran the Arithmancers had found formulas that even the most profound mage could not reverse. So unbelievably intricate and complex, in fact, they were, that it would be impossible to reverse it even if you were to know the exact formula and could use the same encryption. And thus, it was also used for the names of any mage initiated at Carenath.
It was possible, by magical and by clerical means, to change one’s name – one’s true name – and be known by that name to the laws of nature and the gods. And therefore, when any initiate entered the halls of Carenath, they were assigned a new name that became their true name – was never passed on to them, in fact, to prevent them from betraying themselves in torture. It was written on a parchment after only the Archdeacon himself had seen it, then it was encrypted with the one-way spell, and written in a huge ledger, next to the common name of the mage. The parchment was burned with arcane power to prevent it being ever restored again by magic, and the ledger was closed and locked away deep in the dungeons. Why, one might ask? What use was the irreversibly encrypted string of symbols? Why not keep it under a less guarded security – or even better, destroy it right away?
There was of course more to true names than what might be concluded from this: A true name was not only the result of a child being initiated (or baptized, or Charterbound, or whatever else it was called in the different worlds), it was not something you got, but something you had. And as such, it had to remain existant in the world, known to the laws of nature and the gods, or they would just decide whatever you happened to be called most often was your name. So the encrypted true name, after being forgotten by all but the archdeacon (there had to be a weakness in the plan, of course; if the deacon ever decided to try apostasy, the entire academy – or what he could remember of it – was doomed, if they didn’t kill him first. But that had never happened), anyway, after being forgotten by everyone except for the archdeacon of the academy, the name did not exist, by the laws of nature, apart from the little scrap in the book. And even though it was actually impossible to get back the original name from this, the laws of nature at least regarded the little encrypted scrap in the ledger as at least one occurrence of the true name of this mage – and as long as this name existed in the ledger, it was impossible to affect the mage’s true name by any power save his own, since nobody could know the true name. And this tome had to be guarded more than most other artefacts in the Halls of Magery deep within the catacombs of the Tower of Carenath, guarded not against prying eyes (which could have penetrated most defenses, but had no use for the encrypted names), but against destruction. If the ledger ever were destroyed, then all the true names of the mages would revert to their only other known names, and the entire business would have been for nothing.
They called the book the Avatarion, after avatae, the ancient word for ‘name’, and taron, the ancient name for ‘keeper’.
This was not the first system that had been tried. It was only the most effective, and had come into use some time in the second age, after the one-way encryption spell was discovered. Before then, the mages had used a neat trick that was impossibly hard to perform, and was therefore commonly given only to mages of the Aventer level and above (imagine the tremendous ruckus that resulted from the proclamation: “New Type of Encryption Discovered: Secure Name Protection Soon Available to Every Apprentice?”). It was based on the FIRWET (Fractally Infinite Reciprocable Word Expansion Technique) magic, that caused an expression to handle expansion like a fractal: By growing even more complex, so that the true name was just barely beyond one’s grasp. Enchanted by this spell, a wizard’s true name could never be uttered – the instant it was, it instantly disappeared and was replaced by something even more bizzarely inexplicable. This complicated matters only marginally, and by far not as much as one might have thought, because it was possible to stop any time: One could pronounce the name in as expanded a form as one chose and had time to utter, but it would never be the true name, for that lurked always behind the corner, another expansion ahead. A longer name, this one being only a feeble contraction of it.
Some still used this technique, if they could afford it, because the Avatarion did have its drawbacks. This one had not; save for the effort involved. Rann was one of them. That had been his original name, Rann. Time and frequent use had expanded it to Ranon, then to Ranonin, then to Ranino’Nan, then to Ranino Nabras, then to Ranino Omnabrosto, then to Ranino Om’w Nabrosto, on to Ranino om’we Nabrosto, then to Raninoah Om Awae Nabyrosto, and over several more runs to Ran’Yini’Ashoah-Arahensis Omyiath Awaerene Nathabyus Abarosonkotron. No one precisely knew what the last name was, because you could hardly tell how often each name had been uttered before (they grew increasingly hard to find out). The limit was not a solid, clear boundary, rather it faded off into the unknown, the ‘trueness’ of the name ever escaping further onward into the intricately mindboggling infinity of the fractal planes. It was, however, the second most complicated name that was known to wizardkind.
“So, having tipped Ra—“ a warning glare from Ayin –“Rann off, we have a good subterfuge for making it into rebel-controlled country. A clever disguise, I must say. Most plans would involve us pretending to do something that woud take longer, thus to have time to do something else in the meantime; we shall instead pretend to do something that takes less time than we actually need (pretending to take the East road, but passing instead through Deridan), thus to appear to do something else that we have no intention of doing (speaking with Rann). Clever. But wouldn’t you say.. a tad unvconventional? It was her time to try a little sarcasm; only on her face it looked much better than it had on Ayin’s or Morinan-Wo’s.
“Of course, unconventional. But at the same time very conventional. After all, it is a matter of where you’re standing In fact, you are not officially supposed to speak to the rebels at all, but instead consult with Rann for a period of one week, and have a vacation of another in the capital. But instead, neither of you will be going on vacation, but you will both be travelling to the rebel headquarters for that one week and the three days it would have taken you until you were ready to return from the Capital, and then you, Morinan-Wo, will teleport to Thara and start to make your way back – we will cover your reappearance there with a room in our own liaison where you can teleport to. It will look as if you had been staying there the entire time.”
Iola asked, a little uncertainly, but guessing at the answer already, “And where will I go after that week?”
Morinan-Wo himself looked on a little disconcerted, as if considering a possibility he had not considered before.
Ayin chuckled. “You’ll stay with the rebels to negotiate, of course! We send Morinan-Wo and you for the journey, but the negoiation itself will require only one of you – and it will be far easier to cover up for your absence than it will be for Morinan-Wo’s.” He looked tremendously pleased with himself as he had also just pissed off someone he did not like a whole lot: Morinan-Wo scowled a scowl that would have killed lesser men dead in their tracks.