The outer office of the Ordo Seiung-Teshur’s headquarters in Kinos, Novrom was like few other rooms Albion il Raza had seen in his years of traveling to every major cit and township on both continents. It was semi-circular, the floor tiled with white ceramic tiles rather than stone or wood, the walls were magically smoothed and fitted with a band of brushed metal pocked at intervals with mirrored sconces where mage lights had been cast, rendering the area brighter than actual daylight.
The entrance door was at the far edge of the semicircle’s curve, flanked by wooden chairs with stuffed green cushions that looked like they might be comfortable, but really weren’t. Along the straight side of the room, there was a wooden desk, manned by a human man; a Nov with light brown hair cut to just above his shoulders, a too-long neck, and the musculature of the most delicate spring daisy. There was a door to the inner office behind him—which in a mirror to its twin on the other side, was flanked by filing cabinets.
Albion il Raza came in through the entrance door, his coat folded over his arm. The confident, proud look he’d been wearing outside dulled as he steeled himself for what he knew would be coming soon.
At the sound of the door opening, the man at the desk looked up. “Knight Griffinseye!” There was obvious excitement in his voice, and he sat up a bit more straight, trying and failing to appear more impressive. “You’ve finally made it back. How was your convalescence at the Stone Maw Springs Homestead?”
“Less relaxing than one might hope,” said Albion, closing the door behind him. “It seems that one of those bardic gazetteers mentioned the healing springs, so I ended up sharing space with two dozen wealthy, spoiled tourists. I think I might have done better just coming here injuries and all and faced the Commander.” He leaned over to look at the door to the inner office. “Speaking of… is he in, Elott?”
Elott Verondeles, personal secretary to the Lord Commander of the Ordo Seiung-Teshur, gave Albion a less than encouraging look. “He’s been expecting you, actually sir. For a few days.” He looked pensive. “He’s not happy, sir. Wasn’t happy on the first day.”
“That’s typical,” Albion said dryly, “I risk life and limb to defeat a threat that menaced over one of the largest cities in Callen, and the Commander is angry that I didn’t do it ‘correctly’.” He punctuated that with a roll of his eyes.
“He does have his reasons for wanting things done in a certain way, Albion.” Elott dropped the ‘Knight Griffinseye’ for the moment, speaking to Albion as a friend. “He’s seen a lot of Knights die and a lot of missions fall apart catastrophically because things didn’t go according to plan.”
Albion gave the door another long, sober look. “I know why he does it. That doesn’t mean his mind hasn’t been clouded to the realities out there on the field by his regret and hindsight.”
For that, Elott didn’t have an answer. After a moment of tense silence, he merely said, “You should probably go in.”
“I should,” agree Albion. He moved to the door and gripped the handle. Taking a long breath, he turned the knob and stepped in.
The inner office completed the circle started by the outer office. Here, the floor was covered in short, blue carpeting with wall-hangings bearing the symbol of the Ordo: a straight line with two additional lines extending from about two-thirds along its length with the end terminating in claw-like serifs imposed over a scroll crossed with a broken sword.
Metal stands topped with curved mirrors and lit with mage lights illuminated the room almost as brightly as the outer office. There were stone planters along the perimeter of the room, planted with small trees that filled their air with a forest scent.
At the center of the room, there was a desk seemingly carved from a single piece of wood. There were two comfortable-looking chairs in front and behind it, in a third, sat a human man, Lord Commander Felic Geddas.
Dressed smartly in a dark blue waistcoat over a black silk shirt with a square tie, Geddas was a mountain of a man, a bronze-skinned Calleni with his hair cut close. Scars traced lines across his forehead, the side of his face and on one side of his massive jaw. He was missing part of his left ear.
At the moment Albion entered, he was reading through a set of papers arranged in a folder. “Nice of you to finally join us again, Albion,” he said without looking up.
“I would have been here sooner, but my convalescence was unavoidably delayed. I think I’ll have to put in a report about how the Stone Maw Springs Homestead probably shouldn’t be used for convalescence leave anymore—it’s become too popular with villains.”
Slowly, Geddas closed the folder and raised his eyes toward Albion. “Duly noted.”
From the moment Albion stepped into the office, his back had been stiff, braced against the tirade he expected to come. But Geddas looked like he was in no mood to tear him any new wounds over whatever faults he saw in Albion’s work on his last mission. His expression was grave in the way he only showed when things were at their most serious—when someone in the Ordo died, or when many, many people were threatened with death.
Albion raised a brow. “Sir? My debriefing?”
“Later.” Geddas opened the folder again and started pulling two folded sheets of parchment from it and putting it aside. He started unfolding one piece, revealing an intricate web of delicately draw spell diagrams. “How good is your arcanist training, Albion.”
When Elott called him by his given name, it was friendly. When Geddas did so, it only added more weight to the situation, as he decided that the pseudo-military trappings of the Ordo was getting in the way of the serious business he needed to undertake.
“I’m not exactly naturally talented, but I know enough spellworking to survive and I’m a fair hand with mystic theory. If there’s a mission that requires expertise in the field, I would recommend Llydean or—”
“Can you read this?” Geddas cut him off, pointing to the unfolded parchment.
Albion closed his mouth and leaned over it. His eyes traced over the symbols and lines that formed strings and patterns of arrays, which he recognized from his studies even if he would never be able to handle enough energy at one time to ever cast it.
“That’s a teleportation array.”
Geddas let out a grunt and unfolded the second parchment. This one had silvery strips affixed to the edges—magnesium to ensure the paper burned quickly and completely. Such treatment was usually reserved for secret communiques. It was another teleportation array, but this one was different.
“Something’s wrong with this one,” said Albion, “I can’t say what exactly, but it won’t work.”
“I’m told that it does work. And that is the problem.” Geddas put a huge hand on top of the diagram. “As I’m to understand, our dedicated spellworkers say that this spell is a teleport spell that allows the subject to appear inside a solid object.”
Albion looked down at the diagram, now putting serious effort into examining it. “As I said, I’m not the foremost expert in the Ordo when it comes to magic, but from my experience that’s something that can’t happen. It’s a known physical law that the same manner cannot occupy the same place—not even vox energies can overcome that.”
“You would not be wrong in saying so. No spell should be able to do so. In fact, I’m told that there are many laws that magic cannot circumvent… except sometimes it does anyway. Over the the centuries that people have practiced magic, there have been mistakes, acts of incompetence and catastrophic failures that have resulted in dangerous breeches in the very nature of magic.
“For example, if someone were to cast this spell on a brick and send it into a cliff wall, our spellworkers theorize that the backlash would destroy something like a half mile all around, annihilating everything in its path.”
“This spell as written could teleport almost one hundred pounds of material.” Albion did the math in his mind and stifled a sharp intake of breath.
Geddas met his gaze. “Now you know why I am in no particular mood to care about the fact that we were unable to recover information on who supplied Maxinus Farchile with his raw materials thanks to your very thorough job at demolishing his operations.”
He stabbed at the diagram with a finger. “This was sold to one of our operatives in Siram Leggate by a man named Teppidas Varin. Our people have determined that it is a copy—specifically a copy of a spell we had every reason to believe was under lock and key at the Arcane Institute of Kinos.”
Albion gave Geddas a look that bordered on insubordination. “We knew this spell existed—and no one was sent to destroy it?”
“Remember your rank, Knight Griffinseye.” Geddas stared him down for a long moment, but then his shoulders slumped. “And yes, I and the heads of the Ordo knew about the Forbidden Eleven—the eleven spells spellworking masters have identified as dangerous by their very nature. Copies are kept in order to show new Masters at the various schools of sorcery in order for them to learn how to identify them and thus prevent budding students and hedge wizards from stumbling upon them.”
He grit his teeth. “We were repeatedly assured that the original spells were kept under the most intensive security and obscured by the greatest secrecy in all the continent.”
“Mages always delight in their hyperbole.” Albion couldn’t help but smirk at the fall of pride, no matter how dire the consequences.
“Hmm,” replied Geddas. “Be that as it may, there are two objective here: the security of the remaining Forbidden Eleven, and preventing the one already out in the open from being distributed further.”
Albion nodded. “Then my obvious first subject of inquiry would be this Teppidas Varin. What do we know about him?”
Picking up the folder once more, Geddas flipped through until he came up with two more sheets of paper, which he pushed towards Albion. The first had a highly detailed artist’s rendition of a man with long, straight hair, a short beard and the fine features of someone whose family hadn’t done manual labor in generations, the second was covered with notes in a delicate, swooping hand.
As Albion read, Geddas summarized. “The Varin family are a line that has historically produced talented and powerful wizards, many of whom served under Mindeforme’s Sorcerous Raven. In later years, that blood seems to be spent. Varin failed in his first year of arcanist training and retreated to the family villa outside of Siram Leggate to lick his wounded pride. He’s consoled himself with lavish holiday balls and copious alcohol.
“None of his usual associates are known to be any more skilled with magic than he is, so how he acquired or even copied the Forbidden Eleven spell diagram is a mystery you’ll have to solve yourself. The same goes for his revenue stream: Varin himself has no means of support and his outlay of coin over the past three years should have emptied the family’s coffers, and yet he continues wasting money unabated.”
Taking this all in, Albion took note of something written down that Geddas had mentioned in passing. “The Feast of Three Moons is coming up in a week. If Varin holds his balls on the holidays, that could be a means of entering his manor and searching for the answers we need.”
“I assumed you would come up with that. We also know he enjoys spending his time in the higher class social clubs in the Legate. You might be able to gain his confidence there.” He then started paging through sheets of paper in the folder again. “I need to give you fair warning about something, however.”
Two more sheets of paper hit the table and Albion’s stomach knotted on itself. He suddenly knew why he was assigned to this mission ahead of far more knowledgeable in arcane arts. The answer to that question looked up at him from the pages. It was a perfect likeness in shades of gray, rendered by spellcrafted inks: Gray-black hair that could never be mistaken for the silver of age was cut into a short brush about the length of her fingers. Thin lips pulled into a serious line beneath steely eyes. The drawing was only from the neck up, so it was difficult to tell that she was a lasconti instead of human, but Albion was well-versed enough to pick out the signs.
Loreman Daedri Vintarae. Never ‘Lorelady’, she reacted violently to that, having grown up in a relatively backward Principality in Novrom that wasn’t kind to women. She was the Bardic College’s covert arm. Its entire covert arm. The bards didn’t like being anything but overt, but even they understood the occasional need for secrecy.
And she’d single-handedly subverted months of work and planning on Albion’s part by capturing Hellios Fortanus and his instantaneous teleportation device right out from under him on the night he was making his move against the spellcrafting assassin.
“I’m not one for revenge, Commander.” Albion said quickly, turning the page away from the Loreman’s visage.
“You wouldn’t be going if you were.” Commander Felic assured him. “But you are one to work hard to ensure you won’t make the same mistake twice. I’ve heard all about your research: you’re an expert on Vintarae and that’s what we’ll need if we want to keep ahead of the bards.”
Albion nodded. “Understood sir. What are my orders concerning Vintarae?”
“Like I said, your the expert when it comes to her. As long as you complete your mission and she doesn’t get her hands on one of the Forbidden Eleven spells, I would call that a win.” The sour look on Geddas’s face told Albion he wouldn’t really be happy unless the bards were somehow shut out of the affair altogether. That wasn’t likely with Vintarae on the case.
“I’ll do my best, sir.” Albion inclined his head to the Lord Commander.
Grudgingly and through lightly clenched teeth, Geddas said, “I know you will, Albion. Just remember that we don’t want to have to call in Knight Deathspeaker from her annual leave to find out who Varin got the spell from, understood?”
Albion nodded, keeping his lips pressed in a firm line. Getting excoriated by Deathspeaker, the Ordo’s sole necromancer and thus the only one capable of conjuring the shades of the dead and compelling information from them, was far, far worse than getting a piece of Geddas’s mind. Even the Lord Commander was loathe to make attempts to dress her down.
“I am certainly not setting off with the intention of killing Varin. And from the sound of it, he’s unlikely to be someone who would try and escalate things.”
“Even if he does, Albion.” Geddas said with the finality of a tombstone. “His life, as long as he holds the knowledge of who supplied him the copy of that spell, is worth ten times yours in terms of worth to the security of the peace of the Accords.”
Albion bowed his head in agreement. That was a given, no matter what Geddas thought. The oath all Knights of the Accords took made that perfectly clear:
My life that others may live in peace. My peace that others will survive. In Nov’s strength and in the wisdom of Kalueth, I place my faith. In my brothers and sisters in the Ordo, I place my fate.
“How will I be getting there, sir?” he asked in lieu of assuring the Lord Commander that he understood his duty yet again.
“Arrangements are being made. I recognize the bitter irony of the situation but speed of of the essence, so someone from the Royal Academy of Spellcraft will be teleporting you to one of our safehouses in Siram Leggate.”
Albion’s eyes traveled to the Forbidden Eleven diagram, now mostly buried under the dossiers of Teppidas Varin and Daedri Vintarae. The idea of being merged into another object hadn’t occurred to him since after he’d been assured that wasn’t a possibility. Now his stomach lurched at the idea.
Of course Geddas gave him no mind and kept talking. “In the meantime, report to Quwynn for outfitting.”
“Ah. You weren’t here. Caylus is on convalescence leave, got a whiff of a bad batch of something his was mixing up for Knight Steelclaw. He’ll recover, but I’ll be recommending him for retirement all the same. The old man… he’s been having more frequent accidents recently and Quwynn has been doing more and more of the work. A changing of the guard is overdue.”
Albion’s shoulders slumped. “I’ll miss him. He’s a damn good quartermaster. Please pass along my wishes for him to be well.”
“I will.” Geddas inclined his head slightly and for a moment, they stewed in heavy silence over the loss—however peaceful—of another valued member of the Ordo. “Now off with you, Griffinseye. Time is a resource we don’t have in abundance.”